Fresh statements by aides and allies of President Fidel Ramos have again raised suspicions that, despite his denials, he is behind the efforts to amend the constitution to allow him a second term. Last Tuesday, in a speech before businessmen, National Security Adviser Jose Almonte argued the need for allowing Mr Ramos a second term. 'Can we really do without President Ramos at this time?' he asked rhetorically. He said that, in the Philippines, 'the character of the president is the crucial component in national success or failure . . . it isn't so strange that people should want Mr Ramos to stand for a second term'. Mr Almonte said that a 'people's initiative' to amend the constitution should not be seen as a sinister government plot, insisting that the people behind the initiative were 'exercising their sovereign right'. Mr Ramos ends his six-year term next year and cannot seek re-election. A group of private organisations claims to have collected the signatures of six million people who want a plebiscite on the question of whether the constitution should be amended to allow the president a second term. Though Mr Ramos has repeatedly stated he will quit next year, his opponents claim he is in fact orchestrating the ongoing people's initiative, and moves to postpone next year's elections and give all elected officials a three-year extension. The opposition has yet to substantiate its claims. But at least some of Mr Ramos' political lieutenants and people close to him are working to have him stay in office beyond 1998, by any means. Last Thursday the opposition-dominated senate summoned Mr Almonte to explain his remarks. He insisted he had nothing to do with the people's initiative. Senator Orlando Mercado, however, said Mr Almonte's statements 'tend to confirm the allegation that the executive department is actively involved in the move to amend the constitution, specifically on the lifting of the term limits'. A week ago Executive Secretary Ruben Torres said he believed that one term is 'not enough' for Mr Ramos. Mr Torres is a ranking official in the ruling party, Lakas, but he said he was only expressing his 'personal position'. And the Solicitor-General, Silvestre Bello, appears to be defending the people working for a plebiscite to amend the constitution. He has filed a motion with the supreme court, asking it to dismiss a petition calling for a restraining order on the people's initiative. Finally, an uncle of Mr Ramos exhorted farmers in the northern province of Ilocos Norte to support the effort to extend the President's term, or allow him re-election, saying: 'Those are our marching orders from above.'