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There’s the Rub

Just say no

/ 12:08 AM September 01, 2014

Should P-Noy run again?

No.

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I’m glad President Aquino made that clear before the weekend last week, saying: “I am not a masochist. One year and 10 months from now, the day after I step down from office, (I and some of my staff) will eat something really delicious. There will be a banner behind us that reads, ‘Freedom.’”

That was his original attitude and sentiment, the presidency was a burden quite apart from an imperative, and there was a life after it. Why he himself had to put it in doubt a month or so ago by hinting at an openness to run if his “bosses” wanted it, you’ll never know. It could only suggest either that his friends and/or party had gotten so desperate, having no viable “successor” in sight, they had been at him to succeed himself, or he had gotten to like power over time and was tempted to extend it. Neither of which made for a very good message. Neither of which spoke well for the legacy he wanted to bequeath. Both of which pointed to a fumble at the last two minutes.

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The notion that a second P-Noy term is needed to conserve the gains of the administration—explicitly peddled by Mar Roxas, who appears to have come to terms with the fact that his presidential bid is a lost cause—is an even “lost-er” cause. P-Noy running again is not a guarantee that he will be able to conserve the gains he has indisputably made—ironically not in morality but in the economy. It is a guarantee he won’t.

At the very least, that is so because he will be seen to go against the legacy of his mother and fall into the legacy of Gloria who vowed not to run in 2004 but did. At the very most, for the same reason, he might not even win if he did run again. Some of his mother’s former secretaries have been heard to say that if he did so, they would campaign against him.

P-Noy has set the question of a second coming, or running, aright. Which leaves only the other question: Should he amend/change the Charter?

No.

The time to amend/change the Charter will be after May 2016, not before. The Charter has held well enough for the last four years and it will hold well enough for the next “one year and 10 months.” No one will see the move to change the Charter right now as an economic measure, everyone will see it as a political one. It will be divisive in the extreme.

P-Noy’s own stated reason for wanting to change it is political, and divisive. He wants to change the Charter, he says, to correct “judicial overreach.” The flaw in that reasoning is that outside of the circle of ardent administration loyalists, few among the public see the judicial overreach. What they see is executive overreach, aided in no small way by P-Noy himself hinting at the possibility of running again before he quashed it entirely.

While at that, there is no small irony here, which will impact hugely on the public perception of P-Noy’s looming confrontation with the Supreme Court. That is the fact that Maria Lourdes Sereno is P-Noy’s own choice to head that Court.

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Lest we forget, Sereno became chief justice because P-Noy chose to bypass Antonio Carpio, the most senior among the justices and by tradition next in line to the position, last held by the disgraced Renato Corona. Sereno was one of the youngest justices in the Court and became the second youngest and first woman to become chief justice in 2012. Her appointment was criticized by the legal community on the grounds that lacking seniority, she would not be able to command the loyalty or respect of the other justices. And on the grounds that she would be the longest-serving chief justice of the country, retiring only after 18 years in 2030.

P-Noy snubbed Justice Antonio Carpio, the perception went, because Carpio was at odds with him and could only be expected to pose legal obstacles in his path if he became chief justice. Had Carpio become so, “intrusive,” “interventionist” and “obstructionist” might indeed have been words to describe his watch. He did not. Sereno did, courtesy of P-Noy himself.

Which brings up the sublime irony that it is Sereno now who is taking up the cudgels for the Supreme Court and insisting that it remain independent. “Judicial overreach” is not exactly what the public will read in her, especially when she appeals: “I hope people will appreciate that when a decision is made, it is for the long term. It will survive presidency after presidency after presidency.” What the public will read instead is a chief justice who is following in the footsteps of Artemio Panganiban and Reynato Puno, who were made so by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo but went on to strike down emergency rule, executive privilege and Charter change itself.

Changing the Charter expressly to check “judicial overreach” will make it even more unpopular than it already is by the fact of its timing. As it is, the timing sucks, raising as it does all sorts of speculations about its real motives. You move to change the Charter the day after Election Day 2016, even with a view to turning the country parliamentary, and the world will at least keep an open mind about it, debating its merits and demerits. You change the Charter now, particularly if it entails turning the country parliamentary, and the world will suspect that Mar Roxas is plotting to become prime minister.

If the point is to conserve the gains of the last four years, then the solution is to back up a presidential bet that is reasonably honest and acceptable to the public, quite apart from the global community. One who can unite the country while enjoying the trust of foreign investors at the same time. Why should that bet naturally be a presidential chum or party-mate? That can only assure frittering away the gains, not conserving them.

A second term for P-Noy and/or Charter change?

Just say no.

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