UNIVERSITY officials cautioned President Macapagal-Arroyo against pressing on with the overhaul of the Constitution as Thomasians participated in the prayer rally organized by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) last Dec. 17 at the Rizal Park in thanksgiving for the decision of the House of Representatives to stop its charter-change initiative because of widespread protest against it.

“The truth is, rather than charter change, there should be character change first among the officials in our government,” said Fr. Gerard Francisco Timoner, O.P., acting vice-rector for religious affairs, quoting Arch. Angel Lagdameo, the CBCP president, in the thanksgiving Mass. “But whether charter change itself is good or bad, it needs to be deliberated first.”

The reaction of UST officials came after the President told the 40th anniversary of the Asian Development Bank on Dec. 19, two days after the Rizal Park rally, that constitutional change remained a “platform” of her government which she would pursue “with urgency and fervor.”

But she admitted there was a need for “a unified national consensus on the means and timetable” for constitutional change.

The apparent lack of consensus on the means of amending the constitution visibly resulted in a public backlash against the resolution of the House of Representatives to constitute itself into a constituent assembly to force charter change even without the participation of the Senate. The move was widely seen as having the support of Malacañang since the House is overwhelmingly pro-administration.

But because of strong objection from various groups, including the CBCP, House Speaker Jose de Venecia pulled the brakes on the “Cha-Cha” train.

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The rally was initially planned as a protest demonstration, but was later transformed into a thanksgiving prayer rally, where Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales was chief celebrant of the Mass.

Together with the Dominican Family (Dominican fathers, brothers, sisters, nuns and laypeople) and the Dominican Network of schools, Thomasians marched from the Colegio de San Juan de Letran in Intramuros to the Rizal Park.

“We simply went there because of the CBCP president’s invitation for us to be watchful and prayerful of the developments of the government officials on the issue of charter change,” said Timoner. “We were offering the thanksgiving Mass for the House leadership’s decision to withdraw their previous acts of railroading charter change.”

Although UST participated in the rally, Timoner clarified that this was not the unified stand of the University.

“We cannot speak of an institutional stand for UST at this time because we have not widely deliberated and discussed the issues on charter change,” Timoner said. “The invitation noted by the Rector means he only shared the sentiments of our bishops (CBCP). It is not actually the unified stand of UST.”

Although the Rizal Park rally drew a modest crowd, Father Timoner said it delivered the right message to the government and the people.

“We were not expecting that much because of the time constraints, and there were threats circulating that the NPA will sabotage the rally,” he said. “It was not about the numbers, it was about the conviction.”

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