MANILA - The 1987 Constitution set term limits on elected officials to prevent them from staying in power forever.
Lawyer Katrina Legarda on Thursday said this the reason why presidents are only allowed a single term in office, senators only 3 terms, and congressmen only 2 terms.
"My understanding was the reason why the 1987 Constitution came into being is precisely to prevent second terms for any president allowing only 3 terms for congressmen and 2 terms for senators ," she said.
"It is precisely to avoid the possibility that a very bad President will stay in power forever," she added.
The 1987 Constitution was approved during the watch of then President Corazon Aquino, mother of current President Benigno Aquino.
The older Aquino was later known for her opposition to moves to change the charter.
"Now, if he wishes to overturn what his mother did for our country, make my day," Legarda said.
She also believes that through charter change, the younger Aquino wants to weaken the Supreme Court and make the Executive Department more powerful.
"Palagay ko, it looks like his sudden change came because he wants to weaken the Supreme Court," she said. "It's okay if you're an honest president but it is a good thing to do if you're a dishonest president and that's what all I'm gonna say about charter change."
President Aquino said on Wednesday he was considering constitutional changes including adjustment of term limits for officials that might allow him to serve a second 6-year term.
Aquino did not specify that he wanted to change the constitution just to remove presidential term limits.
Instead, he said the constitution likely needed amending to rein in the Supreme Court, which recently ruled that Aquino's controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) was illegal.
"Before all these things happened, I was closed to (constitutional change). I admit that. But now, I'm seriously rethinking things," Aquino said, in reference to the court's ruling on DAP.
He complained that the US-style checks and balances in government had faded and the Supreme Court now had the power to overrule Congress and the executive branch.
FOCUS ON ECONOMIC PROVISIONS
Disaster rehabilitation czar and former senator Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, believes that lawmakers shouldn't tinker with term limits.
"Iyung position ko doesn't change if at all we have to amend or change the charter. It should only focus on the economic provisions kasi yung 1987 charter natin is too nationalistic to uphold dahil nanggaling na tayo sa dictatorship," he said. "Iyung mga nag-frame nito, ang focus nila iyung nationalistic, hindi iyung babalik na naman sa dictatorship."
"My position will not change na dapat walang term extension sa term limits ke presidente, bise-presidente, senador, congressman," Lacson said. "Let's not disturb it anymore, iyung provision sa Constitution."
Former Senator Richard Gordon, a member of the 1971 Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) during the Marcos regime, said any move to amend the 1987 charter should not just benefit some.
"As a lawyer and as a Filipino citizen, I would caution the President because sila mismo they're beginning to eat their own words," he said. "Lahat natin gusto natin magbago ng Constitution but not to favor anybody, papaboran na individual."
"Ako galing ako sa Con-Con. Tanda ko nung araw, tumayo ako sa 'ban Marcos, no extension' dahil nga consistent naman ako, 'di nagbabago," Gordon said.
Constitutional expert Fr. Ranhilio Aquino-Callangan, meanwhile, believes that lifting term limits would be self-serving.
"The President's change of position - from adamant refusal to enthusiastic hospitality - in respect to charter change is outrageously self-serving. The Constitution is amended only for serious reasons and extending the term of a President is not a serious reason," said Aquino-Callangan, dean of the San Beda Graduate School of Law.
"Iyung amendment of the charter term extenson, there's this thing we call self-serving -- binabago mo ang Saligang Batas at ikaw rin ang nakinabang. That's very bad," he told radio dzMM.
CLIPPING THE SUPREME COURT'S POWERS
Aquino-Callangan also criticized the President's plans to clip the powers of the judiciary.
"Even if you remove the express provision of the so-called expanded power of judicial review, the Supreme Court will still have the power to review," he said. "This is the province of the judiciary, unless we are ready to change our constitutional culture of checks and balances."
"It shows the president's authoritarian streak when he wants to keep his actions beyond the pale of judicial review. It is when we have such a president that we need judicial review most," he added.
"If President Cory could live with those powers (of the Supreme Court), if President Ramos could deal with the powers, and we saw an upturn in the economy during President Ramos' term, President Erap, no matter what we say about him, could live with it, itong si GMA... si President Aquino, no," Aquino-Callangan said.
"He says masyado nang malakas ang Korte Supreme natin," he added. - reports from Dominic Almelor, ABS-CBN News; Agence France-Presse