MANILA - President Benigno Aquino III 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 20-year reign that ended in a People Power uprising in 1986.
Aquino insisted for many years he was against constitutional change and that he would step aside when his term ended in 2016, but in a television interview aired on Wednesday night he 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 on the ABC-5 network.
Aquino, 54, frequently calls Filipinos his "bosses".
The President said he was considering the highly controversial move because he wanted to ensure his political reforms did not end with the conclusion of his first term in office.
Aquino had been hoping his longtime ally and current Interior Secretary, Manuel Roxas, could contest the next elections and succeed him. But surveys have consistently shown him to be unpopular with the electorate.
Nevertheless, Aquino emphasized 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.
Vice-President Jejomar Binay, who is eyeing the presidency in 2016, gave a measured reaction to Aquino's move, releasing a statement stating he respected the president's decision to "hear the voice of the people."
"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.
Binay's daughter, Senator Nancy Binay, urged Filipinos to pray for Aquino to make the right decision. She pointed out that Aquino's mother, the late President Cory Aquino, refused proposals for her to run for another term during her time.
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.
Father Ranhilio Aquino, dean of the San Beda Graduate School of Law, said raising the specter of a possible term extension for President Aquino was 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," he said.
The law dean also chastised the President for saying that he wanted to amend the Constitution to clip the powers of the judiciary. This, after the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional both the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of lawmakers and parts of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
"As for clipping the powers of the judiciary, first, 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. 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," the law dean said.
Other groups gave even harsher criticism to the possibility of President Aquino's longer stay in Malacanang.
"The truth is finally out, the administration wants another term after all. President Aquino and his Malacañang’s spokespersons are all hypocrites, pakipot kunwari but power hungry just the same. Under the pretext of listening to the voice of the people, his bosses, he is now open to a term extension to ensure his so called reforms. Who are they fooling?" the group Courage said.
Anakpawis party-list Rep. Fernando Hicap said the President now has the makings of a tyrant with his latest declaration supporting moves to amend the Philippine Constitution.
"Aquino wants all power and authority concentrated to him and the Executive Branch. He is ready to challenge anyone or any institution that will stand on his way or oppose his decisions," he said in a statement.
Allies of the President gave different reactions to the news.
Senator Koko Pimentel 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.
Senator Ralph Recto, meanwhile, asked his colleagues in politics to cease and desist from pushing the succession talks for 2016.
“We must restore our bearings. The people don't want us to talk loudly about succession. What they want is for us to work hard so that government programs meant for their benefit succeed,” he appealed.
The son of democracy champions Benigno Jr. and Corazon, Aquino enjoyed a landslide election victory in 2010 on a promise to stamp out widespread corruption blamed for massive poverty.
He has won international plaudits for his good governance program and been widely applauded for bringing consistently strong economic growth to the country.
But the high popularity ratings he enjoyed for the first half of his term have begun to slide sharply amid a slew of corruption and political controversies.
Criticism that tens of millions of poor people have missed out on the country's economic gains, magnified by a recent spike in inflation, has also hurt Aquino.
Ironically, the current constitution was enacted in 1987 under his mother Corazon, who led the revolution against Marcos and then served a single term as president before enthusiastically standing aside.
Aquino did not specify that he wanted to change the Constitution just to remove presidential term limits.
Instead, he said the Constitution likely needed to be amended to limit the powers of the Supreme Court, which recently ruled that Aquino's main budget stimulus program 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 budget ruling.
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. With Agence France-Presse