Now it’s out. Many have suspected that the primary purpose of changing the 1987 Constitution is for President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to stay in power beyond his six-year, single-term limit. Julio Teehankee, chairman of the sub-committee on political reforms of the consultative committee formed for the purpose, revealed that the prospect of eight more years of President Duterte is staring us in the face.
Under the changes in the Charter drafted by the committee, President Duterte, if he decides, can run for reelection twice under a proposed federal form of government mandating four-year terms. This draconian shift would mean he could stay in power up to 2030 if he decides and if people would still vote for him.
Lest Duterte disciples pounce on me for being “yellow” and a follower of the discredited and depleted Liberal Party, let me say at the outset that I did not vote for any of the presidential candidates in the 2016 elections. Yellow has become the pejorative color Duterte defenders use to label and malign anyone who criticizes the President and who does not agree with his policies.
“The LPs can all fit in a Volkswagen,” said a coffee shop wag to illustrate how depleted the opposition ranks are.
“It’s like a reboot, a reset,” said Teehankee during an interview on Cignal TV news last Wednesday. The news removing the ban on term limits was headlined by all four of Manila’s major newspapers.
To be fair, President Duterte in response to fears he is paving the way for perpetuating himself in power, said he will “not stay in the Palace a second longer,” adding he would be willing to step down during the transition period from presidential to federal form of government. If approved by the President’s supermajority in the House, the Senate is steadfast against joint voting by the lower and upper chambers. The 24 senators are aware of the reality that they are outnumbered by the 290 members of the House of Representatives.
The Senate and the people who will vote in a plebiscite or referendum, whether to approve or reject the new Constitution, are the last barriers to a totalitarian state.
Why a totalitarian state? One need not be a lawyer to conclude that Mr. Duterte already has total control of the three branches of government—the legislative, the judiciary and the executive which commands the police and the military,
Maria Lourdes Sereno has been removed as chief justice. President Duterte has 90 days to name her replacement. He also has the power to appoint three other associate justices who are retiring in less than a year, including Senior Associate Justice and acting chief justice Antonio Carpio, and Teresita de Castro. The chief justice and the associate justices to be named by Duterte would make up majority of the Supreme Court members Duterte appointees.
President Duterte’s statement that he will not seek reelection under a federal system has set off several political scenarios. Winning senatorial seats in the 2019 mid-term elections would give Digong’s PDP-Laban party a majority, which could erode the Senate stand against joint voting in the approval of the new charter.
One such scenario being talked about is that former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr.is going to win his electoral protest against Vice President Leni Robredo. This possibility looms with the decision of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal rejecting Robredo’s petition to lower the shaded votes for candidates to 25 percent. The PET ruled shaded vote has to be 50 percent. This would void partially shaded votes in favor of Robredo. Expanding on the Bongbong-as-VP scenario, there are speculations that Duterte might step down earlier to give Bongbong more time to settle into the presidency. Bongbong, they say, will then run as president in 2022 with Davao Mayor and presidential daughter Sara Duterte as vice president. The president and vice president under the proposed new charter are to be voted together as a tandem and not separately as which was the setup in the past elections.
At the 365 Club at the Holiday Inn Hotel in Makati, former senator Juan Ponce Enrile expressed his concern about the enormous cost of a shift from the presidential to a federal form of government.
“I don’t know where the government will source the money for this big shift when funds are already scarce for the administration’s Build, Build, Build infrastructure projects and the taxpayers are already groaning from rising cost of living,” Enrile said.
Enrile also said that regions under a federal system would also have the power to secure loans from other nations, making the country’s foreign debts even bigger.