FVR can Follow Rizal: 

Give Moral Example

By Atty. Pablo S. Trillana III

Kamalaysayan Writers and Speakers

Atty. Pablo S. Trillana III, ex-Delegate to the 1991 Constitutional Convention and Undersecretary of the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources, was also a broadcaster on historical and cultural themes. He joined KMS before being elected President of the Philippine Historical Association, and later on becoming the Chairman and Executive Director of the National Historical Institute (NHI).

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HARTER CHANGES. There are reports of supposedly widespread demands to amend the Constitution in order to lift the term limits of effective officials. This will enable many incumbents to run for re-election in 1998.

            Depending on the extent of charter changes, the following officials, among others, stand to benefit: the President who is limited to a single six-year term (Section 4, Article VII of the Constitution), and Congress and local elective officials (municipal to provincial) who are limited to three consecutive three-year terms for the same office (Section 7, Article VI and Section 8, Article X of the Constitution). The big question is: should we amend the Constitution?

            Institutional Consideration. There is one critical and institutional reason why, at this stage when the present Constitution is less than ten years old, we should not ament it. By nature, the Constitution is the fundamental law of the land that establishes the institutions of government on a long-term basis. It should never be played with before it has been given the time to mature from the collective political experience of the people.

            Worse, the constitution should not be toyed with on the basis of exigencies of the people. Worse, the constitution should not be toyed with on the basis of exigencies and short- term visions particularly of those who would be the first to benefit from the changes.

            Moral Leadership. A second critical reason is tied to the sense of political stability and economic recovery stirring among the people. It is an extremely delicate psychological sentiment, the sense of moving ahead, that predisposes the nation to continue heaving and advancing towards a certain direction. That perception needs a deepening bond among the people to sustain the momentum and this can be provided only by a certain exercise of moral leadership.

            President Fidel Ramos, like no other Filipino president before him, is the president during the "centennial" years. The historic opportunity to transcend his political self-interests, dressed by sweettalkers as the leadership of indispensability, is at hand.

            Jose Rizal, by his moral example of one hundred years ago, woke up and set his people on the path to nationhood. Fidel Ramos, by another moral example, should shake the foundations of Philippine politics and show his people, particularly the lesser mortals among our assorted political "messiahs", the our path of nationhood must now be clearly suffused with moral leadership. It is the kind of leadership that is obeyed not by command but by example.

            By sticking to his single term and marshalling his forces to squelch the moves to change the charter, Ramos would invest his presidency with the mantle and mystique of this leadership and thereby define and dominate the character and direction of his people much more than the uncertain prospects of re-election and ruling beyond.

            Uncompetitive Elections. There are also political realities that argue against charter changes just so incumbents would be allowed to run for re-election in 1998. Elections, for instance, are becoming increasingly uncompetitive. Incumbents seeking re- election possess extraordinary advantages over their opponents.

            They possess staff, name recognition, travel funds, and applicable franking and other privileges including pork barrel, all funded under the law, which they can use, and have shamelessly done so, in order to steamroll their continued stay in office. This negates real competition. Voter choice then becomes an illusion since competitive election, rather than voter choice per se, constitutes the basic electoral mechanism whereby citizens can participate effectively in influencing the process of governance.

            Moreover, with their overwhelming advantages and perks, it is extremely doubtful that public officials will willingly and promptly adopt measures that could jeopardize their political future or those privileges. The only effective way, therefore, is to periodically clean house and constitutional term limits, by opening seats regularly, promote greater political competition.

            Professionalization of Politics. Our elected officials constitute a political ruling class who have been increasingly attracted to make a career of government service. This elected aristocracy has been perceived as insular, arrogant, corruptible and corruptible and corrupt, and devoted more to special interests than the plight of ordinary citizens.

            Furthermore, the congressional specimens of this class have become more predisposed to increase government spendin and to micromanage a growing array of programs that blurs the principle of separation of powers.

            This "professionalization" of politics and its consequences are disturbing. By changing the charter to remove the existing term limits, the political careerism will be allowed to grow and worsen. Term limits under the present Constitution, therefore, should not be lifted so that the political doors are regularly rotated in order to put a stop to political careerism, infuse public office with more new talents and fresh ideas, and guard against permanency of career politicians together with the heavy dose of self-interest that attends their actions as a result.

            Citizen-Servants. Term limits would furthermore enhance the outlook of public officials as citizen-servants. Term limits, based on the principle of rotation, does not necessarily require permanent retirement from public office. Rather than throwing away experience, the individual's capacity, as a representative and citizen, would in fact be enriched by a periodic return to private life. At the same time, they would be able, as they legislate or execute laws, to think how it would be like living under the very laws they passed or executed. Consequently they would be more connected to and representative of their constituents.

            Log Rolling Mentality. Moreover, fixed tenure would, in the case of members of Congress, prevent long and continued stay in office that tends to breed a kind of "go along to get along" mentality. This affects the legislative output by endangering the ethic of horse-trading, support-my-bill-for-your-bill", and nor seeking to alter or amend another's legislation.

            This may have created, in fact, a large inventory of previously passed laws that may actually be doing harm to the country. Term limits rather than unlimited tenure, therefore, would be conducive to a more open Congress and contribute to greater deliberation as well as freedom from the shackles of a "log-rolling" mentality.

            Conclusion. The Constitution was approved by the people only in 1987 and there is no basic flaw, clearly manifested in the people's experience since then, that necessitates an urgent change. The reason why the changes are being sought is that many incumbent officials can no longer run for re-eclection in 1998. Having felt public indignation when such moves were being introduced in Congress, the "plotters" are now throlling out the doubious claim of great public clamor for farther changes through the medium of the people's initiative.

            This is unabashed self-interest, no matter how it is attired. In this historic period of the "centennials", the selflessness of Rizal and Bonifacio constitutes the standard by which to judge this charter change and the people behind it. No matter how one looks at it, they stand clearly wanting.

(Kamalaysayan Media Service)



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