MANILA, Philippines – One of the drafters of the 1987 Constitution has a piece of advice for President Benigno Aquino III: don’t touch the provision on term limits.
In an interview on ANC’s Beyond Politics, Jesuit constitutionalist Father Joaquin Bernas, who was part of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, said if Aquino pursues “moves to change term limits, that may be his undoing.”
“Pahinga ka na (Take a rest),” he addressed Aquino. “There are other good people.”
Bernas added jokingly, “Give [Senator] Miriam [Santiago] a chance!”
Charter change became a hot topic recently after Aquino said in an interview that he is reconsidering his views on the touchy subject, and admitted he is open to a second term if it is the will of the people.
The Constitution currently prohibits a president from being re-elected after one 6-year term.
Bernas said the constitutionalists, when drafting the provision, limited the presidency to 6 years “to prevent a person from perpetuating himself in power.”
“The move now to have Aquino re-elected is very much against the spirit of the ConCom (Constitutional Commission), and very much against Cory herself,” he said, referring to the president’s mother and democracy icon, Corazon Aquino, under whose term the current charter was drafted and approved, careful to consider lessons from Ferdinand Marcos’ authoritarian rule.
Bernas said he does not know whether two 4-year terms for a president – which is the United States model – is better than a single 6-year term, and acknowledged that some say “a good man should stay for as long as he can.”
Later on in the interview, however, Bernas conceded, “Six years is long enough.”
Currently, there are moves in Congress to push for changes in term limits. Caloocan Representative Edgar Erice, a member of the ruling Liberal Party, plans to submit a bill seeking an extension of a president’s term to up to 8 years divided into two terms, although Malacañang said it has not directed its allies to support charter change.
No judicial overreach
Bernas also weighed in on the main issue Aquino cited as his reason for wanting to amend the Constitution: judicial overreach.
Asked whether he agreed with Aquino that the Supreme Court exhibited judicial overreach in its decision to strike down specific acts under the administration’s economic stimulus package, the Disbursement Acceleration Program or DAP as unconstitutional, Bernas disagreed.
“I think Aquino will regret [lessening the judiciary’s powers],” he said. “He can’t do it anyway. I don’t think he will get support.”
Bernas defended the High Court’s decision, saying the “Supreme Court just followed the letter of the law.”
“Weakening the Supreme Court, I think that would be very dangerous. Or enabling the President to control members of the Supreme Court, to a certain extent that happened under Marcos. But I think we should keep the Supreme Court independent,” he said.
Change economic provisions
While Bernas did not support political provisions or amendments to clip judicial power, he did agree there is a need to amend the charter’s economic provisions.
“I think that’s very vital. Things are different now from when the Constitution was first drafted,” he said.
Bernas said “the 1987 constitution was very reactive,” with the goal “to become more independent from the United States.”
Today, however, he said “we will need more money, we need more foreign capital.”
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives started plenary debates on the proposed changes to the charter’s economic provisions. Akbayan Representative Walden Bello, an economist, said it was not necessary to relax restrictions on foreign ownership to attract investors.
In changing the Constitution, Bernas said the easiest way would be a change proposed by Congress.
“It’s the simplest. It’s also representative. The Congress of course can propose the amendments itself or the Congress can decide to call a Constitutional convention and the convention will be the one to do it,” he said.
Bernas did emphasize however that “once they’re convened, its up to them. No one can tell them what to do.”
He also said it would be better if Constitutional Commission delegates are elected and not appointed.
Additionally, Bernas said he personally does not think a People’s Initiative “will ever succeed.”
“It’s very complicated. You have to get a minimum of 3% vote from each district then 12% of the total. I don’t think that will ever succeed,” he said. – Rappler.com