MANILA, Philippines - The factions at Malacañang are at odds again, this time over the possibility of a second term for President Aquino.
A day after Press Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. assured the nation that the President had no intention of staying in power beyond his single six-year term, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte contradicted it, saying Aquino could still change his mind and may ultimately give in to the wishes of his “bosses” the people.
Seeking reelection will require amending the Constitution. President Aquino has consistently opposed Charter change, while its proponents in the House of Representatives have said any amendment will tackle only economic provisions and will not include lifting of term limits.
Valte reminded reporters that Aquino did not entertain the thought of running for president until the last quarter of 2009, amid a nationwide outpouring of grief over the death of his mother, former President Corazon Aquino.
“In 2009, Senator Aquino sought the presidency as a response to calls from the people. He has consistently held the people to be his bosses,” Valte said. “That has not changed for the President, and he continues to hold fast to this, to this day.”
Valte also made clear Malacañang would not stop allies of President Aquino in the House of Representatives from legislating a term extension for presidents.
“While they may be allies, they still belong to a separate and co-equal branch of government and are perfectly entitled to pursue their own advocacies,” she texted Palace reporters.
She was referring to the plan of Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice, a close friend and ally of Roxas, to file a bill allowing the President to seek reelection.
“There is an opportunity to continue our reforms and extend the country’s economic growth streak,” Erice said. “What is important is to provide a way for the growing number of people clamoring for a second term for the President.”
He clarified though that his proposal is his personal initiative and not the party’s.
A Liberal Party (LP) survey – courtesy of now Budget Secretary Florencio Abad – giving Aquino a 60 percent chance of winning the 2010 polls might have also convinced him to run.
Valte’s statement echoed that of her boss Edwin Lacierda. Both are identified with the Cabinet faction called Balay, which is led by Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II.
Roxas, the presumptive standard bearer of the LP, sparked speculation about a second term for Aquino by expressing hope in a recent television interview that the President could have six more years in office. His camp is also believed to have fielded social media trolls calling for a second term for Aquino.
Coloma is identified with the Samar group of Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr.
Both groups helped in the May 2010 campaign of Aquino, but supported different candidates for vice president: the Balay group backed Roxas while the Samar faction went for Jejomar Binay. Malacañang has always denied the existence of the factions.
Roxas has consistently rated way behind Binay in surveys on possible presidential candidates in 2016.
Binay, for his part, said it was “selfish” of Aquino’s supporters to convince the President to seek reelection. He also expressed hopes Aquino would not give in to calls for him to seek a second term as doing so would be an affront to the memory of his mother.
“President Aquino, through Secretary Coloma, has made known his sentiments on term extension. We must respect his decision and end this politically divisive initiative,” Binay said.
“It was a selfish proposal to begin with, motivated more by personal rather than national interest. It was also unfair to the President. The proposal put him on the spot and made him the object of criticisms, which he doesn’t deserve.”
Binay said those who made the proposal do not know the President.
“He is a decent person and will not cling to power. He is a student of history, and he won’t tarnish his mother’s good name just to please some personalities,” Binay said. “I am certain President Noynoy will follow the sterling example of his mother.”
During Corazon Aquino’s presidency, there were reports of similar attempts by certain groups to make her run in the 1992 elections. The proponents reportedly argued that she was not covered by the constitutional term limit since she assumed power before the Charter was ratified.
She rejected the proposals and endorsed a successor outside the political party identified with her husband and the fight against the Marcos dictatorship.
Later, when her handpicked successor Fidel Ramos backed an attempt to amend the Constitution, which would have allowed him to seek re-election, Corazon Aquino joined mass protests and reminded him that “there’s life after the presidency.”
SC upholds term limit
Amid Malacañang’s conflicting statements on the possibility of Aquino seeking reelection, the Supreme Court (SC) has upheld the three-term limit for elected local officials.
In a 25-page decision, the high court held that the three-term rule under the Constitution is “inflexible” and “mandates strict implementation” and that even reapportioning of districts cannot be used as an excuse to violate it.
“Considering that the one-term gap or rest after three consecutive elections is a result of a compromise among the members of the Constitutional Commission, no cavalier exemptions or exceptions to its application is to be allowed,” read the ruling penned by Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes.
The SC made the ruling in the case of Camarines Sur provincial board member Angel Naval, who was ousted from his post by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) after winning in four consecutive elections for the same post in two legislative districts.
Naval ran as provincial board member for the second district of the province and won in the 2004 and 2007 polls. On Oct. 12, 2009, then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed into law Republic Act No. 9716, which reapportioned the legislative districts in Camarines Sur and took eight towns of the second district to form a third district.
In the 2010 polls, Naval once again won a seat in the provincial board, this time in the third district. He sought reelection last year and won in the same district.
But upon petition of another candidate for the post, Nelson Julia, the second division of the Comelec ruled on March 5, 2013 to cancel the certificate of candidacy of Naval for violation of the three-term rule under Article X Section 84 of the Constitution, and Section 43(b) of the Local Government Code (LGC). The Comelec affirmed this ruling on June 5, 2013.
Naval then questioned the poll body’s decision before the high court.
He argued that he did not violate the limit because his third and fourth terms were in the new district created by RA 9716, and the legislative districts are composed of new sets of municipalities.
But the high court did not agree, declaring: “In Naval’s case, the words of RA No. 9716 plainly state that the new second district is to be created, but the third district is to be renamed… A complete reading of RA No. 9716 yields no logical conclusion other than that the lawmakers intended the old second district to be merely renamed as the current third district.”
The SC ruled that the Comelec was correct in its finding.
The court also cited as basis deliberations of the members of the constitutional commission, which showed that the three-term rule on local elective officials was a compromise among clashing opinions that should therefore be implemented without exemptions.
It dismissed the petition of Naval for reversal of the Comelec ruling.
“The Court finds no compelling reason to grant the relief prayed for by Naval. For the Court to declare otherwise would be to create a dangerous precedent unintended by the drafters of our Constitution and of RA No. 9716,” the SC declared/– With Edu Punay, Jose Rodel Clapano