Binay: Political cha-cha destabilizing, divisive

Ayee Macaraig
Binay takes a stand contrary to the President's in opposing political charter change as he warns against a 'political and constitutional crisis'

'NATIONAL UNITY.' This is the argument Binay invokes in opposing political charter change. File OVP photo

MANILA, Philippines – “To blur the delineation between selfish interest and public interest is dangerous and despotic.”

Vice President Jejomar Binay clashed with President Benigno Aquino III’s stance of openness to changing the political provisions of the Constitution, calling the effort “destabilizing and divisive.”

A day after saying he respects the President’s position, the opposition presidential candidate took a stronger and more categorical position against political charter change.

“I have declared even before the President’s statement the other day my opposition to Charter Change, except only on the economic provisions. My position has not changed. I will continue to oppose political Charter Change not only because of principle but because it will be destabilizing and divisive at the very moment that we need national unity,” the Vice President said in a statement on Friday, August 15.

Binay was responding to Aquino’s statement on Wednesday that he was open to changing the 1987 Constitution because of “judicial overreach” and that he will “listen to my bosses” or the Filipino people on the issue of lifting term limits.

The charter sets one 6-year term for presidents, and lifting the limit might allow Aquino to run for another term, possibly threatening Binay’s bid in 2016.

While he disagreed with the President’s view on political charter change, Binay laid the blame squarely on Aquino’s advisers, not on the chief executive.

Binay’s bitter rival, Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, was the first to publicly propose lifting the President’s term limits. The president-on-leave of the ruling Liberal Party (LP), Roxas is widely seen as the party’s standard-bearer for 2016 but he has lagged behind Binay in surveys.

“Those advising the President to pursue a course that will lead to a frontal confrontation with the Supreme Court are bringing our country to the brink of a political and constitutional crisis. They are also putting in peril the President’s chance to leave a positive legacy to the people. In doing so, they invoke the name of public interest,” Binay said.

This is Binay’s second statement after the President made a surprise turnaround on changing the Constitution crafted during his mother’s presidency, after 4 years of rejecting the idea. Binay has been leading in presidential polls with a wide margin despite corruption allegations raised against him, his family, and his political allies.

The Vice President said on Thursday: “What is important is that the voice [the President] hears is an authentic and genuine voice, not one manufactured by quarters with vested interests who are driven mainly by self-preservation. We also need to keep our focus on pursuing our goal of improving the lives of the people for the remainder of the President’s term and beyond.”

In his Friday statement, Binay issued a stronger warning against “partisan considerations” behind charter change.  

“While I respect the views of those who complain of judicial overreach as well as those who believe in lifting presidential term limits, I pray for sober reflection to restrain abrupt political initiatives. We must never allow purely partisan considerations to erode the institutions that guarantee our freedoms.”

Binay is the leader of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), which called itself the “constructive opposition.” Observers and critics described Binay’s position as “awkward and two-faced” because he supports the President and is part of his Cabinet while he and his allies differ with major policies of the administration and the LP.

‘Safeguard vs dictatorship’

Binay devoted the length of his Friday statement to explaining why he is against clipping the powers of the Supreme Court.

Aquino said that he began considering charter change after the Court ruled against key acts under his administration’s special spending measure, the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), a decision he criticized in 3 major speeches while defending the benefits of DAP.

The President said it seems the judiciary is checking the executive and legislative branches “without restraint,” and is using its power more often.

Yet Binay said the Court’s so-called power of judicial review should be retained. He cited his experience as a human rights lawyer during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos to defend his point. 

“As one of those who fought for freedom and democracy during martial law, I appreciate the powers vested in the Supreme Court by the 1987 Constitution. It enshrines the hopes of the millions of Filipinos who made the 1986 Edsa Revolution possible for a strong judicial institution as the best safeguard against dictatorship in whatever form.”

He cited Article VIII, Section 1 of the Constitution, which stated that the judiciary has the duty “to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the party of any branch or instrumentality of government.”

Binay said, “This was included precisely to prevent a situation where the judiciary bends to the wills of one branch, or of one man as was the case during martial law.”

The Vice President added that he “firmly believes” that a democracy requires all branches of government “to respect each one’s independence and recognize each one’s powers.”

“Checks and balances are the foundations of democracy. When the Supreme Court declared the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) unconstitutional, it was in exercise of its power and duty as enshrined in the 1987 Constitution ratified during the time of President Cory Aquino,” Binay said.

‘Inherent power’

Following debates on clipping the Court’s power, Ateneo School of Government Dean Antonio La Viña told Rappler that the Court will still retain the power of judicial review even if charter change succeeds. (READ: Q and A: Charter change beyond Aquino, Binay)

“The power of judicial review is inherent in the judiciary. You don’t need it in the Constitution. It was only stated there because the Marcos court refused to exercise it because of fear of Marcos. But they always had it. The reason you have judicial review is you have judges to decide if a law is constitutional or not, which law applies, which law is valid or not. That’s part of what they have to do.”

Officials of the Supreme Court declined to comment on the President’s statement. – 

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