Monday, May 25, 2009

“Reelection,” ban for incumbents

In a recent long vituperative article, Randy David continued his Edsa II harangue against President Joseph Estrada. As usual, he raised his usual litany of personal diatribes against the immensely popular leader without raising any policy issues. Just think: If personality idiosyncrasies were to be the basis of statesmanship, then US President John F. Kennedy, with his flings with Marilyn Monroe, or Chairman Deng Xiao Ping, with his penchant for mahjong, and Chairman Mao Tse-tung, with his weakness for farm lasses, would never have made it to the leaders’ pantheon of fame. That’s why Randy David, like the rest of his fellow Edsa II intelligentsia, has never gotten anything right--tracing five decades of failures of their social reforms and of becoming obstacles to the revolution themselves. 
Randy David did diverge from one Edsa II party line though: He took the position that Estrada should be allowed to run for the presidency in 2010. Notably, this is tangential to Edsa II “legal luminary” Jesuit Joaquin Bernas, who’s at the forefront of blocking the candidacy of Estrada. Referring to the line, “The President shall not be eligible for any reelection” in the Constitution, Bernas gives his account of discussions in the Constitutional Commission (Con-com), where he claims the “absolutists” won and passed the single term and permanent non-eligibility of anyone who has served a term of office as president of the Republic. 
Of course, mainstream media purports to treat the issue with balance. But one example pointing to the contrary has been GMANews’ May 5, 2009 report by Sophia Regina M. Dedace, wherein she absolutely did not present any contrary view to the official “non-eligibility” line that Estrada’s detractors keep mouthing. The four so-called “experts” she interviewed were Joaquin Bernas, Christian Monsod, Romulo Macalintal, and Marlon Manuel. Bernas and Monsod, as we know, are both Edsa II conspirators against Estrada while Macalintal is the vacuous Gloria Arroyo election lawyer. Marlon Manuel, meanwhile, turns out to be an Ateneo Law School functionary who’s certainly not going to contradict his dean. So how credible could they be? 
Only one Ateneo law professor--probably the most principled who ever taught in that law school--Atty. Alan Paguia, gave his view on the constitutional question. Paguia’s opinion on the Estrada “pardon” has been much misunderstood recently, particularly in relation to Estrada’s run for the presidency, as he had advised caution, knowing that Gloria Arroyo can twist that double-entendre in the language of the pardon to persecute Estrada again. 
Constitutionally, however, Paguia is actually of the opinion that Estrada is eligible to run again by virtue of what he explains as the “parity of reasoning.” He says that Gloria Arroyo, who acted as “president,” got the legal justification to have her run in 2004. How? With the same provision quoted by Bernas. 
Thus, to fully understand its meaning, let us expand and contextualize what was quoted: “The President shall not be eligible for any reelection. No person who has succeeded as President and has served as such for more than four years shall be qualified for election to the same office at any time.” 
By the same reasoning that took into account Arroyo’s less than four-year stint, Estrada, who served as president for only two and half years, should therefore be eligible to run. But Macalintal argues that the provision applies only to one who “succeeds” the presidency. But isn’t it the serving of more than four years that defines the term and the eligibility to run? Of course, if we were to only go by Paguia’s theory of “The Constitutional Clock,” then Estrada is still the rightful president today. 
Moreover, the term “reelection” is always a key point in such discussions. Based on countless Web sites I have reviewed the past several days, the term “reelection” always applies to an incumbent running for the same office and not to elections where there have been an interruption or discontinuity in the incumbency. I have discovered that the term and the controversies surrounding it have had a very long history, as can be gleaned below from contemporary Latin American politics: 
“(Colombian president) Uribe has already changed the Constitution once to allow himself to run for reelection. Like most of Latin America—that is, until recently, Colombia didn’t allow for presidential reelection. This was in part due to the region’s long history of dictatorial rulers. ‘No reelection!’ was even the battle cry of the 1910 Mexican Revolution. True to post-revolutionary form, Mexico today has a strict no reelection policy; it doesn’t even allow former presidents to seek election after an intervening term.” 
From this and many other examples, it is clear that a former president running for the same office after an intervening period is universally called an “election,” and not a “reelection.” We see that the intent behind “no reelection” is the prevention of “dictatorial rulers,” evolving from an incumbent using his or her powers to become a permanent tyrant. 
Since it’s sufficiently clear that “reelection” involves an incumbent running for the same office to succeed his or herself, Bernas and company can only rely on the ambiguity of the word “any” to obfuscate the true and elemental meaning of that constitutional provision. While Randy David evades the real issues of poverty, sovereignty, and integrity that President Estrada, in his time, had addressed, Bernas evades the real issue by delving into the word “any” and by masking the Con-com delegates’ intent. But the most elemental issue here is the true intention of the Filipino people who ratified the 1987 Constitution: To ban any incumbent from taking undue advantage to perpetuate a continuing rule with all its attendant evils. For sure, the Filipino people never intended to deny themselves the right to elect non-incumbents, especially those who may have gained wisdom and competence from experience. 
As what Chief Justice Reynato Puno expressed in the case of Tecson vs. Comelec: “The better policy approach is to let the people decide who will be the next president. For on political questions, this court may err but the sovereign people will not. To be sure, the Constitution did not grant to the unelected members of this court the right to elect in behalf of the people.” 
(Tune in to 1098AM, Sulong Pilipinismo, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.: Monday with Atty. Alan Paguia, Wednesday with former Mayor Jun Simon, Friday with UMDJ’s Ver Eustaquio / May Pag-asa, 10 p.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday; Talk News TV, Destiny Cable, Channel 3, 8:15 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., Tuesday on “People, Power, and Poverty” with Nasecore; also visit