‘Term extension a threat to democracy’
Jose Rodel Clapano (The Philippine Star) - August 22, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Ferdinand Marcos wanted to remain in power. Look what happened.

This was the message sent to President Aquino yesterday by protesters who used the 31st death anniversary of his father Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. as an occasion to denounce plans to lift the president’s single-term limit.

Protesters gathered in front of the Aquinos’ family home along Times Street and around the Ninoy Aquino monument , both in Quezon City, displaying placards bearing photographs of the President’s parents and branding him a budding dictator.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, who was among the recipients of a special award granted yesterday to those who fought the Marcos dictatorship, also warned that lifting the President’s single, six-year term was a threat to democracy.

The late President Corazon Aquino had refused to seek a second term despite arguments that she was not covered by the single-term limit imposed by the 1987 Constitution.

Upon her retirement, she opposed attempts to amend the Constitution to lift term limits and allow the reelection of presidents.

In one speech against the first Charter change initiative during the presidency of her endorsed successor, Fidel Ramos, she said the desire to stay in power beyond a two-term limit was one of the reasons Marcos declared martial law in 1972.

Ninoy Aquino was arrested and detained shortly after martial law was imposed. On Aug. 21, 1983, amid reports that Marcos was dying of lupus, Aquino returned to Manila from US exile. He was shot dead on the tarmac of what was then the Manila International Airport.

“That is why we are here – to tell the people who want to stay in power, by martial law or Charter change: no way and never again,” Mrs. Aquino said at the rally.

She said one term is good enough and there’s life after the presidency.

The victims of martial law staged a picket in front of the Aquino house in Quezon City to protest the abuses of dictatorship.

Binay, who received yesterday the Ninoy Aquino Medal of Valor for his role in fighting the Marcos dictatorship, said the country’s democracy would be in danger if moves to extend the term limit for Aquino and clip the powers of the Supreme Court will succeed.

“Our democracy at present is again in danger due to those who are pushing the President to extend his term after 2016 by amending the Constitution to remove the term limits for president and clip the power of the Supreme Court,” Binay said in his speech after accepting the award presented by members of the Ninoy Aquino Movement (NAM) to honor human rights lawyers and anti-martial law advocates.

The ceremony was held at the tarmac of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1 in Pasay City in commemoration of the 31st death anniversary of the President’s late father.

Checks and balances democracy’s foundation

Binay said that the Constitution granted powers to the judiciary in order to make sure that another dictatorship would not occur.

“Checks and balances are the foundations of democracy, and the Constitution has mandated the judiciary with both the power and duty to determine whether or not there has been grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch of instrumentality of government. This provision was included to prevent a submissive and subservient judiciary that bends to the wills of one branch, or as was the case during martial law, of one man. Such power is our insurance against the threat of another dictatorship and the ensuing encroachment upon our liberties,” Binay said.

While the country remembered the death of Ninoy, martial law victims belonging to the Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA) trooped to the Aquino residence in Times Street to remind the President that it was not only his father who fought Marcos but the Filipino people also opposed the dictatorship.

“We remain vigilant and defiant to any sitting president who pretends to be pro-people, pro-democracy and patriotic,” said the members of SELDA, an organization of former political prisoners.

SELDA chairperson Marie Hilao-Enriquez said the country’s situation has not significantly changed from the time of Marcos up to present administration.

“The country remains to suffer given the issues of corruption, subservience to the US and human rights violations. And now, the President wants to perpetuate himself in power by amending the Constitution. All these issues are similar to issues we have stood up against and opposed during the time of former dictator Marcos,” she added.

The activists carried placards with slogans like “No to Dictatorship! Never again to Martial Law!”

Binay also urged those who fought against the Marcos dictatorship to fight any changes in the constitutional provisions to guarantee checks and balances in government and help preserve the legacy of Ninoy.

“I am sure that I am not alone in the view that we must never allow partisan inclinations to erode the institutions that guarantee our freedoms. I urge all of you who have been comrades in the struggle against the dictatorship to be active in stopping this insidious plan clad in the guise of good intentions,” Binay said.

“This, I believe, is how we can best protect the legacy of Ninoy Aquino, and the best way we can ensure that our struggle to bring back a working democracy that serves the interests of the people, and not of a selfish few, will not be in vain,” Binay added.

NAM cited Binay for his role as a human rights lawyer during martial law and for defending the newly restored democracy against the coup attempts against the administration of Ninoy’s widow President Corazon Aquino.

“I am accepting this award on behalf of the countless Filipinos who sacrificed and fought martial law. Some of them did not receive justice until now. I am sure that all of you will be with us in our pursuit to correct the injustices the jailed Filipinos suffered, those who were killed and the desaparecidos,” Binay said.

Other awardees include Charito Planas, Alejandro Roces (posthumous) and Fernando Martin Peña.

International personalities and groups were also cited, such as former US President Jimmy Carter, the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) represented by former Associated Press correspondent Arnold Zeitlin, Sandra Burton (posthumous) and the International Lawyers Committee for Human Rights/Human Rights First headed by Michael Posner.

The yearly observance of Ninoy’s martyrdom which began in 1986 is spearheaded by NAM, with the NAM SERVE partners, Philippine Commission on Human Rights, August 21 Movement (ATOM), Spirit of EDSA, the Kalampagin ang Konsensyang Kinakalawang (KKK) and the Philippine ITI-Earthsavers UNESCO DREAM Center.

The NAM was organized after the assassination of Ninoy at the airport tarmac on Aug. 21, 1983.

Meanwhile, members of Sanlakas staged a rally at the monument of Ninoy at the corner of Quezon Ave. and West Ave. in Quezon City to commemorate the death of the former senator and also to remind the President of the people’s opposition to proposals to extend the term of the chief executive and clip the powers of the Supreme Court.

Yellow ribbons in Tarlac

Yellow ribbons and flowers were displayed all over the hometown of Ninoy Aquino in Concepcion, Tarlac to commemorate his 31st death anniversary yesterday.

Residents who wore yellow shirts attended the wreath laying ceremonies at the foot of the giant statue of Ninoy in front of the Concepcion Municipal Hall where a simple program followed.

In his short message, Rep. Noel Villanueva of the 3rd district of Tarlac encouraged the citizens of Concepcion to emulate Ninoy by sacrificing for the country and giving their best for people in need.

Mayor Andres Lacson appealed to the President to help the hometown of his father.

Lacson said they have yet to see more projects to be delivered to the people of Concepcion.

“Right now the only project of the President in Concepcion is the Parua flood control project, which is yet to be finished. Maybe the President might see that we need a municipal hospital also,” Lacson said.

Robert Aquino, son of Ninoy’s brother former Sen. Agapito Aquino, was guest of honor in the ceremonies. The young Aquino said he remembered Ninoy when relatives visited him in Fort Bonifacio where he was detained during martial law.

He said Ninoy loved God and country but his detention made him closer to God.

After the program, 31 balloons symbolizing the 31st death anniversary of Ninoy were released.

Ninoy served as mayor of Concepcion then governor of Tarlac province before he became senator. – With Rhodina Villanueva, Ric Sapnu


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