Malacañang on Thursday, January 7, flatly denied that President Rodrigo Duterte is supporting moves to amend the 1987 Constitution so he can extend his term of office.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque issued the denial hours after news broke that the Chief Executive's congressional allies are gunning for amendments to the charter.
"Wala pong katuturan ang mga tsismis na 'yan. Tsismis lang po 'yan," said Roque during his regular press briefing on Thursday. (Those rumors have no basis. They are only rumors.)
"The President has made it clear. Wala po siyang kahit anong kagustuhan na manatili kahit na isang minuto man lang beyond his term of office on June 30 of 2022," the spokesman continued.
(He has no wish to stay even a minute longer beyond his term of office which ends on June 30, 2022.)
Roque was less clear when responding to a question on whether or not Duterte gave his blessing to Speaker Lord Allan Velasco to revive charter change talks in the lower chamber, supposedly only to change economic provisions.
"The President does not have to give his blessing. That is really the role of Congress. Only Congress can begin the process of charter change. So we repect that," said Duterte's spokesman.
However, he said Duterte's "number one priority" is bringing COVID-19 vaccines to the country.
"The President has no other top priority than bringing an end to this pandemic by giving a vaccine to our countrymen," said Roque.
While talks to pursue charter change began right before the pandemic hit, Duterte's lawmaker allies are now also saying amending "restrictive" economic provisions in the Constitution could help the country recover from the global health crisis.
Senators Ronald dela Rosa and Francis Tolentino even cited the pandemic in their call for a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass), an initial step towards charter change.
“Against the backdrop of mounting economic and health concerns brought about by the pandemic, it is important to ensure that the subsequent national policies and strategies for the rehabilitation of our nation be responsive to the needs of our people in order to bring about genuine economic growth and sustainable development,” the senators said in their Resolution of Both Houses No 2.
But unlike Velasco, Dela Rosa and Tolentino want to amend “democratic representation" provisions in the Constitution, not just economic provisions.
“Democratic representation” may mean that the two Duterte allies want to introduce changes to the scope of power and even the term limits of elected officials.
Some other senators, however, cited the pandemic as the reason not to pursue charter change discussions, saying Congress needs to focus on more urgent measures to help the country cope with an economic and public health crisis. (READ: Senators question timing of Cha-Cha talks: ‘One big step into quicksand’)
As early as the 2016 presidential elections, Duterte had already expressed support for changing economic provisions that restrict foreign ownership of Philippine corporations.
It's not the first time Malacañang denied Duterte is seeking a term extension. The President himself has frequently said in public speeches that he supposedly plans to retire from politics when his term ends in 2022.
He had also called for charter change to make way for a federal system in government, going as far as creating a consultative committee on charter amendments during his first year as President.
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.