MANILA, Philippines – Even in Europe, questions regarding constitutional change continued to follow President Benigno Aquino III.
In an open forum after his speech at AXIXA in Berlin organized with Koerber Stiftung and the Asia Pacific Association, Aquino was asked to clarify anew whether he wants to revise the Constitution to lift presidential term limits and review the role of the judiciary.
Aquino chose to focus his answer on judicial review, which he described as “one of the issues closest to my heart,” and avoided the question on presidential term limits.
Aquino said he believes a “healthy compromise” is needed in the Supreme Court’s exercise of judicial review, which Aquino has described as excessive.
“During our Martial Law period, whenever there were questions regarding the validity of imposing Martial Law, the court normally would say: that is a political question and they were not competent and not within their purview to decide or pass upon,” Aquino said.
“The present Constitution that we have – the 1987 Constitution, has given the judiciary which is a separate branch from the executive and the legislative the authority and the obligation to examine grave abuses of discretion leading to low jurisdiction whatsoever. Now our issue is that this is a power that should be used in restraint, unfortunately it is used rather – it is used too much. Then it seems that we have swung from one end to the other extreme wherein before they didn’t want to interfere whatsoever, now, it seems they feel compelled to interfere in anything and everything,” he added.
The relationship between Aquino and the Supreme Court soured after the High Court declared 3 mechanisms under the administration-backed Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), a scheme meant to stimulate the economy, as unconstitutional.
Weeks after the decision, Aquino, in a television interview, said he was open to the idea of revising the Constitution to curb the powers of the SC and allow a 2nd presidential term.
In the House of Representatives, Aquino allies have started to reevaluate how the Judiciary Development Fund is being handled after the decision was handed down. Current proposals seek to transfer the safekeep of the fund to the National Treasury away from the SC if approved. However, hearings on JDF are currently suspended pending the resolution of the motion for reconsideration filed on DAP.
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, meanwhile, has kept her distance from the issue. Asked to react to the President’s statements in a rare press conference last month, Sereno refused to engage in a word war with the President.
While Aquino acknowledged that the Supreme Court is presently working on judicial reforms, he said he wanted to ensure that the reach of the judicial branch would not go into “extreme.”
“So what we are envisioning in this dialogue is to find that healthy compromise that gives them the power to provide the check and balance but doesn’t tend itself to want to use of a power that is very, very strong and very powerful,” he said.
The forum in Berlin is one of the many stops in Aquino’s recently concluded trip to Europe. He arrived in Boston Sunday morning, September 21. – Rappler.com