PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III said Thursday he is not interested in seeking a second term, ending all speculation that he wants to remain in power beyond 2016.
Aquino said what he wants is to ensure that the reforms initiated by his administration are continued even after he has stepped down.
“Am I the one who [sought] a term extension?” he retorted when asked to clarify his position in an exclusive interview with Bombo Radyo aired Thursday.
Aquino acknowledged that while he said in a previous interview that he listens to the sentiments of the Filipino people, he has said from the start when he ran for the presidency in 2010 that he is not a masochist to seek a second term.
He said the call for a second term did not emanate from him but from ordinary Filipinos with whom he talked.
He cited two incidents -- one during the inauguration of a bridge in Apayao, Cagayan and the other in a wake- - where two citizens urged him to extend his term.
Aquino said the ongoing consultations are not for a term extension but to identify ways to protect the gains of his administration, including ensuring that his successor is someone who, without any doubt, will continue his reform agenda.
“What we do not want to happen is that our work will be put to waste, as if my six-year term was just a vacation and then it is back to the old ways. This is why we are consulting with different sectors on this point: how can we continue what we have begun so that the reforms become permanent,” he said.
“One year and 10 months from now, I will be with Undersecretary Rey Marfil and Assistant Secretary Jun Delantar on July 1, the day after I step down from office. We will be eating something tasty, and there will be a streamer behind us bearing the word freedom,” the President added.
Aquino’s earlier statement that he will listen to his bosses triggered various interpretations and earned him admonishments from different people, including constitutionalist Joaquin Bernas who said such as a move would be his “undoing.”
The vague responses from the Palace communication team did not help stem speculation, and even members of Aquino’s own Liberal Party initially appeared divided on the issue.
Veteran political analyst Ramon Casiple, however, said the term extension issue was only a trial balloon being floated by the administration, reflecting the shallow bench of the Liberal Party for the 2016 presidential race.
Asked if the President will stand by his statement of not seeking a second term even if there is public clamor for it, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said: “It is best to go by the transcript of the interview and what the President has said.”
The President said he is open to Charter change, but only to address “judicial reach” as he lamented that the Supreme Court has been meddling “too much.”
“The problem -- and even retired justices have voiced this out – is that judicial reach should be used with restraint, and now it appears the Supreme Court uses it too much,” he said.
“I feel they (SC justices) have gone overboard, and have used their judicial reach too much that they made it harder to run this government,” Aquino added.
The High Court earlier ruled that certain acts under the Disbursement Acceleration Program were unconstitutional, prompting the executive branch to file a motion of reconsideration.
The President’s party mates and allies believed the President’s declaration while his critics doubted his sincerity.
Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. questioned the President’s motives, saying his pronouncement raised more questions than answers.
Caloocan City Rep. Edgar Erice, Liberal Party spokesman and the primary proponent of the political Charter change that would lift the term limit of the President to allow him to seek reelection, said it added to the confusion.
He would not say if he would drop his bid for constitutional amendments, but said only that the President would do “the right thing at the right time.”
“I don’t think that he wants another term but I don’t think also that he will allow the gains of his reforms to be wasted. So he will do the right thing at the right time,” Erice told the Manila Standard.
Abakada Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz said he had no choice but to take the President at his word.
“I have to believe him, otherwise, what are his straight path and his sonorous pledges all about? We will just cross our fingers,” Dela Cruz added.
Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian said it would be best for the country if the President stopped the Charter change moves in the House and call on his party mates to focus instead on priority laws that would sustain the economic gains of his administration.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., LP vice president, said he believed the President, and that his declaration was a welcome development.
Belmonte is pushing a Charter change effort to lift economic restrictions in the Constitution.
“With all my heart,” said LP party whip and House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, when asked if he believed the President.
He said to ask the President to extend his term would be asking “too much of a sacrifice from him.”
Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said he was growing dizzy with the conflicting statements and said the talk about a second term was probably a trial balloon that did not fly.
Ilagan added: “What is the value of his word? Does he have the track record of his keeping his word? How many times has he changed his mind? But granting that he will keep his word, will his [followers] allow him to do so? Or will he be strong enough to resist the manipulations of people around him? To believe is to see. And I believe he will not keep his word,” Ilagan said.
Reyes said the President took a step backward after he sensed that there was no genuine clamor for him to lead beyond 2016.
But Reyes said the President also hinted that he was ready to move two steps forward.
“In the transcript, he continued to cite people allegedly clamoring for him to stay on. He said that he would listen to his bosses. Perhaps he is taking one step back after the strong backlash against his suggestion of a second term. Now it remains to be seen if Ma r Roxas and the LP would stop their second term non-sense,” Reyes said.
He, too, said the trial balloon failed, but urged the public to remain vigilant.
Reyes said the President’s statements against the judiciary in the same interview “remains a cause for concern as this means he may still push for Charter change. We must oppose this as well.”
Bayan Muna Rep. Isagani Carlos Zarate said he believes the President would push for a second term to escape accountability for the Disbursement Acceleration Program, parts of which were declared by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.
“Not interested now, but it is clear that he is still entertaining the idea to escape his accountability. It became obvious because of the premature disclosure, so he is retreating for now. Let’s see what happens next,” Zarate said.
But Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, Jr. said “the open declaration of the President that he is not interested in seeking a second term disproves the claim of the critics of the administration that the current debate in the economic provisions (of the Constitution) might include a proposal in the period of amendment to include Charter Change in the political provisions of the Constitution.”
House Deputy Majority Leader and Cibac Rep. Sherwin Tugna said this confirmed the President’s intention from the beginning.
Negros Occidental Rep. Albee Benitez, chair of the House committee on housing and urban development, said Aquino’s statement should put to rest all the noise about amendments to the political provisions of the Constitution, particularly on the lifting of term limits of all elective officials, including the president.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II, who stirred speculation when he said he would prefer a second term for the President, on Thursday denied there was an organized effort to railroad a second term for Aquino.
Roxas statement came hours after President Aquino declared he had no ambitions for a second term.
“There was no organized effort at the party level or at the Cabinet level or at any level to influence or manufacture this mandate because it is a vital thing,” Roxas said.
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