Updated: 08/15/2014 00:35 | By Agence France-Presse

Philippine leader may seek controversial second term

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has said he may try to change the constitution and serve a second term in office, a stunning announcement in a nation haunted by dictatorship.


Philippine leader may seek controversial second term

Philippine President Benigno Aquino (C) and the country's army chief salute ahead of a military ceremony in Manila, August 14, 2014 - by Ted Aljibe

The Philippines' constitution restricts presidents to serving a single term of six years, designed to stop a repeat of dictator Ferdinand Marcos's two-decade reign that ended in a 1986 "people power" uprising.

Aquino insisted for many years he was against constitutional change and that he would step aside when his term ended in 2016, but in a television interview aired on Wednesday night he indicated he was reconsidering.

"When I first got into this, I noted I had only one term of six years. Now, after having said that, of course I have to listen to the voice of my bosses," he said on the ABC-5 network.

Aquino, 54, frequently calls Filipinos his "bosses".

The president said he was considering the highly controversial move because he wanted to ensure his political reforms would continue.

Aquino had been hoping Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas could contest the next elections and succeed him. But surveys have consistently shown the longtime ally to be unpopular with the electorate.

Nevertheless, Aquino emphasised that he had made no definite plans to try and stay in power for 12 years.

"It doesn't automatically mean I will go after an additional term," he said.

Aquino would have to go through a long and complicated process to change the constitution, with any of three potential methods having to be approved by a referendum requiring simple majority support.

- Sliding popularity -

The son of democracy champions Benigno and Corazon, Aquino enjoyed a landslide election victory in 2010 on a promise to stamp out widespread corruption blamed for massive poverty. 

He has won international plaudits for his good governance programme and been widely applauded for bringing consistently strong economic growth.

But the high popularity ratings he enjoyed for the first half of his term have begun to slide sharply amid a slew of corruption and political controversies.

Criticism that tens of millions of poor people have missed out on the country's economic gains, magnified by a recent spike in inflation, has also hurt him.

Ironically, the current constitution was enacted in 1987 under his mother Corazon, who led the revolution against Marcos and then served a single term as president before enthusiastically standing aside.

- Anger at Supreme Court -

Aquino did not specify that he wanted to change the constitution just to remove presidential term limits.

Instead, he said the constitution likely needed amending to rein in the Supreme Court, which recently ruled that Aquino's main budget stimulus programme was illegal.

"Before all these things happened, I was closed to (constitutional change). I admit that. But now, I'm seriously rethinking things," Aquino said, in reference to the court's budget ruling.

He complained that the US-style checks and balances in government had faded and the Supreme Court now had the power to overrule Congress and the executive branch.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, leader of the main opposition alliance, has been the clear front-runner in opinion polls to win the 2016 elections. 

In Philippine politics, the nation's two top positions are elected separately and are often filled from different parties. 

Binay gave a measured reaction to Aquino's move, releasing a statement on Thursday stating he respected the president's decision to "hear the voice of the people".

"(But) what is important is that the voice he hears is an authentic and genuine voice, not one manufactured by quarters with vested interests who are driven mainly by self-preservation," Binay said.

The head of the influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Archbishop Socrates Villegas issued a statement opposing Aquino's suggestions.

"I cannot lend support to constitutional amendments that merely serve the purposes of one office-holder or one class of persons," he said.

Political analyst Benito Lim told AFP he thought any bid by Aquino to secure a second term would likely fail, citing his falling popularity and inevitable storm of political opposition such a bid would create.

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