‘Noy to step down in 2016’

Delon Porcalla - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - It’s a free country where people can propose anything, but Malacañang assured the public yesterday that President Aquino is committed to serve just one fixed term of six years and will step down from office in 2016.

“The President is only counting the remaining months, days in office before he finally steps down. He hasn’t even thought of extending his term of office,” Press Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said yesterday.

He said Aquino is not giving serious thought to proposals of term extension.

“The President is not giving particular attention to those things nor is he encouraging anyone to make the move. It’s all part of free expression in a free society,” Coloma said.

Asked why the President’s allies had raised the idea at all, Coloma said it was a way to gauge public sentiment and get feedback, adding that Aquino himself had declared in a previous event that he wanted to know if he still enjoyed public support.

Coloma said Aquino has been thankful for the people’s support for reforms instituted in government.

“That was my impression of him. The President is thankful that the people continue to support him and his righteous path policy,” he said.

However, the option to stick to just one fixed term of six years remains and has not changed, Coloma said.

Thus, calls for a term extension is nothing but a sentiment – no more, no less, he stressed.

Coloma’s statement was issued after an online petition was made calling for Aquino to have six more years in office, implying amendments in the Constitution to remove the provision that limits the tenure of a sitting president to just one term.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda on Wednesday gave hints that while Aquino is opposed to charter change and does not want to extend his stay in power, he would be willing to listen to his “bosses” – the Filipino people.

“The President is sensitive to the voice of his boss, so let us just wait for it,” Lacierda said.

“The President has already spoken of his preference... but we still have to wait for what the people, his boss, really want. There are some who are against but there are still others who want Aquino to go on,” Lacierda said.

It has been no secret and members of Aquino’s Cabinet have relayed the sentiments of people in reaction to news of him going beyond his 2016 term, now that reform measures have taken place and there is a need to sustain the momentum.

Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II aired his sentiment over a television interview that he would like to see Aquino continue beyond 2016.

“The President knows about those sentiments, we are very thankful of the support and expression of the preference for another term,” Lacierda said.

But when asked if this meant Aquino was open to amending the 1987 Constitution which prohibits presidents from seeking reelection, Lacierda backtracked, insisting this has not been discussed.

Sen. Francis Escudero criticized Lacierda for making the statement, saying it was “clearly unfortunate.”

“He should not have been that vague when he answered that question about that issue. He probably had not spoken with the President before that press conference,” Escudero said.

He lamented Lacierda has never been that careful in his choice of answers whenever he holds his press briefings at Malacañang.

Escudero said Lacierda is not helping the cause of his principal on this particular issue when he came out with a statement about the clamor of some sectors for Aquino to extend his term beyond six years.

“And on the part of President Aquino, to be fair I don’t even think he wants that. In fact, the last time I talked to him he was already counting down the days, and he knows how many days are left. So I don’t think that is even on his mind,” Escudero said.

Asked if the President himself should just come out and clarify the issue, Escudero said it should be the person who created the confusion and that is none other than Lacierda.


‘Critical mass’


Aquino’s administration ally, Caloocan City Rep. Edgar Erice, said he would push for amendments in the Constitution to allow Aquino to stay in power for six more years.

“I’m contemplating and studying a possibility of filing an amendment to the Constitution that will allow two terms for the position of president,” Erice told reporters yesterday.

Erice said he would consult his constituents and gather signatures to support his campaign.

“I’m looking for a critical mass to convince. And I think that’s physically possible for a certain period of time. Together with my leaders and supporters we will campaign in our district, we will gather signatures. We have 200,000 voters, if we get 40,000 voters then I’ll push for Charter change,” he said.

Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas said there is still time to undertake Charter change and which will succeed if there is sufficient clamor.

Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali Gonzales II, however, warned Charter change to extend Aquino’s term will not fly and will endanger the ongoing legislative process to ease restrictions in the economic provisions of the Constitution to attract investments.

Gonzales pointed out the pending Resolution of Both Houses No. 1 seeking to remove restrictions in foreign ownership in certain industries. He said the resolution would be presented before the plenary anytime soon.

“We have an honest-to-goodness move to amend the economic provisions of the Constitution… and now you’re asking for a direct amendment of the political provision of the Constitution? The bad thing that could happen is that the Charter change resolution will become collateral damage,” he said.

Gonzales said people will become suspicious of the resolution because of the calls to extend Aquino’s term.

Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas criticized Erice’s proposal even as he admitted the provision on the terms of office of elected officials is one of the weaknesses of the Constitution.

“I am not in favor of the idea, and I guess neither would the President agree to such. Even the people would not welcome such a move. Indeed, the terms of office of elected officials are just one of the flaws of the Constitution,” Fariñas said.

Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez described the proposal to extend Aquino’s term as self-serving, saying most Filipinos are expected to oppose such move.

“Should the President support the call for his second term, it means he disregarded his own principle because of the desire to stay in power,” he said.

Parañaque City Rep. Gustavo Tambunting said Erice’s proposal was ill advised.

The militant Kilusang Mayo Uno labor group also rejected calls to extend Aquino’s term of office, saying he should instead step down immediately.

“Aquino made corruption and poverty even worse under his term and deserves to be removed from office. The Filipino workers and people know this,” KMU chairman Elmer Labog said.


Too late


The Commission on Elections (Comelec), on the other hand, said proposals to amend the Constitution to accommodate another term of office for Aquino would be impossible at this point.

“At this point it is impossible, unless they amend the 1987 Constitution. The law states now that no reelection for the president,” Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said.

Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal explained the Constitution states the President is not eligible for re-election.

“This means that in 2016 or in any other presidential elections, President Aquino could no longer run,” he said.

Asked about the case of former president and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada who was able to run for president in 2010, Macalintal said the constitutionality of his running for office has not been established.

Macalintal added the legality of Estrada’s candidacy has not yet been established although it had been elevated to the Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court did not resolve the issue because Estrada had lost in that election and it was deemed moot and academic,” he said.

Escudero added it might be too late to amend the Constitution just to accommodate another six-year term for Aquino.

Even if the people pushing for an amendment of the Constitution to extend the term of the President insist on moving forward with their plan, Escudero said it would be extremely difficult to get the support of the people.

“Whatever amendments to the Constitution must be done in the first part of the term of any president so that there would be no doubt that it would be limited to economic provisions or whatever and not term extension. It’s too late for that now,” he said. –  Paolo Romero, Marvin Sy, Sheila Crisostomo, Mayen Jaymalin


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