Aquino Touts New Term as Party Struggles for 2016 Successor

Philippine President Benigno Aquino may seek changes to the country’s 27-year-old constitution to curtail judicial powers and allow him to seek another term.

“The balance between the three branches seems to be vanishing,” Aquino told local news channel TV5 yesterday, adding that the judiciary is using its powers to check congress and the executive much too often. “The problem now is, there are those who ask: ‘Has it gone too far?’”

Aquino has repeatedly criticized the Supreme Court for partially voiding a 144.4 billion-peso ($3.32 billion) stimulus package that he said spurred economic growth. Aquino, who has two years left in his term, is barred from running again by the constitution.

“I have to listen to the people,” Aquino said in the television interview when asked if he would consider seeking re-election in 2016. “How do we ensure the reforms we began will become permanent?” he said.

Talk of another term may be a strategy to unite his Liberal Party, said Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform in Manila

“It’s the voice of desperation,” Casiple said. “The president’s Liberal Party doesn’t have a winnable candidate for 2016, and this might be an attempt to unify members with him at the center.”

Aquino could create a political crisis by pushing for a term extension, an issue advanced by supporters of former President Fidel Ramos in the late 1990s, and one that could distract him in his final years in office, Casiple said.

Vested Interests

The president also risks his legacy of economic success and fighting corruption by questioning the validity of institutions and the democracy that his mother, the late President Corazon Aquino, fought for, Casiple said. “He’s jumping from the frying pan into the fire,” he said.

Aquino must not listen to vested interests in considering a plan to extend his term, Vice President Jejomar Binay, who leads in opinion polls, said in a statement today. “What is important is that the voice he hears is an authentic and genuine voice, not one manufactured by quarters with vested interests who are driven mainly by self-preservation,” he said.

In an interview with Bloomberg last year, Aquino played down his ambitions.

“I didn’t have any ambition to be president,” Aquino said. “It was fate. The people found me. I am sure they will be able to find another one out of 95 million.”

Ramos’s Bid

“Aquino needs to communicate how he wants the constitution changed,” said Jonathan Ravelas, chief market strategist at BDO Unibank Inc. in Manila, adding that any change will create “near-term uncertainty” for investors. “The more transparent this process is, the better,” he said.

The 1987 constitution was written after Corazon Aquino was ushered to power by a popular uprising that toppled the regime of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. On Sept. 21, 1997, she drew a huge crowd at Rizal Park in Manila to protest Fidel Ramos’s bid for a second term through constitutional amendments.

“The presidency is so great an honor, no one deserves to have it again,” she said at that time. “It imposes a duty so important -- to guide a whole country and protect a whole nation -- that you must do it well. And if you did it well, you won’t deserve to do it again.”

Pandora’s Box

Aquino may have a hard time pushing for a change to the charter in the Senate, which has presidential aspirants including Marcos’s son, Ferdinand Jr., among its members, Benito Lim, a political science professor at the Ateneo de Manila University, said by phone. “Filipinos are wary of charter change. It’s like a political Pandora’s Box. They don’t trust their politicians.”

Pushing for a term extension may also “raise eyebrows among foreign allies and international investors, who are concerned with the potential political fallout of a constitutional change,” said Richard Javad Heydarian, a political science lecturer at the Ateneo de Manila University.

“I don’t think he is seriously committed to the idea of constitutional change if it means tarnishing the legacy of his mother, who rallied against personalistic regimes re-emerging in the country,” he said.

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