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.
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!
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