IF no other changes to the 1987 Constitution are ever adopted, the country must surely embrace the recommendations regarding the terms of the president of the country, vice president, and congressional offices made by the Consultative Committee (ConCom) this week.
The changes, which were “agreed in principle” by committee members, will be formally voted upon on Monday, April 16, and if adopted, will be included in the proposed draft charter the ConCom is preparing.
Such system would do away with separate elections for the offices of president and vice president, and instead adopt the American system in which the two are elected as a team. The terms of office would also be changed from the current six years for the president, vice president and senators; and from three years for members of the House of Representatives – all to four years. The incumbents in each of these offices would be eligible for reelection for one additional term, rather than the current setup, which limits the president and vice president to one term and allows congressmen three.
The advantages to the proposed new system are obvious. It seems to have become a dubious tradition in this country that the president and vice president are political antagonists; that was the case throughout the term of former President Benigno Aquino 3rd, and has been so far under President Rodrigo Duterte. Given the primary role of the vice president to serve as the successor to the president should the latter be unable to complete his or her entire term, it is irrational to conduct separate elections for the two offices; it risks thwarting the intent of the democratic majority with the possibility that an unelected successor with a very different political outlook and approach might become president.
Combining the two offices in elections would also completely eliminate the sort of disruption and uncertainty caused by contested results, such as we are experiencing now with the ongoing protest over the vice presidency.
The new system would also go a long way toward improving the organization and performance of political parties, and would likely result in better candidates for office, given that voters would not only have to consider their qualifications but also their prospects of winning a second term. The president and senators, whose terms would be shortened under such new system, would have to take their chances of keeping their jobs for a second term into account during their first terms, as they would have to be more answerable to voters.
The possibility of spending eight years in office instead of just six could allow the president to pursue longer-term goals and establish a real legacy – but only if he or she made progress during the first term.
For members of the House of Representatives, better performance would be required, but in exchange, their offices would offer them a bit more stability. Under the current system, the length of time between elections virtually guarantees that a representative’s attention will be divided between actual legislative work and election campaigning for a significant part – a year, perhaps more – of his or her first two three-year terms. With the chance of only one reelection and a term extended to four years under the prospective system, members of Congress would have more time to focus on their primary tasks, and would have to observe a higher standard in doing so, if they wished to return for a second term.
While much of the draft charter being prepared by the ConCom may be subject to debate once it is finally completed, these provisions should not be. Filipino voters must take these provisions into serious consideration when election time comes.