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Philippine president seen 'undoing mother’s legacy’

Publication Date : 15-08-2014


What would his mother say?

That, in sum, is the oppositionists’ answer to Philippine President Aquino’s insinuation on Wednesday that he was reconsidering his opposition to amending the Constitution to allow the lifting of the presidential term limit, which would enable him to run for a second term.

Legal experts are one in saying that Aquino would be undoing his mother’s legacy.

Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay, the 2016 presidential hopeful, said Thursday that he respected Aquino’s openness to listen to what the people had to say about amending the Constitution to lift the presidential term limit.

“Any national leader would want to hear the voice of the people on issues that have far-reaching consequences,” Binay said.

“What is important is that the voice he hears is an authentic and genuine voice, not one manufactured by quarters with vested interests who are driven mainly by self-preservation,” he said.

Binay’s allies, however, invoked history and urged Aquino to respect his mother’s legacy.

The 1987 Constitution was enacted during the administration of Aquino’s mother, who led the revolution against dictator Ferdinand Marcos and then served a single term as President before standing aside.

“When I first got into this, I noted I had only one term of six years. Now, after having said that, of course I have to listen to the voice of my bosses,” Aquino said in an interview on TV5 network, using his term for the people.

No strong candidate

Many took Aquino’s statement as an admission that the ruling Liberal Party (LP) has no presidential timber who could be elected to take his place in 2016, with polls showing Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, the party’s presumptive standard-bearer, unpopular with the electorate.

In contrast, the polls show Binay, leader of the nominally opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), is the favourite to replace Aquino in Malacanang.

That is unacceptable to the Palace, which insists the next president must be someone who will pursue Aquino’s reformist programs.

With Roxas losing the next presidential election even before the campaign can start, the administration has to find someone who can beat Binay in the race for Malacanang.

No question, that man is Aquino. But the Constitution bars him from running for a second term.

Aquino would have to go through a long and complicated process to amend the Constitution, with any of three potential methods—by a constitutional convention, a constituent assembly or a people’s initiative—having to be approved by a referendum requiring simple majority support.

The son of democracy champions Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. and former President Corazon Aquino, Aquino won a landslide election victory in 2010 on a promise to stamp out widespread corruption blamed for massive poverty in the Philippines.

He has won international plaudits for his good government program and been widely applauded for bringing consistently strong economic growth to the country.

But the high popularity ratings he enjoyed in the first half of his term have begun to slide sharply amid a slew of corruption cases and political controversies.

The latest poll showed his approval rating at 56 per cent in June, dropping steeply from 70 per cent in March. His trust rating, too, was down across the board, from 62 per cent to 42 per cent in the upper classes to 55 per cent from 69 per cent in the bottom rung.

Criticism that tens of millions of poor people have missed out on the country’s economic gains, magnified by a recent spike in inflation, has also hurt Aquino.

And now he is talking about listening to his “bosses” and lifting the barrier that keeps him from seeking a second term.

Aquino did not specify that he wanted to change the Constitution just to remove the presidential term limit.

Instead, he said the Constitution needed amending to rein in the Supreme Court, which ruled on July 1 that his economic stimulus plan, the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), was unconstitutional.

“Before all these things happened, I was closed to [constitutional change]. I admit that. But now, I’m seriously rethinking things,” Aquino said in his television interview, referring to the court’s ruling against the DAP.

He complained that the US-style checks and balances in government had faded and the Supreme Court now had the power to overrule Congress and the executive branch.

Checks and balances

But UNA members opposed Aquino’s threat to clip the Supreme Court’s powers, saying the judiciary has those powers precisely to provide checks and balances to excesses in the two other branches of government.

Sen. JV Ejercito said he hoped Aquino remembered his mother, who served only one term and never sought reelection.

The LP must also remember the “democratic essence” of Edsa, he added, referring to the 1986 People Power Revolution that Aquino’s mother led to restore democracy in the Philippines.

Ejercito also said Aquino’s supporters should stop urging him to extend his term, as this would lead to popular anger against the President.
“Have a heart and remember what Cory fought for,” Ejercito said, referring to the President’s late mother.

Emulate your mother

Sen. Nancy Binay, a daughter of the Vice President, said she hoped Aquino would emulate his mother, who refused to seek a second term although she could have, enhancing her legacy.

“When she stepped down, she was able to do more,” Binay said.

She said she did not think Aquino would actually run for a second term, noting that the President’s statements indicated he was just considering things.
“I hope he leans more toward not pushing through with it,” Binay said. “Let’s pray for the President so that he will be enlightened and he will listen to the real voices of his bosses.”

Undoing Cory’s legacy

Legal experts said Aquino would undo his mother’s legacy if he allowed constitutional change to be able to run for a second term.

“What had been prevented by Cory, [President Noy wants to do],” Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Vicente Joyas said, using the nicknames of the President and his mother.

Joyas said the term limit that the Constitution imposed on the President was aimed at preventing a return to the dictatorship that Aquino’s mother helped to defeat.

The Constitution also grants the Supreme Court the power of judicial review, which is “meant to curtail the abuse of the executive branch, based on the experience of Cory and those who drafted” the Charter, Joyas said.

He said Aquino’s view that the judiciary was such a strong branch that it was shaking the acts of both the executive and the legislative was wrong.

“If you look at the Constitution, you will see that the weakest branch is the judiciary,” Joyas said.

He said the bar would study the legality of the move to amend the Constitution.

“Once we see any violation of the Charter, we will file a petition in the Supreme Court,” Joyas said.

He said, however, that he doubted there was still time to complete the amendment of the Constitution in time for the 2016 presidential election.

Avarice for power

Lawyer Harry Roque, one of the petitioners in the DAP case in the Supreme Court, said the 1987 Constitution was the living legacy of Aquino’s mother.

“The single term for the President is intended as a guard against avarice for power. Unfortunately [President Aquino] fell for it, and is now going against his mom’s legacy,” Roque said.

Sol Mawis, dean of Lyceum of the Philippines College of Law, said the Supreme Court just did its job in ruling against the DAP and its ruling was based on the Constitution.

“When the Supreme Court reviewed and checked the acts of the executive, the review was within the Constitution itself. Precisely, the DAP decision is an example of checks and balances,” Mawis said.

“The Supreme Court just did what they’re supposed to do: To interpret and apply the law,” she added.

Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino, dean of San Beda Graduate Law School, said he would join street protests if Aquino proceeded with the plan to amend the Constitution.

He said Aquino was “consistent in his inconsistency.”

“After repeatedly rejecting Charter amendments, [the President] springs on the nation another surprise. He is open to Charter change if this benefits him in two ways: extends his term and keeps the judiciary in subservience to his caprice,” Father Aquino said.

Judiciary’s powers

Tony La Vina, dean of Ateneo de Manila University College of Law, said on his Facebook and Twitter accounts that he supported constitutional changes but not efforts to clip the Supreme Court’s powers.

“The power of judicial review does not exist because of the Constitution but by virtue of judicial power. Even if you do away with the current constitutional provision defining judicial power and include within it the power of judicial review, the Supreme Court can still exercise that power as the [judiciary] must do so to resolve actual cases and controversies,” La Vina said.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, an administration ally, said he was open to constitutional change but this should not be limited to the economic provisions. He said there should be amendments to the political provisions as well.


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