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Philippine Leader Resolute on Amending Constitution

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From Associated Press

The president of the Philippines said he will go ahead with plans to amend the country’s constitution, despite protests Friday by more than 150,000 Filipinos who said the changes could endanger the nation’s democracy.

The protests in Manila and other major cities resembled in some ways the revolt that toppled dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos in 1986, with seas of yellow-clad protesters, confetti and the backing of former President Corazon Aquino and Roman Catholic Church leaders.

This time, however, protesters acknowledged that the issues are much less clear. President Joseph Estrada, who won a landslide victory 15 months ago, remains highly popular and has pledged that only economic provisions of the constitution will be revised to attract more foreign investment.

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“We are not saying that this administration is like the Marcos regime--but we do have cause to worry,” said Aquino, whose government crafted the constitution after Marcos’ ouster. She and other protesters said they want to prevent a slip back into dictatorship.

The president, however, insisted Friday that he wants only to help the poor.

“I did not become president to preside over a society where the poor become poorer and the rich become richer,” he said. “Why is this happening? One of the reasons is because we don’t have enough money in our economy to address the needs.”

Estrada wants to remove constitutional provisions that bar foreigners from owning land and that limit foreign ownership of businesses in key sectors to 40%.

But critics fear the planned economic amendments might lead to political changes once the constitution is opened to revisions by members of Congress eager to extend their terms.

Critics also have claimed that Estrada is attempting to muzzle a critical press and has allowed a return of “cronyism,” in which close presidential friends receive special economic favors. Estrada has denied both accusations.

The issue of constitutional change has reverberated into financial markets. Earlier in the week, stocks slumped to a six-month low while the country’s currency, the peso, hit a nine-month low. Stocks, however, later recouped some of their losses.

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Aquino and Catholic Church officials also led rallies two years ago that forced then-President Fidel V. Ramos to halt constitutional amendments aimed at extending his term.

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