In an imperfect world
“The Constitution,” said Press Secretary Sonny Coloma, “clearly states that each elected president can only have one six-year term. Whatever they say, the Constitution will prevail.”
Coloma said this in response to some social media users calling on P-Noy to find a way to get a second term. Malacañang has distanced itself from that call, saying it had nothing to do with it and would not support it. “We know the nature of social media,” Coloma said. “It is open to everyone, nobody can control that.”
I don’t know, though, that that call will die an easy death, notwithstanding Malacañang’s show of deafness to the entreaty. I myself have heard the suggestion from friends in conversations as well as from strangers who fear that the gains of the last few years, foremost of them the trust and goodwill of investors, will disappear. The sense of desperation is palpable, and will become more so as P-Noy’s term winds down to a close. It is not only that there seems to be no viable successors, it is that the two main ones, Mar Roxas and Jojo Binay, seem thoroughly unviable. Many Filipinos are not looking at the near future with uncertainty, they are looking at it with dread.
Hence, the desperate—and unconstitutional—call for P-Noy to run again. P-Noy himself, of course, has repeatedly said he would not, and it is a testament to his credibility that most everyone does not take that pledge to exist on the same plane of reality as that other pledge made by another president one Rizal Day that she would not run again. But it is a testament to the depth of anxiety of many Filipinos that the assurance hasn’t dissuaded them from resorting to suntok sa buwan.
It is no small irony while at this that the only two post-martial-law presidents who have shown an easy willingness to give up power are Cory and P-Noy. It solidifies the legacy. The others did so grudgingly. Fidel Ramos was tempted to secure another term, contemplating a shift to parliamentary to do the trick. But fate, destiny, Providence—call it what you will—got in the way at the 11th hour in the form of the Asian financial crisis. So dire was it, particularly coming after the salad days of the early 1990s—Ramos was already advertising the Philippines as poised to join the ranks of the tiger economies—that it razed his ambitions to rubble.
The two next presidents were, of course, atypical. You don’t know if Erap would have sought a second term because he never finished his first. We do know he sought a second term 10 years later, and almost made it but for P-Noy being there. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo looked determined to stay on by hook or by crook, reminding the country of someone who harbored the same appetites, ambition, and ruthlessness 25 years earlier, except that fate, destiny, or Providence got in the way, too. Cory died, and Arroyo, who had just finished a triumphal visit to the United States—she had finally wangled an invitation from Barack Obama, which she celebrated with a feast at Le Cirque—met with her funeral.
The way things are, there’s no likelihood of P-Noy staying on. Thankfully, there’s no one in Malacañang arguing that the Constitution bears flouting again because P-Noy running again would do a lot of good. Or would meet an emergency, and nothing more qualifies as an emergency than assuring that the gains are conserved.
I’m glad Malacañang has put its foot down on it. Going away quietly is not only the graceful thing to do, it is also the enlightened thing to do. Tempting as the call from netizens is, it is also fraught with peril for the future. The question is not just whether P-Noy can, or will, do it, which he himself has answered with an unequivocal no. The question is whether he should. That should be answered as well with an unequivocal no.
Whatever merit will be gotten from P-Noy running again will be offset by the bigger demerit of weakening democracy’s institutions. Cory understood that well and walked away, notwithstanding that her lawyers were prepared to argue that she would be seeking, not a second term, but a first. Her first term was as a revolutionary president, her second would be as an elected one.
The problem with amending the Constitution to suit one’s purposes, or making an exception of oneself, is that the exception never remains an exception for very long. It sets a precedent that future presidents—or prime ministers, should we turn parliamentary—can exploit. Not all of them will be benign, not all of them will be good for the country, not all of them will want to do good for the country. Many of them will be downright devious, some of them will be downright tyrannical. A leak in the dike has a way of breaking the dam and letting loose the floodwaters.
What else is there?
Well, there is always the choice of bestirring ourselves between now and May 2016 to find a real alternative to Roxas and Binay, if that is the source of anxiety of the netizens who are calling on P-Noy to seek a second term. Two years may be short from the perspective of things being still up in the air this late in the day, but it is long from the perspective of what has happened before. Things were a lot bleaker in 2009 when Arroyo’s prospective successors augured only for more of the same. Yet amid the gloom and doom, P-Noy emerged from the smoke.
Can lightning strike twice? Left to fate, destiny, Providence, maybe not. But left to the collective imagination, will and demand of a people desperate not to go back to where they were before, it can. If heaven doesn’t exist, as they say, we’d have to invent it.
It’s an imperfect world, but who knows? Maybe before the two years are up, we can glimpse someone comparable.
Maybe we can glimpse someone better.
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