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Without people’s consent, Comelec and SC amended the Constitution by interpretation

May 21, 2019

YEN MAKABENTA

First word

THE term-limit controversy comes down to this.

In interpreting the provisions on term limits in the Constitution, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Supreme Court went beyond the text to amend the Charter and emasculate the provision.

“The lead engine for change mandated by the Constitution is Congress. The Constitution offers three agents which can propose amendments to the Constitution.

First, there are the people themselves who have reserved the right to propose amendments by initiative and referendum.

Next, there is the constitutional convention. But a constitutional convention does not come into existence unless called by Congress.

Finally, Congress itself may propose amendments.”

The president is not mentioned at all by the Charter in the provision on amendments,

Neither is the Supreme Court.

And certainly not the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Yet today, we have a situation where the Supreme Court and the Comelec have incredibly teamed up to defang the constitutional provisions on term limits.

Because of a legal opinion by the Comelec legal department, and a ruling by the Supreme Court on the case of one local government candidate, Filipino politicians today transgress freely limits on their service. Only the president, the highest official of the land, appears to be restrained by the straitjacket mandated by the Constitution.

The perversion of words and meanings

How did this state of affairs come about?

It has come about because of the distortion of words and meanings by authorities who ought to know better.

The situation calls to mind the predicament of former US president Bill Clinton after he was exposed and accused of having an illicit relationship with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.

Clinton tried to argue himself out of an impeachment complaint against him in Congress.

Clinton defended himself by rationalizing that there is no relationship between him and Ms Lewinsky.

He told the grand jury (according to Ken Starr’s report on his inquiry):

“It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. If the ‘is’ means is and never has been, that is not — that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement…Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true.”

The distinction between “is” and “was” was seized on by the commentariat when Clinton told Jim Lehrer of PBS right after the Lewinsky story broke, “There is no improper relationship.”

The Philippine Supreme Court and the Comelec did a Clintonesque maneuver when they twisted and massaged the meaning of the word “consecutive” in interpreting the constitutional provision on term limits for elected public officials.

They interpreted the provision in a way that would allow politicians to run for office beyond the term limits set for them.

They did this by introducing from out of nowhere the idea of a “hiatus” or “rest period” for public officials after they are termed out. This idea is nowhere mentioned by the Constitution in laying down the term-limit principle.

Clintonesque feats of SC-Comelec

The Clintonesque feats of the Comelec and the SC were the following:

1. In a letter to Sen. Franklin Drilon, dated Sept. 19, 2009, lawyer Ferdinand Rafanan, chief of the Comelec’s Legal Department, issued a legal opinion in response to a request by the senator.

Rafanan said what the 1987 Constitution prohibited was the immediate reelection of a senator for a third term following two consecutive terms. Rafanan wrote: “A senator can run after only three years following his completion of two terms. The law did not intend to prohibit a senator from running for the same position within the six-year full term following their two-term limit.”

It was for this reason, Rafanan added, “that Senators Edgardo J. Angara, Gregorio B. Honasan 2nd, Ernesto F. Herrera, Orlando S. Mercado, Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr. and Vicente C. Sotto 3rd were qualified to run for senator even after only three years following their two terms.”

In the same letter, Rafanan told Drilon that the Comelec Legal Department was “in accord with your position that you can participate in the senatorial race in the forthcoming 2010 national and local elections without offending the provision of the Constitution on the term limit of the office of the senator.”

Socrates vs Comelec

The Supreme Court did its Clintonesque turn with its ruling in Socrates v. Comelec, as penned by Justice Antonio Carpio.

The good justice in explaining the opinion, sought to involve the 1986 framers of the Constitution in the ruling. He did so by divining the intent of the Charter makers from the discussion of term limits by the Concom.

Carpio avers that the Concom considered two issues on the term of representatives and local officials, namely: 1) Alternative No. 1 — no further reelection after a total of three terms; and 2) Alternative No. 2 — no immediate reelection after three successive terms

Socrates v. Comelec rules with respect to a local government official: “What the Constitution prohibits is an immediate reelection for a fourth term following three consecutive terms.”

On the term limits of senators, the ruling contends that the Charter framers clarified that a senator can run after only three years following his completion of two terms.

This interpretation distorts and vitiates the meaning of the term-limit provision.

There is no mention anywhere in the Constitution about a rest period from term limits. The emphasis is mainly on prohibiting public officials from public service beyond the term limits.

The canons of interpretation are not different for legal interpretation, literary criticism and grammatical interpretation.

There are rules for each method of interpretation. They must follow rules of definition, logic and usage.

My primary fields of study are literary interpretation and public policy studies. They both emphasize the primacy of the text.

Appeal to authority fallacy

It will be argued for all the termed-out senators in the 2019 Senate race, that the examples of Senators Franklin Drilon and Vicente Sotto 3rd, who are in their fourth Senate terms, are an argument for their own violation of the term-limit rule.

This appeal to authority is a fallacy.

This is like arguing for slavery by appealing to the fact that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves.

This is like defending capital punishment on the grounds that Abraham Lincoln signed many death warrants during the US Civil War.

All the termed-out senators in the 2019 Senate should be disqualified from holding office.

Senators Drilon and Sotto should be toppled from their Senate pedestals.

yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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