By Christian Dy
A constitution, when justly approved by the people, is a social contract that seeks to limit the powers of the government over the governed. When a constitution prevents strong leaders from say, extending their terms, it is only doing what it ought to. Essential to the preservation of a country’s democratic institutions is respect for its constitution.
A manifestation of a democracy’s maturity is when its leaders seldom request for constitutional amendments extending term limits. When leaders of a supposedly democratic nation frequently use charter change as a political tool, the fact demonstrates how volatile that nation’s democracy is and how personality-centered its politics can be.
There is nothing inherently wrong in Charter Change. Constitutions are ordained by previous generations and some provisions may prove outdated if not counterproductive to the present generations. In the Philippines however, every attempt at constitutional amendments to the 1987 Constitution have been received with fear of the bogeyman that is constitutional dictatorship.
When Fidel Ramos proposed changing the form of government from presidential to parliamentary, public opposition to the proposal culminated in a massive rally organized mainly by the Catholic Church. It is said that half a million people attended the protest in Rizal Park. Nationwide, thousands more rallied in different cities.
The administration of Joseph Estrada sought changes to the economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution, but the efforts also failed. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s several attempts at constitutional amendment were also met with protests (as was characteristic of her post-2004 term) and likewise resulted in failure.
While the Aquino administration has not announced any concrete plan for constitutional amendment, neither has it denied its interest in pursuing a term extension. There have been efforts to push for a term extension for Aquino. Among the most visible proponents of term extension is Caloocan City Rep. Edgar Erice of the Liberal Party. There are also sporadic efforts, including the Facebook page “One More Term for PNOY” which has, as of press time, some 11,000 likes.
While some have observed the irony in Aquino’s openness to changing the constitution that the administration of his mother instituted, others, including Aquino’s allies have dismissed the seriousness of Malacanang’s efforts, if there are, in pushing for Charter Change.
Administration ally Sen. Francis Escudero suggested that the President was only “joking” when he expressed his openness to charter change, while Albay Governor Joey Salceda believes that Aquino only wants to “unsettle the Supreme Court,” which has declared the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), one of Aquino’s major programs, unconstitutional.
Make not a virtue out of necessity
The problem with constitutional amendments seeking term extensions is that they make a virtue out of a necessity. Regardless of how enlightened one president’s administration may be (and “enlightened” may not be the most accurate description of the Aquino administration), the moment amendments on term limits are made, they become open to abuse by succeeding administrations.
One nation should proceed with constitutional changes only with prudence. It must understand that constitutional amendments are binding to the succeeding generations, and what might be useful at the moment might turn out to be a future evil. Constitutions limit our ability to decide for generations not our own. Absent such limit, we would be tyrants ourselves.