SHOULD AQUINO BE ALLOWED TO RUN AGAIN AS PRESIDENT IN 2016?

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Should President Benigno Aquino be given a chance to run again for president in the 2016 national elections?

I’d say, why not? Despite the current restriction in the Philippine constitution which limits the president to one single term of six years.

Why am I open to allowing President Benigno Aquino to seek a second six-year as president?

Simple. In major and even minor democracies across the world, the head of government is given an opportunity to seek re-election and their electorates see nothing wrong with this practice and tradition.

Just look at the United States from which the Philippines copied the presidential form of government that our country continues to use since the end of World War 2. President Barack Obama continues to serve his second term as president after winning his re-election bid in a fair and honest election.

Just look at our neighbors in Asia, particularly Malaysia, Thailand and Japan, which use a parliamentary form of government. This form of government was first used by the UK and it continues to be used by many countries around the world. The prime minister, who heads a parliamentary government, can be re-elected by the legislature for as long as he or she enjoys the support of the majority of legislators.

Running for a second term as president in the US, one of the strongest bulwarks of democracy in this planet, is no big deal and it has, in fact, been institutionalized. Same thing in countries which use the parliamentary form of government.

So, why can’t the Philippines follow international norms?

Ups, I nearly glossed over why the 1987 Philippine constitution banned a second term for the president. The ban was aimed mainly at preventing a repetition of the rapacious reign of a corrupt dictator, specifically Ferdinand Marcos. It took 18 years before Pinoys finally lost their patience with Marcos who reportedly stole as much as US$10 billion from public coffers, repressed most freedoms and whose armed forces committed a litany of human rights abuses. Pinoys celebrated all round when Marcos was ousted in the 1986 bloodless Edsa People’s Power Revolution.

Understandably, the administration of then President Cory Aquino, mother of the current president, wasted no time in changing the constitution and banning in 1987 a second term for the president, lest another abusive president serve beyond his or her legal term and inflict massive damage and suffering to Filipinos again. This fear or paranoia of another Marcos-type president was valid then.

But were the conditions then which allowed Marcos to serve for 18 consecutive years, the latter period of his reign as a dictator, still prevailing and valid today? With automated elections now used in the Philippines, can presidential (national) polls be rigged or manipulated by those in power, just like what Marcos and his henchmen, including Juan Ponce Enrile, did during their heyday?

The 2010 automated or computerized national elections, as well as the 2013 local polls, clearly eliminated major problems which often marked manual elections, such as “dagdag-bawas” (addition-subtraction of votes), ballot padding and ballot snatching. Gone are the days of former president Gloria Arroyo making her infamous and brazenly corrupt call to then Comelec official Garciano in which she asked him to deliver 1 million votes in Mindanao – at the expense of the late Fernando Poe, her stiffest rival then. The intriguing voice recording of that phone call will forever etch Arroyo as one of the most power-hungry and corrupt presidents that the Philippines has had.   

Fortunately for Pinoys today, even the most notoriously corrupt politicians can no longer influence or dictate the results of automated elections – even if they use goons, guns and money.

If this is the case, is the fear of the return of a Marcos-type dictator still valid? Are there still ample grounds for retaining the single six-year term limit on the president? Or is it time to revisit this constitutional provision and have it amended so the Philippines can align itself with the world’s major democracies, such as the US and UK, which allow the re-election of a leader seen by the majority electorate as worthy of continuing his or her administration?

And why fear the ghost of Marcos, the dictator, when he’s long banished and safeguards, such as automated polls and Pinoys’ ability to mount People Power revolutions, are now in place? Any power grab can certainly be thwarted now and in the future, and no politician in his or her right frame of mind will perhaps dare following in the footsteps of Marcos and even Arroyo.

And what about the constitutional ban now on Aquino running for a second term as president? Changing parts of the constitution need the support of the two chambers of Congress. Aquino has more than enough allies at the House of Representatives and the Senate, and getting their support is achievable – over time.

And won’t the Filipino public react negatively and even harshly to a sitting president seeking a second term after a change in the constitution? As far as I can see, why should most Pinoys react negatively? If PNoy succeeds in clearing the legal impediments, he won’t be forcing himself anyway to the electorate. He can’t even rig or cheat under an automated electoral process. And with his recently-sagging popularity, he has to compete fair and square with other presidential contenders, including vice president Jojo Binay and possibly, senators Peter Cayetano and Chiz Escudero.

The number of Aquino’s critics is certainly growing over his administration’s controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and various other issues. So, he is by no means assured of winning a second term as president. Of course, he has legions of supporters who have noted his accomplishments in terms of reducing graft and corruption in government, undertaking reforms in governance, as well as improving the economy and delivery of services to the people. The Philippines, for instance, has one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia, and a growing economy certainly helps different segments of society although in varying degrees. These accomplishments have been noted and praised by different international institutions – kaya hindi bayad o sariling buhat ng bangko (not self proclaimed).

So, Aquino aspiring to run for a second term as president?

Yes, why not. The more choices of presidential candidates, the better it will be for the Filipino people. And with PNoy as one of the presidential contenders in 2016, the race will be more about performance in serving the people, not so much about fame or name recall and vote-buying.

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