Power is an addiction

By | February 6, 2018


Power is so addictive, those who hold it want to keep it as long as possible.

This early Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s people are laying the groundwork for a possible extension of his term.

Earlier presidents tried to stay beyond their terms. Fidel Ramos’ drumbeaters made an attempt but they did it too late. It was already the “last two minutes” when the attempt to keep Ramos in office was made and time ran out on them.

Gloria Arroyo was lucky to have inherited the presidency from the booted Joseph Estrada in 2001 and thus when she ran as sitting president she got a six-year “extension” and held the office for nine years.

And now, Mr. Duterte’s people are floating trial balloons to get the people’s pulse if he were to go for a term extension via charter change. This contradicts the President’s oft-repeated statement that he prefers to quit even before his term ends in 2022. How does he feel now about serving beyond 2022 if that were possible?

Power is intoxicating and it could possibly make people change their minds about serving out their regular term. Would that happen to Duterte? Would he be persuaded to stay beyond 2022? Or, is he in on the “plan” to extend his term?

I don’t understand the tendency of Filipino politicians to tamper with the laws, even the Constitution. The Constitution sets the schedule of elections in the country. And yet, our politicians time and again muck around with our elections, postponing them to later dates according to what’s convenient or beneficial to them.

This practice is very dangerous. It trivializes the Constitution and exposes it to tampering for partisan purposes. And yet we allow it to happen.

And so now the ruling coalition wants to revise the Constitution, ostensibly to change provisions that limit foreign-interest participation in the local economy. They also want to change our form of government to a federal one, with regions reconstituted as states to form a federal system.

But there’s wide suspicion among thinking citizens that the proposed charter change would also be a vehicle for incumbent politicians to prolong their stay in office, including the president. Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon has said it would be immoral for incumbent politicians to stay in office under a new Constitution that they themselves crafted.

Federalism has its disadvantages, too. It would further enable political dynasties to take root under a system that gives autonomy to regions where such family power bases thrive. The central government would be virtually powerless to control local political forces. That would wreak havoc on the nation as feudal-type political lords will reign with impunity in their respective bailiwicks.

In many countries, including the United States, changing their Constitutions is a hard thing to do. In the 200-some years of the US’ existence as a federal entity, that nation’s Constitution has only been amended 27 times. And each of those amendments took several painstaking years to be ratified by all states. And those are just amendments; the US Constitution has never been rewritten as a whole document.

But in the Philippines, attempts are made regularly to either amend parts of the Constitution or rewrite it as a whole. This is so politicians can prolong their stay in office beyond their original terms.

To make their attempts to revise the Constitution palatable to the public, those who propose changes usually begin by claiming that some economic provisions are out of date, including a giving a larger share for foreigners of the ownership of business interests here.

But, the moment the Constitution is opened up for revisions, any change could be proposed, including extending the terms of sitting politicians. That is where the danger lies. It would indeed be immoral to let incumbent politicians stay in office beyond their original terms of office.

Mr. Duterte’s people are giving themselves ample time to put in place changes in the Constitution that would benefit them, including term extensions for them.