Political Mischief in the Philippines
The New York Times, AUG. 28, 2014
The New York Times Building
President Benigno Aquino III of the Philippines is now hinting at running for a second term in 2016, which would require a constitutional amendment. He has also suggested limiting the power of the Supreme Court, which, on July 1, declared parts of Mr. Aquino’s economic program illegal. That, too, would require adjusting the Constitution. These threats jeopardize Philippine democracy.
Mr. Aquino wants more time to complete his reform programs, but there will always be unfinished business. The 1987 Constitution limits the president to a single six-year term. The Constitution was promulgated under his mother,Corazon Aquino, after the overthrow of the 20-year dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. Despite her efforts, the presidency remained a fount of patronage and a source of corruption. Mr. Aquino’s two immediate predecessors, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Joseph Estrada, were charged after they left office with illegally feeding from the public trough. Ms. Arroyo was charged with misusing state lottery funds. Mr. Estrada was removed from office and convicted of various corruption charges, but he was pardoned in 2007.
Mr. Aquino believes that the Supreme Court has grown too powerful and that someone needs to reassert executive authority. By a 13-to-0 vote, the court struck down a spending program he created to stimulate the economy. It ruled that he had exceeded his authority in disbursing funds and that parts of the program consisted of irregular pork-barrel spending.
Mr. Aquino came to power in 2010 vowing to rid the Philippines of corruption. At that time, the country ranked 134th in Transparency International’s corruption index. In 2013, it ranked 94th. Mr. Aquino should uphold the Constitution of a fragile democracy if only out of respect for his father, who was assassinated in the struggle against Marcos, and for his mother, who died in 2009 after leading the “people power” that triumphed over the excesses and abuses of the presidency. In practical terms, that means he should stop butting heads with the court and gracefully step down when his term is up. - The New York Times
A version of this editorial appears in print on August 29, 2014, in The International New York Times.