Lawmakers on Aquino 2nd term: Good move or political suicide?

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Will the House of Representatives support moves to amend the Constitution beyond the economic provisions?

House leaders have yet to respond to President Benigno Aquino III's statement that he is now open to constitutional amendments – to clip the Supreme Court's powers and possibly allow him a second term – but some of his allies in Congress have mixed feelings about it. 

Some administration allies in the House welcomed Aquino's proposal to revisit the parameters of "judicial reach" but with reservations. 

CIBAC Representative Sherwin Tugna said it would be worth looking at the "undefined and broad interpretation of what judicial power is in the 1987 Constitution." 

"I believe that it is high time to revisit and review and if need be, amend the Constitution to specifically state what areas the SC should not intervene so that judicial restraint will now be in textualized in the Constitution," Tugna said. 

In his exclusive interview on TV5 aired Wednesday night, August 13, Aquino admitted that the Supreme Court ruling as unconstitutional certain acts under the Disbursement Acceleration Program – a special spending program meant to spur economic growth – played a part in his change of heart on constitutional amendments.

The Supreme Court had also declared as unconstitutional parts of the Reproductive Health Law – passed by Congress after more than 2 decades – and the entirety of lawmakers' Priority Development Assistance Fund.

Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat Jr said Malacañang and the Supreme Court should find a "middle ground" in the ongoing tussle but "both branches have to get off their obstinate positions." 

"I'm not averse to amending the Constitution to redefine checks and balances but I am hoping it's done based on common desire to pursue good governance," Baguilat said. 

For Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone, Aquino's declarations could be used as an opportunity to push for other constitutional amendments. 

"I definitely welcome President Aquino's statement that he is now open to cha-cha. If you recall, I filed a resolution in the 15th Congress to precisely amend several economic, political and constitutional provisions to enable our country to pursue meaningful and lasting fundamental reforms," Evardone said. 

Aquino did not mention economic reforms as a basis for his change of heart on charter change in his television interview. 

Good move or political suicide?

When the idea of pushing for a second term for Aquino was floated by administration allies, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr, back then, shot down such proposals and said any amendments would be limited to economic provisions of the Constitution. 

The proposed second term for Aquino, which is prohibited under the 1987 Constitution, was first suggested by Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who is perceived to be the Liberal Party's chosen standard bearer in 2016. 

Caloocan Representative Edgar Erice, a Liberal Party stalwart, was one of those who echoed the calls. 

"As I said before, the President cannot just let the process of transformation and progress be wasted as the remnants of the traditional corrupt leaders are salivating on the prospect of returning to their old ways," Erice said in reaction to the Aquino interview. 

Oriental Mindoro Representative Reynaldo Umali said he believes the President "means well."

"He is an honest president and that is probably what the country needs. Six years is too short for a good president and too long for a bad one," Umali said. 

Other administration allies, however, did not readily welcome the suggestion. 

Amending the Constitution to extend Aquino's term would be "political suicide," said Valenzuela City Representative Sherwin Gatchalian, a stalwart of the Nationalist People's Coalition, which is in a coalition with the ruling Liberal Party in the House.

Gatchalian claimed that then president Fidel Ramos had committed “political suicide” by pursuing Charter change at the final stretch of his administration.

“What happened to FVR (former president Fidel V Ramos) then was political suicide because all the economic gains of his administration, including the attainment of a tiger economy was put to waste because the Ramos administration focused on cha-cha during the homestretch instead of sustaining the nation’s march into a newly-industrialized country or NIC,” Gatchalian said.

While Ramos did not get public support for his Charter change bid, the Philippines' botched bid for tiger economy status is largely blamed on the 1997 Asian financial crisis which swept across the region. 

For some lawmakers, lifting the president’s term limits should only apply to the next administration. 

Baguilat expressed hope that Aquino would really listen to the Filipino people – and not just politicians – on the issue of a second term.

“Let's hear it from the people. As PNoy said, he will have to ask the people. And I hope he gets to really feel the pulse of the people and not just the politicians," he said. 

Political clarity needed 

Aquino should clarify his statements to avoid "unnecessary confusion," according to the Akbayan party list, an administration ally. 

In a statement, Akbayan said the president must make his position on charter change clearer and "be clear that even as he expressed his openness for a second term it does not automatically mean that he will seriously seek to extend his stay in public office."

Although Akbayan shares the president's vision to continue the reforms that have been under his term, the party list said the president "should have faith that he has adequately demonstrated the advantages of 'tuwid na daan' (straight path), and that the people will take it forward, even if he does not take a second term."

Aquino showing ‘true colors’

Staunch administration critics in the House said the President's flip-flopping stance on the charter change issue showed his “true colors.” 

Kabataan Representative Terry Ridon said in a statement that “Aquino is delusional if he thinks that he is the sole guardian of the Philippines and that the Filipino people is calling for him to extend his term and save us all from unspeakable evils.”

“Mr. President, the calls for your reelection are coming from your own backyard. The vast majority of the Filipino people actually want you out,” Ridon said.

ACT Teachers Representative Antonio Tinio likened Aquino to his predecessor, Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and said his latest pronouncement was contrary to his oath to defend the Constitution.

"This is Aquino's Arroyo moment. His complete reversal on his declared stand against charter change in order to seek another term echoes former President Arroyo reneging on her Rizal Day promise not to run again. This is Aquino breaking his oath to preserve and defend the Constitution," Tinio said.

All other presidents after Corazon Aquino attempted to amend the Constitution, but were all unsuccessful as they did not gain public support.  Rappler.com