Is President serious about term extension?
MANILA, Philippines–President Aquino took off Sunday on a five-nation tour of Europe, leaving the home front in turmoil over whether he would seek another six-year term after the end of his administration next year.
On the eve of his departure, the President left a mixed bag of messages that roiled, rather than calmed, domestic unease over his intentions on keeping power beyond his constitutional single tenure.
On Friday, he dropped hints that he may not be retiring after his term by saying he hoped that he would not be the presidential candidate of the Liberal Party (LP) in 2016.
But doubts about retirement were fueled when, in a speech at the “Agenda Setting Dialogue” he had with LP leaders, political allies and supporters from the private sector and civil society in Malacañang, he sought their support, sounding like he was firing the opening salvo of his 2016 reelection campaign.
‘Purposely not invited’
That gathering acquired a strong partisan electioneering color, months ahead of the June 2016 national elections, when Malacañang “purposely did not invite” Vice President Jejomar Binay to the “dialogue.”
For all intents and purposes, the exclusion of Binay marked the open break in the administration between the President and Binay.
The split came after Binay declared he would run for president in 2016, challenging whoever the administration coalition, led by the LP, would choose as its presidential candidate.
The political realignment becomes more muddled and complicated with the President’s hints that he might consider standing again despite the constitutional proviso limiting the presidential tenure to a single six-year term.
Drawing the line
According to media reports, those who were invited to the Palace dialogue were those considered by Mr. Aquino his “allies for reforms,” thereby drawing a line between those who support his political reforms embodied in his “tuwid na daan” (straight path) declarations and those who opposed them.
Mr. Aquino said his reforms should go beyond 2016, when he hands over power to the “next leadership.”
“I know that the 2016 elections are already on the minds of some. Indeed, the time will soon come when the straight path will choose a new candidate. I hope it isn’t me. Of course, with that time, those who oppose us will push their own candidate. And to those who are not with us today because their principles are inherently opposed to ours: Is it not also natural for them to oppose what we have already done?” he said.
The Malacañang dialogue stood on its head the radio interview of the President, which gave the impression that he was planning to retire at the end of his term.
On Friday, he appeared as though he was sending the message that he is, after all, not shutting out the option of another term.
In fact, he rallied the faithful and the converted behind his fired-up reelection ambitions.
He urged his adherents to spread the news “of the positive results of the straight path” so as these would not be drowned in the noise of current political controversies.
He also said he had received text messages telling him that “it is my duty to look for who will replace me and train him for the responsibility (under his tutelage as the grand master of the straight-path political cult), that it is my duty to help further everything we’ve begun,” roughly translated as a call for public endorsement of the creed of self-perpetuation of the regime.
No word about successor
The President did not say who he would endorse to be his successor and understudy. He was evasive about this issue.
“And those who have asked about who will be tasked to carry on: Maybe we are asking the wrong question. Maybe it is not a matter of finding who—because there is no better answer to that question than ‘all of us,’” Mr. Aquino said.
“Our mission is to further our reforms so our bosses can see that the sole path to realizing our dreams is righteousness. Let us work even harder; let us not be content with what we have already achieved; let us make sure our gains are secured and we can even improve on them and make them richer,” he said.
He continued: “There are even those who say the surest way to secure the straight and righteous path is if I myself continue leading. I cannot disregard the suggestions of open-minded people, of people who have the sincerest intentions to help their fellowmen.”
The President did not mention Interior Secretary Mar Roxas as a prospective successor but merely credited him for his contribution to the crime-solving system of the Philippine National Police. Roxas is presumed to be the LP presidential candidate in 2016.
The question looms large: Can Roxas win over Binay, who defeated him in the vice presidential race in 2010?
The next question is: How certain is Mr. Aquino about winning a face-off with Binay?
In light of these developments, Mr. Aquino’s approval and trust ratings in the polls have plunged sharply, while Binay has polled the highest ratings among probable presidential contenders.
By showing interest in standing for another term, Mr. Aquino has undermined Roxas’ chances of winning another face-off with Binay, this time for the presidency.
In his meeting with his allies in the Palace on Friday, Mr. Aquino stirred public speculation when he hinted that he was entertaining thoughts of running for a second term when he said he was “slightly open” to the idea of extending his term beyond 2016.
Where does Roxas fit in this scenario, where apparently he is being elbowed out of the administration’s lineup in its effort to project Mr. Aquino as the contrast of and alternative to Binay, who is now under investigation for alleged corruption in the construction of a parking building in Makati when he was the city’s mayor?
Roxas has been pushed out on a limb.
In Malacañang, questions were asked if Mr. Aquino was serious in seeking a second term. Was it just a ploy to avoid being a lame duck?
In an interview with the Inquirer, Mr. Aquino said it was “all of that.”
Aside from not wanting the gains of his administration to go to waste, he said he also wanted to fend off those who wanted to destabilize his administration, flush out the aspirants for the presidency and fight those who wanted to make him a lame duck.
“If I close the door [to a term extension] now, it will embolden these people who want to make me a lame duck,” he said.
These are flimsy and self-serving reasons.
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