If there is an overwhelming clamor for the President to run again, he will do it through an election and not through an extension [of his term]. And as you know, that will require a change in the Constitution. As you know, as a matter of principle, the President listens to the voice of his bosses [the people]. Many have voiced their support for another term for PNoy and we are thankful for the many people who prefer another term. We see this as support for continuance of ‘daang matuwid’.
— Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas
We’ve been here before. Back in 1997, the ruling Lakas party of then-President Fidel Ramos faced the prospect of being swept out of power in elections the following year, given the overwhelming popularity of then-Vice-President Joseph Estrada. So Lakas strategists hatched the People’s Initiative for Reform, Modernization and Action.
The PIRMA campaign sought to amend the Constitution and remove the single-term limit on the President, so Ramos could run again. It was to be done through a people’s initiative. Under this mode of Charter change, a proposed amendment would be put to the people for ratification if the petition gets signatures (“pirma” means signature in Filipino) from at least 12 percent of all registered voters, or about one in every eight, including at least 3 percent in each congressional district.
Backed by the nationwide Lakas machinery as well as sectors keen to sustain the Philippines’ economic reforms and resurgence under Ramos, PIRMA was well on its way toward the required 4 million or so signatures. But by a narrow vote, the Supreme Court ruled that the law implementing the people’s initiative mode of amendment was defective. That ended the Ramos redux plan, and Estrada won handily in 1998.
‘Reckless, ridiculous and delusional’
Will we see a 21st Century version of PIRMA purportedly for the continuation of Daang Matuwid governance under a re-elected President Benigno Aquino 3rd? From this week’s soundbites coming out of the Mar Roxas-led wing of the dominant Liberal Party, there may well be enough desperation among his so-called Balay faction to try an Aquino Again campaign.
Echoing the Roxas line quoted at the start of this article, his LP ally Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda intimated that Aquino could consider running again. “The President is sensitive to the voice of his boss, so let us just wait for it,” Lacierda allowed, adding that Malacañang is “very thankful of the support and the expression of … the preference for another term.”
Predictably, the opposition United Nationalist Alliance of Vice-President and leading presidentiable Jejomar Binay opposed a second Aquino term. The idea, thundered UNA spokesperson Toby Tiangco, was “reckless, ridiculous, and delusional.” The Navotas congressman accused Roxas of leading Aquino to perdition: “Mar is tempting PNoy to extend his term, fully aware that is a clear violation of the Constitution.”
It may also be against the wishes of Aquino’s late mother Corazon. She publicly opposed both Ramos’s PIRMA as well as the Constitutional Correction for Development (Concord) mounted in 1999 by the Estrada administration. In 2006, the Arroyo administration pushed for its own people’s initiative, Sigaw ng Bayan, but the Supreme Court voted 8-7 that the millions of citizens who supposedly signed the Cha-cha petition were not properly informed about the proposed amendment.
While trashing Sigaw, the 2007 ruling declared that the people’s initiative law, which the High Court thumbed-down in 1997, was valid, reversing its decision a decade before, and clearing the way for future people’s initiatives. So will there be one now?
A Constitution-wary President
For his part, President Aquino has consistently expressed opposition to constitutional amendments. His own “Samar” faction in the administration has had good ties with the Binay camp, and had reportedly backed the 2010 “Noy-Bi” election campaign line, which supported Aquino and Binay, rather than the official LP tandem of Aquino-Roxas.
The Samar camp, which is said to include Aquino’s sisters, may be behind reported efforts to woo the VP as joint LP-UNA candidate in 2016. With the high possibility of graft cases over the illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program, Aquino and his close allies would be keen to have good relations with Binay if the latter, like Estrada, is almost sure to win the next elections.
Aquino’s faction would probably balk at Charter change to extend his term or allow him to run again. Such a move would probably erode his declining popularity even more. Coming amid the controversy over unconstitutional DAP disbursements, a push to set aside presidential term limits may well cement the image in Filipino minds that Aquino does not respect the Constitution his own mother promulgated.
Moreover, after the Supreme Court rulings scrapping both pork barrel spending and DAP, the Palace is now cautious about constitutional matters, in stark contrast to its past cavalier, arrogant stance. Back in 2010, President Aquino berated the magistrates led then by Chief Justice Renato Corona for voiding his first Executive Order creating the Philippine Truth Commission to investigate the past administration.
After Corona’s removal and replacement with Aquino appointee Maria Lourdes Sereno in 2012, the President probably thought that he could get his way with the High Court. But the unanimous decisions voiding DAP and the Priority Development Assistance Fund, showed that even his own chosen justices, including his handpicked CJ, would not automatically vote in his favor.
Now, Palace lawyers, no doubt with Aquino’s assent, have drastically revised the Bangsamoro Basic Law draft, presumably to avoid constitutional issues being raised in Congress or in court. This watering down of the peace agreement with the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front underscores how the President has retreated from his past aggressive stance toward the Constitution and the Judiciary.
Besides being wary about creating more constitutional problems with a second term bid, Aquino would also not want to alienate the Binay camp. It’s tough enough that his regime has jailed UNA stalwarts Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada. To directly oppose the VP’s long-declared presidential ambition would surely turn the staunch Aquino family loyalist into an implacable political adversary.
Then Aquino should rightly fear that he might get the same treatment from his successor as he has given his predecessor.