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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Aquino now eyeing an extended term?


Not only has President B. S. Aquino’s satisfaction rating nosedived. He was also reported to have had a nasty breakdown after a bout of hard coughing. Prompted by these, his “crisis managers” are said to have stepped up his survival planning to include options once thought to be “unthinkable.” According to Malacanang sources, Aquino is now on “a war footing,” prepared to consider a “palace coup” to extend his term beyond June 30, 2016. He is a drowning man clutching at straws, in the last extreme of optimism and surrealism.
So far Aquino has rejected the nationwide call for his resignation arising from his direct accountability in the death of 44 PNP-Special Action Force commandos in the Jan. 25 Mamasapano massacre. At the same time he is trying to get Vice President Jejomar C. Binay out of the way as his constitutionally-named, and possible elective successor. In this scenario, everything will be used to incapacitate Binay politically, and finally replace him with either Senate President Franklin Drilon or Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. Thereafter, PNoy could quietly resign and allow the new Vice President to take over. The new President could then appoint a new Vice President.
In the 2016 elections, the new President and Vice President could run as a team, with all the advantages provided by their having been in power for so long, but without PNoy around anymore to spook the voters, or Binay to threaten the chances of the LP standard bearer. Without any notable opposition, this looks like a walk in the park for the incoming team. But Murphy’s law has taught us that if anything can go wrong it will, and PNoy has simply to open his mouth for disaster to come cascading. The destruction of Binay scenario could still utterly fail, and this is where the term-extension scenario comes in.
It is so unreal. Political reality sees Aquino as a political derelict whose present is now also his future. He has lost every right or reason to stay one minute longer in office; yet his “crisis managers” respond by planning to impose him on the nation for yet another six years or longer. Not even his old supporters could still see him as a viable player in 2016. Their prayer is that he would be succeeded by a friendly successor who would allow him to fade gently into the sunset when his term is over.
But even his closest kin have serious fears. They seem to believe that regardless of whoever succeeds him, he could not be sure of anything. His best option, in their view, is to step down now, as the National Transformation Council and other groups have proposed, and seek a sanctuary in some friendly territory like the peninsular Malaysian state of Johore, whose ruler is said to be his personal friend, while a caretaker council fixes the broken constitutional order.
Apparently, his “crisis managers” believe that a resort to “raw power” could still reverse his sinking political fortunes. They are counting on his foreign patrons to prop him up, in exchange for his complete subservience to their geopolitical schemes, even if support for it in the grassroots proves unobtaining. They seem confident the masses and the military will not rise, just because they are controlled by the economic, political and military elite who are in turn feeding out of Aquino’s hands. But what if this assumption ultimately proves wrong?
Indeed, a term extension, assuming it could be arranged, could buy time and postpone the day of reckoning for Aquino’s unpunished crimes. But would it extinguish those crimes, instead of simply multiplying them? Are they not likely to proliferate than be forgotten over time? I cannot see term-extension as a solution to Aquino’s–or the nation’s–problems. I would therefore urge an extreme abundance of caution before Aquino stamps his approval upon this proposal.
It is not clear how far the reported planning has gone. But one source said, “it’s always been there. It’s Aquino’s basic response to the fear that his successor would do to him what he did to his immediate predecessor and the three opposition senators, who are now in jail.” A lawyer in the Aquino family was reported to have told him that he could spend at least 25 years in jail with Budget Secretary Florencio Abad for “malversation of public funds” on the grave misuse and manipulation of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) issue alone, not to mention his culpability in the Mamasapano massacre, where some of the victims’ families have threatened criminal action against him once it becomes “legally possible.”
As president, Aquino cannot be prosecuted for any criminal offense until his term is over, or unless he is first removed by impeachment. Yet he could not be impeached now because of his virtual stranglehold upon Congress, which alone has the power to impeach and remove him. But life in prison is his greatest fear, and this fear is shared (perhaps to a greater degree) by members of the Cabinet, who have committed plunder through the DAP and various illegal contracts in the Department of Transportation and Communication, the Department of National Defense, the Department of Agriculture and others; and incurred criminal liability for the death of the SAF 44.
Compared to Aquino, who may be able to engage in political bargaining with his successor, his Cabinet cronies and sycophants have no political capital to use for such bargaining. They have therefore every reason to be more afraid, and to be more determined to see Aquino cling on to power. But exactly how workable is this option? Aquino is hardly in control of all the variables; not even time is in his favor.
There are two ways of doing the extension. First, through a constitutional amendment, and second, through a takeover of the Constitution. Given his current control of Congress, Aquino might still be able to muster the necessary three-fourth vote in both the Senate and the House of Representatives to allow him to extend his term. Smartmatic and the thoroughly corrupted precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines could then deliver the votes at the plebiscite, even if the entire electorate should unanimously vote against the amendment.
But there may not be enough time for it. Since certificates of candidacy for the May 2016 elections should be filed starting this October, any attempt to amend the Constitution should happen anytime soon rather than later. And since this would require a plebiscite, which is equivalent to a national election, it would mean holding two national electoral processes within a period of less than one year. This is a little too much; we have not done anything like it before.
A constitutional takeover would seem easier. All Aquino has to do is to announce a revolutionary government and promulgate his version of his late mother’s 1986 “Freedom Constitution” in place of the present Constitution, and give himself a new term. The only problem here, though, is if the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which the Constitution recognizes as the protector of the people and the state, should refuse to recognize and obey the “revolutionary government,” and give the power instead to a multi-sectoral caretaker council, or take power for themselves and throw out an adventurist president into the gutter.
This is the real risk which may not be worth taking. Aquino may have to rethink the proposed option very very very carefully, all over again.
fstatad@gmail.com

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