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Second term may lead to dictatorship

Publication Date : 25-08-2014

 

The 31st anniversary of the assassination of Philippine Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. on Aug. 21 highlighted the glaring departures of President Aquino from the democratic legacies of his martyred father and late mother.

The President has stirred up a storm of controversy over his alleged autocratic tendencies, underscoring moves to clip the powers of the Supreme Court for striking down as unconstitutional the administration’s pork barrel scheme—the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP)—and his openness to calls from his political cohorts to revise the 1987 Constitution, a handiwork of his mother’s administration, to allow him to extend his single six-year constitutional term.

The plan seeking constitutional change was first disclosed by Interior Secretary Mar Roxas on Aug. 14. He said he was moved to make the suggestion in response to the clamor of the people supporting Aquino’s political reforms.

“A number of people are saying that to be able to continue the ‘daang matuwid’ (straight path governance), there’s no better way to do it but to have a second term for the President for him to continue his leadership,” Roxas said.

He explained that he mentioned the idea in an interview with a television network on the day the President delivered his State of the Nation Address on July 28.

Call of the times

“Part of the job of every leader is to answer the call of the times. The President acknowledges the threats to democracy and to how the country should be run. One of the things he noted was the judicial overreach,” Roxas told reporters.

This was the first time the public was told another reason for the move to seek a second term—that the President was concerned with the imbalance of power among the three branches of government as a result of the too-often oversight and review of executive and legislative departments’ decisions, which the administration claimed had led to paralysis.

Glossed over

It is an “imbalance” the administration seeks to correct by clipping the power of the judiciary, deemed the weakest of the three coequal branches.

The idea of a constitutional revision to restore the balance presented the administration as a zealous guardian of the integrity of the equitable distribution of powers among the three branches.

But the administration’s plan to clamp down on the judiciary glossed over the more obvious overreach and abuse of power by the political branches—the executive and the legislature.

Uncanny resemblance

Scholars pointed out on the anniversary of Ninoy Aquino’s assassination that the move to revise the Constitution in the last two years of the present administration had an uncanny resemblance to the prelude to the declaration of martial law by Ferdinand Marcos in September 1972.

Michael Charleston Chua, assistant professor of history at De La Salle University, speaking at the Tarlac provincial capitol, said Ninoy Aquino fought the term extension of Marcos.

Chua recalled that Marcos, in the last two years of his second term, declared martial law, enabling him to rule until 1986, when he was toppled by the Edsa People Power Revolution.

“Despite President Aquino’s good intentions of continuing the good things his administration has done, his father would rather opt for the democratic process and institutions, like the Constitution,” Chua said.

“President Aquino said in a recent television interview that he was open to a second term while the Constitution provides only a single six year-term, with the implication that if he stood for reelection and won in 2016, he would be President for a total of 12 years, just two years shy of Marcos’ 14 years in power,” Chua added.

The assistant professor noted that Ninoy Aquino fought the Marcos regime in accordance with “democratic process” and lost his life in that struggle.

Old tune

The moves to amend the political provisions of the Constitution to allow Aquino to stay beyond 2016 was criticized by former President Fidel Ramos as an “old tune” that should not be revived by anyone, except for the amendment of economic provisions for increased competitiveness of the economy.

Ramos recalled that as his six-year term was drawing to a close in 1998, he tried pushing for amendments to the Constitution not only to ease restrictions on foreign ownership but also to change the form of government to a unicameral parliamentary system.

Much to his chagrin, Ramos found out that the push came to naught. The move to change the form of government, he said, was seen as an effort to extend his term by becoming prime minister and was strongly opposed by his predecessor, Cory Aquino.

However, Ramos said, the Constitution could be amended for the sake of the economy and to end political dynasties.

In the past few days, Aquino engaged the public in a series of TV interviews on the theme that his tirades against the Supreme Court’s “overreach” was part of the effort “to preserve democracy” from the meddlesome tribunal.

It was the high court that dared to stop the executives’s raids on the disbursements of public funds through its DAP scheme.

The Supreme Court is neither a threat to nor an enemy of democracy. There are more reasons to fear efforts to tamper with the Constitution to allow Mr. Aquino to perpetuate himself in power.

Cory legacy

Lawyers at the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) have warned that the President’s statement that he was amenable to running for another term, if only to keep the powers of the Supreme Court in check, was a strike at the heart of Cory Aquino’s legacy—the 1987 Constitution— by her own son.

“The 1987 Constitution is the living legacy of Cory,” an IBP official said. “The one term only for the President was intended to guard against avarice for power …. [It] grants an elected President a single term of six years to protect the country from a repeat of the Marcos dictatorship …. It also gave the Supreme Court the power of review, which is meant to curtail the abuse of the executive branch.”

 

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