The statesman and the courtier

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The President once more missed the chance to exhibit statesmanship, and what a waste of a splendid opportunity it was! Some hangers-on had apparently floated the idea of a “term-extension” (and not without reason, wags have it that they first heard noises from the banks of the Pasig). Instead of seizing the opportunity to repudiate this brazen bid to sweep aside the Constitution, he had Edwin Lacierda and Abigail Valte mouth their now tired and really bedraggled populist line: The President listens to his bosses, even if the Constitution limits him to only one term.

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One who takes orders and does exactly as he is told is a courtier. And while the days of royal personages may now long be over, those who obsequiously pander to popular fancy and seek popular acclaim ingratiatingly are no less courtiers! But when the people vote for a president, it is a statesman they install into such high office—one who does, not as he is told, but as his best lights tell him he should act, and as the Constitution he swears to defend bids him act!

In his account of a pragmatist version of democracy, Richard Posner rightly, to my mind, pictures the citizens as self-interested individuals with little knowledge of the workings of government and as little interest in running it themselves. They therefore elect statesmen who govern, and whom they evict from office at the end of a given term when tenure fails expectations. Occasionally, the people will make themselves heard on issues that are particularly exciting or vexatious and when they do so, it does not follow that the statesmen they have elected silence reason and deliberation immediately to do as the noisier elements of society may suggest. Part of statesmanship is knowing when to listen and when not to! At one time there were very angry calls for our withdrawal from the World Trade Organization. It would have been foolish for us to have done so!

Many constitutional theorists characterize the Constitution as the “social contract.” Taking a cue from Prof. Hart who distinguishes between primary rules—the fundamental dos and don’ts of a civilized society—and secondary rules—rules about rules, I think that the foremost “rule of recognition” is an unwritten rule: the unwritten covenant in the life of the body-politic by which the Constitution is accepted as binding on all. However you characterize it, though, the Constitution, accepted by an act of popular sovereignty, is itself a limitation on what the people may or may not do. Passing a bill of attainder, for example, through the exercise of initiative is not within their power. So is extending the term of the President. I will not now deal with the wisdom or the abject folly of such a proposal. I am concerned with the constitutional and political theory that underlies the dynamics of it all! There is one more, equally important point. The fact that something is the result of popular acclaim does not make it democratic. When people vest in some charismatic personality all the powers of government, what one has is an autocracy, popularly installed to be sure, but autocratic nonetheless.

It is not too late for the President to sweep aside all intimations of the mites and termites that are parasitic on his term. If he makes clear that he will uphold the Constitution and step down peaceably after his six-year term, then he will be true to the oath of his office “to uphold and to defend the Constitution”—not only parts thereof that please him—and yet emerge as the statesman he can still very well be!

rannie_aquino@sanbeda.edu.ph / rannie_aquino@csu.edu.ph / rannie_aquino@yahoo.com

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8 Comments

  1. SALVACION CAHAYAG on

    Their plan to extend the term of this incompetent, corrupt and vindictive president
    is a clear proof that this administration is panicking. After he step down in 2016
    he will be facing the wrath of the people. Surely, he and his minions will face the
    KARMA. I caution the Filipino people not to ever allow this happen. Remember
    Belmonte and Drilon were already bought. So, keep vigilant.

  2. he listens t0 his bosses only when he likes what he’s hearing … he’ll d0 anything n0w t0 save his skin…

  3. He is not a STATESMAN, and sorry to say that he will never be one. It was a disgrace that he was elected as president by people who depended too much on their emotions…what a waste of time for the Philippines to have him as president of only the yellows.

  4. Member of the Middle Class on

    The oligarch princess gina lopez, benefactor and beneficiary of the abnoy, refers to the Philippine Constitution as a mere piece of paper. Another well heeled charlatan.

  5. What do you expect of a man who is not prepared to be Statesman.

    What do you expect of a man who is not Himself.

    What do you expect of a man who is not prepared to be a President.

    What do you expect of a man who inherited power by virtue of the death of a Saintly Mother and a son of a Hero.

    Expect the worst – hoping and praying not to be Herod.

  6. Pnoy and those who he surrounded himself with are certainly not faithful to the oath of upholding the Constitution and protecting it. It is natural to see those that Pnoy has bribed (members of Team Pork) try every means to keep the money flowing. Changing the Constitution to suit Team Pork is not beyond their thoughts or reach.