MANILA - A proposed federal constitution being pushed by President Rodrigo Duterte should bar him from running again for the post, a scholar said Tuesday, warning changing charters was a “classic strategy of autocratic leaders” to remain in power.
The prohibition will “allay the valid fears of many Filipinos that this shift to federalism is part of the same script” by the president and his allies to extend their terms, said political science professor Gene Lacza Pilapil of the University of the Philippines.
Pilapil dared members of Duterte’s consulative committee to include a reelection ban on the president in the federal constitution they were drafting.
The committee headed by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno is set to finish its proposal by July so the President can endorse to Congress in his State of the Nation Address.
Duterte earlier said he was willing to step down earlier than 2022 if a new constitution was in place by then.
But Pilapil insisted this promise should be institutionalized in the new constitution, saying it was “as good as his campaign promise to ride a jet ski to the Spratlys.”
During the campaign, Duterte said he would do so in response to Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea.
But Duterte has since been very accommodating to the Chinese despite their continuing fortification of man-made islands in the disputed area. He later said his “jet ski” remark was just a joke.
A reelection ban on Duterte in the new charter will “protect democracy,” Pilapil said.
“Changing constitutions is a classic strategy of autocratic leaders elected in democracies but who later undermined their democracies,” he added.
Pilapil described as “power grab” proposals from some congressional leaders to forgo elections next year to pave the way for the federal shift.
A no-election scenario will be “injurious” and “expose” efforts to change the constitution as “primarily a power grab of self-interested, shameless, and power-hungry legislators,” he said.
A House committee on Monday sought to postpone for a third time the barangay and youth elections in May to October this year, seemingly to accommodate the proposed federal shift.
Pilapil cautioned against revising the Constitution saying “the real experts... have counseled caution and moderation” on a federal shift.
“This raises the question whether intellectually, the Philippines’ constitutional overhaul project is a matter or hubris and/or sheer ignorance of expert literature,” he said.
“No democratic country with an existing unitary-presidential setup has been crazy enough to make these constitutional overhauls at the same time.”