Why not a second term?
The 1987 Constitution provides that the president and vice president should be elected by direct vote of the people for a term of six years beginning at noon of June 30 following the day of the election and ending at noon of the same date six years later. The President shall not be eligible for reelection.
During the last few days, that last line has stirred up lots of comments for and against the lifting of term limits imposed by the Constitution. If one tries to follow the line of thought of the framers of the Constitution, the term of six years with no reelection was imposed to prevent our experience under the Marcos years from being repeated. As we all know, this did not prevent Gloria Arroyo from staying on for more than six years. One can argue that it was done in accordance with the provisions of the law of the land. Perhaps, if she had done well during her 10 years as head of government, we might even have suggested that she be allowed to run for another term.
Our presidential system of government is actually based on the American model that divided the governing structure into three “allegedly” equal and coordinate branches—the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. This separation of powers was in response to the example of a monarchy, presumably British, that placed much of the governing powers in the hands of a few.
But according to historians and political scientists, this separation of powers has “an inherent tendency toward inertia and stalemate. One of the three branches must take the initiative if the system is to move. The executive branch alone is structurally capable of taking that initiative, and the energy in the executive is a leading character in the definition of good government.” It is the presidency where the
action takes place and the man who holds the power shapes the destiny of our nation. In a way, presidents serve as our inspirations and, at times, also as bad examples. We should not always expect that we shall have wise and humane rulers who will follow strictly the principles of the Constitution. Ambitious men with little regard for the law may sometimes occupy the same position. As the French political philosopher Joseph de Maistre once said, “Every nation has the government it deserves.”
The lesson that one learns from the experience with the American system is that two 4-year terms is the most acceptable to the people of that nation. A number of candidates attempted a third run for reelection and were unsuccessful. Only President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected four times. Some critics attribute his victory to the wartime conditions then prevailing. He died in office and was succeeded by his vice president, Harry S. Truman. It was in the 1944 US presidential campaign that Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey, governor of New York,
announced his support for an amendment that would limit presidents to two terms. This eventually became the 22nd Amendment to the US Constitution; it was ratified in 1951.
If we look around the region we see that the head of government—president or prime minister—is provided with sufficient time in office to carry out national plans and programs for growth and development. In the case of Indonesia which recently conducted national elections, it has a president chosen by direct vote of the people for a term of five years with the option to run for reelection. In the case of Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand (the latter now under military rule with an army-dominated legislature appointed by the ruling junta), they have in place a parliamentary system of government that has allowed the ruling political party’s continued stay in power over the years. In the case of Singapore and Malaysia, the People’s Action Party and the United Malay National Organization, respectively, have always provided the leadership in government since independence. This represents continuity of more than 50 years under one party.
Aside from the issue of leadership, perhaps what is needed is a bit more stability and continuity in our government. There’s still more than 20 months left in President Aquino’s term, but already political developments have taken over much of our attention. Considering that there are very few substantial issues that divide the political parties vying for power, we should not feel too disappointed with the conduct of the whole exercise. But it is also important to keep in mind the mediocre quality of some of the personalities who somehow feel they are entitled to lead the nation.
And I am reminded of one of the more quotable statements attributed to my favorite US president, Harry Truman, which goes like this: “My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician.” After a brief pause, he added, “And to tell you the truth, there’s hardly any difference.” In a way, we have a lot of piano players among our local politicos.
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Somehow I am not too sure about the wisdom of holding elections every three years as is the case with congressmen and local officials. I think that three years is too short a time for anyone to be really effective in his job. Four years seems like a reasonable period for elective local officials.
In the case of the presidency, there must be a way to keep a good man in office beyond the present six-year term. One of the main reasons Malaysia and Singapore have been able to maintain a high level of growth and development is, they have had continuity in leadership, leading to greater focus on strategic objectives.
Here in the Philippines, even if President Aquino’s successor is his personal choice, there is no guarantee that his programs and policies will be continued. There will
always be personnel changes with a new chief executive and, with our habit of bringing along an entire entourage when we get appointed to office, I doubt very much if the commitment necessary to maintain forward momentum can be sustained.
I guess people will point out that we did have one president for close to 20 years, and look where this took us. Still, we shouldn’t close our minds completely to the idea of keeping someone who has earned the trust and confidence of our people. Perhaps, vigilance in maintaining the checks and balances in our political system can prevent the abuses of the past, while making continued use of proven human resources.