MANILA - President Benigno Aquino III is the Liberal Party's (LP) top bet in the 2016 elections in case the single-term limit for president is lifted, Transportation Secretary Jun Abaya said Thursday.
Abaya, the acting president of the ruling party, said Aquino, who is considering Constitutional amendments to lift term limits for elected officials, is the LP's "best player" in the coming national polls.
"We're just putting our best player forward in case this pushes through, we feel our best player is PNoy," he said. "(The) 2nd best player, (Interior Secretary Mar) Roxas."
Asked if the President is open to running for another term, Abaya replied, "Personally, 'Daang Matuwid' should continue."
He said the LP will back the President, their party chairman, if he seeks another term.
"The life of a Constitution is based on actual experience. Hindi naman yan cast in stone. Dapat buhay siya na nag-a-adjust sa lipunan. From the point of view and wisdom of the President, it's about time to take a serious look at the Constitution. Wala naman siyang sinasabing definitely tatakbo ako," he said.
"He is our chairman. What is consistent with the Liberal Party, we will make sure na ang 'matuwid na daan' should continue," he added.
Aquino, in an interview with TV-5 that aired Wednesday, has said he may try to change the Constitution and serve a second term in office, a stunning announcement in a nation haunted by dictatorship.
The 1987 Constitution restricts presidents to serving a single term of six years, designed to stop a repeat of dictator Ferdinand Marcos's two-decade reign that ended in a 1986 "People Power" uprising.
Aquino insisted for many years he was against constitutional change and that he would step aside when his term ended in 2016, but later indicated he was reconsidering.
"When I first got into this, I noted I had only one term of six years. Now, after having said that, of course I have to listen to the voice of my bosses," he said.
The president said he was considering the highly controversial move because he wanted to ensure his political reforms would continue.
Nevertheless, Aquino emphasised that he had made no definite plans to try and stay in power for 12 years.
"It doesn't automatically mean I will go after an additional term," he said.
Aquino would have to go through a long and complicated process to change the constitution, with any of three potential methods having to be approved by a referendum requiring simple majority support.
Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice, a member of the LP, on Thursday said he is determined to file a resolution calling for Charter change to lift term limits of public officials and allow Aquino to seek a second term.
Erice said the President's change of stance on lifting term limits has pushed him to conduct more "consultations" with constituents before he finally files his resolution.
"Lamang naman 'yung gustong magpatuloy si Pangulong Aquino although hindi ganoon ka overwhelming. I would say na 60-40 (ng constituents) ganoon. Pero marami din nagsabi sa kanila kasi ang dahilan nila ayaw na ng Pangulo. E pero ngayong pronouncement niya palagay ko malaking pagbabago. Ito nga ang nagbigay sa akin ng inspirasyon para muli pang mag-conduct ng mga consultation sa aking distrito," Erice told reporters in the Senate at the sidelines of the joint congressional oversight committee hearing on the automated election system.
"Parang binibigyan ng pagkakataon hindi lang kaming mga political leaders kundi 'yung mamamayan para pag-isipan mabuti," he added.
Vice-President Jejomar Binay on Thursday gave a measured reaction to Aquino's move, releasing a statement on Thursday stating he respected the president's decision to "hear the voice of the people".
"(But) what is important is that the voice he hears is an authentic and genuine voice, not one manufactured by quarters with vested interests who are driven mainly by self-preservation," Binay said.
The head of the influential Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, Archbishop Socrates Villegas issued a statement opposing Aquino's suggestions.
"I cannot lend support to constitutional amendments that merely serve the purposes of one office-holder or one class of persons," he said. "Constitutional amendments are justified only in the measure that they redound to the benefit of the nation and address long-festering problems arising out of ambiguities in the Constitution."
Senator Koko Pimentel, however, said he sees nothing wrong in President Aquino's stance expressing openness to lifting officials' term limits.
But Pimentel believes that President Aquino will not take advantage of the provision that would allow him to run for another term in case charter change pushes through.
Pimentel, a known advocate of a federal form of government, said that proposals for Cha-cha should pave the way for a review of the entire Constitution and not only its economic or political provisions.
"Walang masama 'yung idea galing sa kanya. In fact, if ever let us say matuloy 'yan, ang prediction ko hindi siya magte-take advantage doon siya sa chance niya to be reelected."
Political analyst Benito Lim told AFP he thought any bid by Aquino to secure a second term would likely fail, citing his falling popularity and inevitable storm of political opposition such a bid would create.
Constitutional expert Fr. Ranhillo Aquino-Callangan called the proposal to lift term limits to accomodate Aquino as "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.
"Di dapat ito palampasin ng mga mamamayan. Dapat mag-usap-usap tayo, at ipahayag ang ating pagtutol sa pag-amyenda sa Saligang Batas para mapagsilbihan lang ang gusto ng isang tao," he told radio dzMM.
"Sana pakinggan ng ating Pangulo Noynoy Aquino, galing na sa kanyang nanay, nung sinasabihan si FVR (former President Fidel V. Ramos) na baguhin ang Saligang Batas para mapalawak ang termino niya, sabi ni Tita Cory kay FVR noon: 'Eddie, don't believe people who say you are indispensable, because the cemetery is full of indispensable people,'" he added. - reports from Jacque Manabat, and Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News; Raine Musngi, ANC; Dexter Ganibe, dzMM; AFP