Why President Aquino’s hint of a second term is raising hell

Commentary by Raïssa Robles

Posted at Aug 15 2014 06:47 PM | Updated as of Aug 16 2014 02:47 AM

How are we to respond to President Benigno Aquino coyly hinting he’s open to a (currently unconstitutional) second term?

Why, with a smile and a “No, thank you.”

Let’s have political succession. Not an amendment to the 1987 Constitution.

Before I explain why, let me share with you my conversation yesterday with Mel Sta. Maria, Dean of the Far Eastern University Institute of Law who scooped us all in the media with his interview with PNoy.

I wanted to know whether Aquino’s surprise revelation that he was open to a charter change and a second term had been scripted. I asked Dean Sta. Maria whether he had been required to submit all his questions prior to the interview . In short, whether PNoy’s answer was crafted beforehand.

Sta. Maria told me,

“I gave questions in advance excluding that.”

“That” referred to the question on whether PNoy was open to amending the Constitution, including removing the six-year presidential term limit.

During the interview Sta. Maria sneaked in the question:

“Sarado ba kayo sa pag-aamyenda ng Constitution hanggang ngayon?” (Are you still closed to amending the Constitution until now?)

And PNoy’s surprising reply was -

“Bago nito, bago nangyari lahat ng ito, sarado….aminado ako (Before all these things happened, I was closed to it, I admit that).”

“Pero ngayon, napapag-isip ako talaga… yung tinatawag na judicial reach (But now, I’m seriously rethinking things. Because of the judicial reach.)”

Dean Sta. Maria then followed that up by asking whether this meant Aquino was also open to another six-year term as president. The President replied:

“Nung pinasukan ko ito, ang tanda ko one term of six years…Ngayon, after having said that, syempre ang mga boss ko, kelangan kong pakinggan ‘yon.” (When I first got into this, I noted, one term of six years. Now, after having said that, of course my bosses, I have to listen to them, meaning the people).

“Hindi naman ibig sabihin…na automatic na hahabol pa ako na magkaroon pa ako ng dagdag dito, ‘no?” (That doesn’t automatically mean I’ll be chasing after another term, right?)

Aquino’s answers have set off a firestorm of speculation with audible gnashing of teeth in one end, and jubilant high-fives in another.

For my part, I think Aquino’s answers are mere political flirtation. At least for now. His way of telling his followers – if you want me, vote my anointed.

However, if people mount a serious attempt to encourage him to change the Constitution so he can run again – say, with that magical number of one million signatures – then PNoy and the Liberal Party might be sorely tempted.

Please don’t encourage him and the Liberal Party. It will not be good for our democracy.

For a democracy to work institutions have to be built, including the orderly process of handing over power from one leader to the next, from one generation to the next.

All Philippine presidents after Corazon Aquino have tried to amend the Constitution to give themselves a second life as president. The most serious challenges were mounted by President Fidel Ramos with “Pirma” and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo with her ConCom (Constitutional Commission).

Arroyo’s ConCom was so alarming that it prompted me to write a 3-part series on the issue for the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ).

I am a constitutionalist at heart. So those who accuse me of belittling the Constitution over DAP (the Disbursement Acceleration Program) do not know what they are talking about. I suggest they read my series which is now hosted in hotmanila.ph:

Cha-cha or dictator’s waltz? Part 1 of 3

Following a dictator’s playbook

The Supreme Court has the ball

But let’s go back to why PNoy says he’s suddenly open to constitutional amendments.

This statement comes on the heels of another private poll survey showing Vice-President Jejomar Binay way ahead of LP candidate Mar Roxas. If elections were held today, Binay will trounce Roxas.

That there seems to be no viable LP alternative right now to President Aquino is a testament to the higher standards he has set for that post. And also a sign of weakness of the Liberal Party and our overall alleged multi-party system.

Let me share with you my thoughts on this matter, gathered from years of covering politics. PNoy’s government is the closest to a party government I have seen since democracy was restored in 1986. Five key cabinet portfolios are held by LP officials:

Budget – Florencio Abad
Interior and Local Governments – Mar Roxas
Agriculture – Proceso Alcala and Francis Pangilinan
Transport and Communications – Joseph Abaya
Energy – Jericho Petilla

In addition, two LP officials hold the reins in Congress: House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and Senate President Franklin Drilon.

But while LP officials are busy running government they’ve neglected to grow their own party and push other leaders to the national stage so that they can too shine and become the future champions. Face it. Political parties need to build up leaders the way TV networks build up their stars. Or maybe I’m using the wrong analogy…

The situation is worse with other political parties. The United Nationalist Alliance or political opposition is mainly held together by two dynasties – that of Vice President Jejomar Binay and Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada. They are more intent in shoring up the political fortunes of their children than in building up genuine political parties.

The Nacionalista Party is in a somewhat better position than UNA because of billionaire businessman Manny Villar who acquired the party like a franchise. When he bought the “White House” mansion of the late Vice-President Salvador “Doy” Laurel, the party was apparently part of the deal.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.