President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s statement that he is open to Charter change to extend his term was met with an outcry of rejection, with lawmakers, analysts, lawyers’ groups and members of militant organizations calling it a prelude to “dictatorship” and bringing “shame” to the name of his parents who fought for democracy.
Political analysts believe that the people will not support Aquino in his bid to extend his term of office simply because “they don’t want it.”
“He will not have the support of the people,” Ramon Casiple, a respected political analyst, told The Manila Times.
He noted that while Aquino enjoys considerable control over Congress, opposition to his plan to tinker with the Constitution will be too formidable to overcome.
“Theoretically, the ruling coalition has the time to do Cha-cha [Charter change]. But the political obstacles are formidable,” Casiple said.
Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) national president Vicente Joyas explained that the “difficulty” in doing Cha-cha at this time is made all the more daunting by the fact that Aquino’s popularity has declined.
“It’s a daydream. He can’t do that now. Imagine the time and money that will be wasted if the administration will pursue Cha-cha. Where will they get the money to fund the plebiscite, for instance?” Joyas said during an interview with The Times.
“It will be very difficult. [The President] should not be thinking about it anymore and instead he should first address the many problems confronting the country like peace and order, the economy and others. One thing more, it will be a shame to his mother and father who fought martial rule,” the IBP leader added.
He was referring to the late President Corazon “Cory” Aquino under whose term the 1987 Constitution was forged and late former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr.
Joyas said the very reason why Mrs. Aquino and her government instituted the existing provisions in the Charter was to prevent a repeat of a one-man rule similar to that of the late former strongman Ferdinand Marcos.
“That’s what he [Aquino] seems to be doing now,” he pointed out.
The Philippine Constitutional Association (Philconsa) shared the views of Casiple and Joyas, saying the people will “naturally vehemently oppose” any move to tinker with the Constitution for anyone’s selfish ends.
In a radio interview, Philconsa vice president for constitutional reforms Rita Linda Jimeno said the people will likely reject any move to extend the term of Aquino beyond 2016.
“It’s sad. As if he does not know that every time a President attempted to change the Charter, the public rejected it,” Jimeno said in an interview with radio station dzBB. She cited the Cha-cha attempts during the administrations of former Presidents Fidel Ramos and Gloria Arroyo, which, she noted, became highly unpopular.
“No matter how good the intention would sound, it will still be rejected. Why push for it now when he could have done that at the beginning of his term if only to [deflect]suspicions that he only wants to extend his term? The people will not accept that,” the Philconsa official added.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said the President unmasked his duplicity and dictatorial tendencies when he admitted his openness to amend the Constitution.
“The duplicitous character of the Aquino administration is now very clear. We should remember that he was against Charter change when it was pushed by his allies in Congress. Now, the tune has changed,” Zarate noted.
“His political ambition is very alarming, considering his recent pronouncements that exposed his desire to control all the institutions of the government, particularly the Supreme Court,” he said.
What is even more repulsive, Zarate added, is Aquino’s tendency to become a dictator to perpetuate himself in power.
“His disdain over the previous administrations’ excessive use of power, especially during the time of Marcos that victimized his family, is something that he is repeating himself,” the lawmaker said.
Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, another legal expert and dean of San Beda College’s Graduate School of Law, said the President is setting a dangerous precedent especially since Aquino’s motive is to clip the powers of the High Court.
“It shows the President’s authoritarian streak when he wants to keep his actions beyond the pale of judicial review. It is when we have such a President that we need judicial review most,” the priest added.
He said the 1987 Constitution can be amended only for serious reasons, not to extend the term of the President.
“The President’s change of position, from adamant refusal to enthusiastic hospitality, [with]respect to Charter change is outrageously self-serving. The Constitution is amended only for serious reasons and extending the term of a President is not a serious reason,” Fr. Aquino pointed out.
He said even if the expanded power of the High Court on judicial review will be removed from the Constitution, the court still has the power to review since it is within the wisdom of the judiciary.
“Even if you remove the express provision of the so-called expanded power of judicial review, the Supreme Court will still have the power to review. This is the province of the judiciary, unless we are ready to change our constitutional culture of checks and balances,” the priest added.
The minority bloc in the Senate also rejected the proposal to amend the Constitution. Senators Nancy Binay and Joseph Victor (JV) Ejercito said any tinkering with the Charter should be limited to economic provisions.
“We should not change the Constitution and extend the term limit of public officials for the sake of an individual or a political party,” Binay said.
She noted that framers of the Constitution set a limit to terms of the President and other elected officials because they want to prevent abuse of power.
Aquino “witnessed history from the point of view of his parents. Senator Ninoy and President Cory fought a regime that believed it had the sole franchise to make the country great. He would honor what his parents stood and died for by continuing their crusade,” Binay said.
She added that by seeking a second term, Aquino would disrespect his mother.
Binay called on the people to pray for the President’s enlightenment.
Ejercito said he will block any move that will extend the term of elected officials.
“This will be a divisive issue once again and I hope the allies of the President will respect the Constitution,” he added.
Ejercito noted that Aquino’s sudden desire to extend his term shows that the Liberal Party (LP) is having difficulties in finding a presidential candidate for the 2016 elections.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, meanwhile, said the executive should focus on employment, wages, prices of commodities, food and peace and order.
“We must restore our bearings. The people don’t want us to talk loudly about succession. What they want is for us to work hard so that government programs meant for their benefit succeed,” Recto added.
Jimeno and Joyas said the President’s ratings will further drop because of his sudden change of heart on Cha-cha.
“His popularity hit its lowest recently. His ‘openness’ to Cha-cha will only do him more harm than good. Expect a lower rating in the future,” Joyas said.
The two lawyers criticized Aquino for attacking the judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court.
They said the power of judicial review was given to the judiciary to avoid abuse by other branches of government. Joyas as Jimeno also explained that it is for this reason that Aquino’s mother worked to institutionalize “checks and balances” in the Charter.
Joyas believes that Aquino was getting even with the High Court over the latter’s ruling declaring the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) unconstitutional.
“He could not accept the SC decision on the DAP, that’s why he’s venting his ire on the court,” he said.
But Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. clarified that Aquino would listen to the sentiments of his “bosses” so that his remarks in favor of Cha-cha do not actually mean he will push for it.
“What is essential for the President is to know the sentiments of his bosses, the Filipino people. He will continue to listen to them so he will know their views on how to ensure that the reforms and transformation that he has begun will continue and will become permanent,” the Palace official said in a news briefing.
WITH REPORTER FROM JEFRY TUPAS