Lacson: Cha-cha 'good as dead' with Arroyo in the House

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 1) — Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's rise as House Speaker killed any chances of charter change (cha-cha), a senator said on Wednesday.

Senator Ping Lacson told CNN Philippines' The Source that a shift to federalism was "as good as dead." He said senators have agreed to "stay put [and] just fold our arms," in a caucus after Arroyo's election.

"Naging unifying factor pa si Speaker Arroyo doon sa mga senador to go against cha-cha," said Lacson.

[Translation: Speaker Arroyo became a unifying factor for senators to go against cha-cha.]

"We are not adopting a joint resolution that will pave the way for a (constituent assembly)," he added. "Hindi mangyayari. Wala ring cha-cha."

[Translation: It won't happen. There will be no cha-cha.]

The remark comes after the House of Representatives on Tuesday reportedly invited the Senate to convene as a constituent assembly. While members of the lower house have promised to prioritize the shift, senators have mostly been on the fence — until recently.

While Arroyo denies any further ambitions for power, Lacson said senators believe "she would aspire to be Prime Minister." The former President had also pushed for charter change toward the end of her term.

Lacson went on to enumerate Arroyo's sordid history with some senators.

Opposition lawmaker Antonio Trillanes led the 2003 Oakwood Mutiny and 2007 Manila Peninsula Siege, which called for the resignation of then-President Arroyo. He was later jailed, but ran for senator and won from behind bars.

Senator Gringo Honasan, a former military man, was also accused of having a hand in the Oakwood Mutiny. He was arrested in 2006.

Lacson also pointed out that Arroyo, who served as President for nine years, took power after the ouster of former President Joseph Estrada. "Erap," who now sits as Manila City Mayor, is the father of Senator JV Ejercito.

"The father of one of our colleagues, inoust niya, pinakulong pa [she had ousted and jailed]," said Lacson.

"Isa naman, dinaya ang tatay [She cheated the father of another senator] — Senator Grace," he added.

Senator Grace Poe is the daughter of actor Fernando Poe, Jr., who ran against Arroyo in the 2004 presidential elections. Arroyo is widely believed to have cheated in the polls, following her "Hello Garci" scandal and a speech where she admitted to and apologized for asking the then-election commissioner to secure her votes. When Arroyo was elected House Speaker, Poe quipped that her father's ghost made himself felt.

Lacson also noted five senators under the Liberal Party (LP) — Ralph Recto, Bam Aquino, Kiko Pangilinan, Franklin Drilon, and Leila De Lima — were likely to oppose charter change as well. Another lawmaker allied with the LP, Senator Risa Hontiveros, is also critical of federalism and Arroyo.

The senator and former police chief has his own axe to grind against Arroyo.

Lacson fled the country in 2010, after murder charges were filed against him. He said he was "a victim of a conspiracy of whispers" between Arroyo and the Department of Justice.

Recently, he slammed the time and manner of her controversial election as "awkward, ugly, low and disgraceful," as the surprise ouster of her predecessor, Pantaleon Alvarez, took place just ahead of the State of the Nation Address last July 23.

Lacson said he has since "made peace" with Arroyo, but he is living by a rule to "forgive your enemies, but don't forget their names."

This means that at least ten out of 23 senators have an issue with the former President.

"Call it wariness. Call it distrust. Call it anything you want to call it — pero iyon ang naging sentiment [but that is our sentiment]," said Lacson.

Even before Arroyo's return, Senate President Tito Sotto said there was no need to rush federalism. Pulse Asia and SWS surveys show that most Filipinos do not favor charter change, and do not understand what it entails.

The shift to federalism is not the only administration move which the Senate is treating skeptically. Although Sotto filed the second package of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion law (TRAIN 2), Lacson said senators "[would not] touch it with a 10-foot pole."

His colleague, Senator Win Gatchalian, previously expressed hesitation toward the proposal following inflation and gaps in the distribution of financial assistance.

Senate Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri previously said both charter change and tax reform are not a priority for the upper house.