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The President

What does it mean when we elect a person president? Similarly, what does it mean when a person wants to be reelected president?

We know him only as president but actually he holds two powerful positions blended into one.  The president of the Philippines is both chief executive and head of state.

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As chief executive, he is the embodiment of all executive power. In the language of the Supreme Court, the president is “the Executive of the Government of the Philippines, and no other. The heads of the executive departments occupy political positions and hold office in an advisory capacity and, in the language of Thomas Jefferson ‘should be of the President’s bosom confidence,’ and, in the language of Attorney General Cushing,  ‘are subject to the direction of the President.’”

As head of state, the president performs functions similar to those of the queen of England or of a president in a parliamentary system. What Clinton Rossiter said about the American president in relation to his country can be said about the Philippine president in relation to his:  “He remains today, as he has always been, the ceremonial head of the government of the United States, and he must take part with real or apparent enthusiasm in a range of activities that would keep him running and posing from sunrise to bedtime if he were not protected by a cold-blooded staff.  Some of these activities are solemn or even priestly in nature; others, through no fault of his own, are flirtations with vulgarity. The long catalogue of public duties that the Queen discharges in England, the President of the Republic in France, and the Governor-General in Canada, is the President’s responsibility in this country, and the catalogue is even longer because he is not a king, or even the agent of one, and is therefore expected to go through some rather undignified paces by a people who think of him as a combination of scoutmaster, Delphic oracle, hero of the silver screen, and father of the multitudes.”

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Article VI, Section 1 of the Philippine Constitution says that executive power shall be vested in the president. Subsequent provisions, however, enumerate specific powers. Because of this, the question has arisen whether the president may exercise powers that are not specifically mentioned.

Tradition recognizes that the powers of the president are more than the sum of the enumerated executive powers. This tradition is founded on another provision of the Constitution which says that the president shall “ensure that the laws be faithfully executed.” This means that the power of the president is not limited only to the enforcement of acts of Congress according to their express terms. The power is broader than that and includes “the rights and obligations growing out of the Constitution itself, our international relations, and all the protection implied by the nature of the government under the Constitution.” The Philippine Supreme Court also appealed to this provision when the power of President Cory Aquino to bar the return of President Ferdinand Marcos from his exile in Hawaii was challenged.  There was no specific law empowering her to bar the return of a citizen. But the Court said that the president possessed “unstated residual powers” which include the duty of government “to serve and protect the people” as well as to see to the “maintenance of peace and order, the protection of life, liberty and property, and the promotion of the general welfare.”

As can readily be seen, this broad, general enumeration of presidential powers can be dangerous in the hands of an unscrupulous person or one who is hungry for power.

The qualifications of one who wishes to be president are fairly simple. He or she must be

(1) a natural born citizen of the Philippines, that is, one who has not obtained citizenship by naturalization; (2) a registered voter; (3) able to read and write; (4) at least 40 years of age on the day of election for president; and (5) a resident of the Philippines for at least 10 years immediately preceding such election; that is, one whose permanent home has been the Philippines.

The sparseness of these requirements is an indication that, to a great extent, the choice of a president is left to the wisdom of the voters who elect him or her. In fact, voters would not normally inquire into the constitutional qualifications but would look rather into his or her other qualities.

The president is elected by direct vote, by the people nationwide. The fact that the president is elected directly by the people gives him or her a sense of power. In order to ensure that the president will use executive power for the good of the people and not in preparation for reelection, the reelection of a president is absolutely prohibited.

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The prohibition on reelection was not in the 1935 Constitution nor in the 1973 Constitution.  This prohibition is one of the major innovations in the current Constitution. It was supported by President Cory Aquino herself, whose son now wants to break away from it so he can stay in power. Unfortunately for him, to get what he wants, the Constitution has to be amended. That is not easily done. Let us see how President Aquino the son hopes to overcome that obstacle when even his party mates are not willing to support his adventure.

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