After the Marcos dictatorship fell, the framers of the 1987 Constitution included two provisions in the new charter that they believed could at least dampen the lust for power by politicians in this country: term limits, and a ban on political dynasties.
The Constitution limits the President to a single six-year term, senators to two consecutive six-year terms and members of the House of Representatives and local officials to three consecutive three-year terms.
The proposed federal constitution passed by the House majority last year seeks to jettison these safeguards by restoring the premartial law charter provision that gave the president four years in office and the right to run for one more term. Additionally, it has removed the term limits on senators, congressmen and local officials, allowing them to run for reelection as many times as they want or are able to. For good measure, it also conveniently abolished the provision against political dynasties.
Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos, who is running for senator in the May polls, is only too happy about these proposals, judging from what she said in a TV debate among senatorial candidates last Saturday. The daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos said she favored removing term limits because they “don’t help” stop political dynasties anyway; she cited the 2011 study “Political Reform and Elite Persistence,” which supposedly asserted that term limits have not curbed dynasties and have even helped political clans expand their base and entrench their positions.
If, by some luck, the people “hit the jackpot” by stumbling upon a candidate who would earnestly work to eradicate poverty and provide good service, then they need not worry about losing his service because there would be no limits to his term, Marcos added.
Good thing opposition candidate Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno was quick to remind the country about its bitter experience with unfettered rule just over 40 years ago, courtesy of the father of the very woman beside him now enthusing obliviously about it: “Have we forgotten our history when there was a president who installed himself as a dictator to avoid term limits?” said the human rights lawyer.
Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in September 1972, less than a year before his term as president was to expire, and continued to rule by decree for the next 14 years. In the wake of his ouster, Cory Aquino’s constitutional commission remembered the wisdom of term limits but made the mistake of not making the ban on political dynasties an immediately executable provision, and left it to Congress to spell it out in a law. With the ban on political dynasties rendered inutile, the only constraints left on one’s political ambitions were the term limits.
To wily politicos, however, the obstacle simply became another opportunity to further entrench themselves. Whenever their terms expired, they just took a break from politics before running again in the next election, or sought a different office. They also extended the franchise to their kin by letting a family member—wife, son, daughter, brother, sister, cousin, etc., etc.—run in their stead, employing, of course, the same formidable machinery and network they had built up.
In many cases, multiple members of the clan end up holding various national and local positions at the same time. Thus has Philippine politics devolved into a tinpot aristocracy, the political elders bequeathing government offices to their offspring as if such were their birthright.
“Without term limits, the politicians will end up owning their positions,” warned Diokno.
Marcos’ daughter acknowledged as much, saying some clans simply pass on their government positions from kin to kin. But she couldn’t, of course, acknowledge the logical conclusion—that putting a stop to these undemocratic family franchises needs, in fact, the one-two punch of term limits and a definitive ban on political dynasties. Dropping both, as the proposed federal charter seeks to do, is like lifting all controls on the monopoly of political power from the local, district and eventually the national level.
Putting a cap on the length of service of our politicians is telling them that they don’t have all the bright civic ideas, if at all, and that this country’s democracy is about guaranteeing all citizens “equal access to opportunities for public service,” as the constitutional provision against political dynasties says. It’s not a game of chance where the dedicated and selfless politico has to be as rare as hitting the jackpot in the casino.
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