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Longer terms for president, lawmakers, local officials pushed in Congress

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Longer terms for president, lawmakers, local officials pushed in Congress
President Rodrigo Duterte is joined by Senate President Tito Sotto and House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco at Congress during his last State of the Nation Address on July 26, 2021.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 9:35 a.m., Jan 10.) — With the 2022 polls just a few months away, a lawmaker is proposing longer terms for the president, members of the Lower House and local officials on the argument that six years for a president and three years for House members are "too short."

Resolution of Both Houses No. 7, which urges both chambers of Congress to convene as a Constituent Assembly to consider the suggested amendments, proposes an extension of the terms of office for presidents and vice presidents up to ten years—five years upon elections and another five for succeeding re-election.

At present, the president is afforded six years without reelection. Rep. Aurelio Gonzales Jr. (Pampanga 3rd District) who filed the resolution earlier Friday said in a statement that the current setup is insufficient for an incumbent president to implement long-term programs and policies.

“A six-year tenure is too short for a good President, especially if he is confronted with a crippling crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic, which continues to wreak havoc on our health and economy and whose end is not yet in sight. It may take more than one presidency before the nation can fully recover from this catastrophe,” the statement sent to media Sunday morning reads.

The proposal has long been brewing. In 2019, Rep. Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro), who chairs the committee on constitutional amendments, said there is growing consensus among members of his panel for a four to five-year term of office for members of Congress and local officials because three was "too short."

Under the resolution, the president and vice-presidential candidates coming from the same political party will also be elected in tandem, Gonzales says, to "strengthen the political party system and ensure that the top two officials of the land are one." The proposed measure also bans the president from running for any elective post after his tenure.

RBH No. 7 also proposes five years and only one reelection for House lawmakers instead of the present three years with two possible re-elections, citing the "learning curve" for neophyte congressmen. 

"The three-year term for members of the House of  Representatives, as the past experiences would show, is a very very short term," the resolution also reads.

"On the first year, the Members tend to feel of the policies (sic.) needed to legislate especially the first termers and then work much on the second year. However, in the third year, almost half of the year would be devoted to their re-elections." 

What are its chances?

Sought for comment, political scientist Jean Franco told Philstar.com in a text message that the timing before the 2022 elections would be an issue, saying: "Nope. It will not fly." 

"Any form of constitutional change needs resources, focus, right timing, and thorough consultations. It is also divisive as we have experienced in the past," she said. 

"The issue of the length of terms is precisely why most people are distrustful of constitutional amendments. There is the view that constitution change is a mere ploy to extend their terms."

Political and legal analyst Antonio La Viña shared Franco's sentiments, saying "nothing will come out of it."

"It’s a strange proposal at this time when we are in the middle of an election campaign for the next leaders of our country. The merits of the proposal can be debated but the timing is off," he told Philstar.com in a text message late Sunday night.

Congress will only be in session for three more weeks from January 17 to February 4, after which it will adjourn for the campaign period ahead of the May 2022 elections.

Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. (Ako Bicol Partylist) is also quoted in an article by Manila Bulletin as saying that it was "too late in the day" when asked about the resolution's chances. 

Philstar.com also reached out to Senate President Vicente Sotto III for comment. This story will be updated with his response.  — with a report from Xave Gregorio

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