It is time to have a debate on term limits Medium

It is time to have a debate on term limits Featured

“No one is that indispensable.”
— George Will

First word
WASHINGTON Post columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author George Will wrote this withering argument for term limits that will make even our most entrenched officials (Drilon? Sotto? Lacson?) blush.

Will issued the opinion in 2008 when Michael Bloomberg, the108th mayor of New York City, thinking himself indispensable to the city, decided to seek the revision of a New York City law, which limited mayors to two terms.

Bloomberg and term limits
The law had been enacted by referendum and then reaffirmed by a second referendum.

Bloomberg thought the law an intolerable impediment to his continuing as mayor for another four years in what he called “tough times.” But the times were always in some ways tough also for each of Bloomberg’s 107 predecessors.

Will wrote:
“Advocates of term limits argue neither that political talent is irrelevant nor that it is ubiquitous. Rather, they argue that talent is not so scarce that the benefits of rotation in office must be sacrificed in order to prolong indefinitely a talented person’s tenure in office. And they argue that the benefits of churning the talent pool exceed the costs of limiting tenures.

“Bloomberg’s supporters say term limits are undemocratic — but also that the City Council should alter the limits (which apply to council members) by statute rather than submit the change to a public referendum.”

Bloomberg’s rewriting scheme did not prosper. Term limits are still alive and well in NYC today. Bloomberg just returned to his pastime as billionaire owner of Bloomberg News.

Elsewhere in the US, the New York Times has reported that 37 governors, 15 state legislatures and 9 of the 10 most populous cities have term limits, which remain popular with the people who imposed them. Recent ballot initiatives to alter them, including one in California, have failed.

George Will is also an ardent advocate of legislative term limits. He published the book Restoration, Congress, Term Limits, and the Recovery of Deliberative Democracy (New York, 1992) to make his case.

Will says that some of the arguments against term limits are more amusing than sound.

They say that political novices are too susceptible to the wiles of lobbyists, and that term-limited legislators, worrying too much about their next jobs and too little about their current ones, are constantly in campaign mode, thinking of the next election rather than the next generation.

They also argue that novices are only capable of small-bore projects and legislation, and that it takes veteran and senior legislators to fashion legislation and policy-making that will impact the future.

The strongest argument for term limits is the fact both in the US and in the Philippines, Congress is a very unpopular and hardly respected institution. In both countries, citizens are talking about throwing the rascals out.

Even so, politician persist in trying to revise the term limits law without seeking the permission of the public that enacted it. This in itself, says Will, is a powerful, indeed sufficient, argument for term limits.

Revision by sophistry
In our case, the political class, the Supreme Court and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) have combined to emasculate the term-limit provisions of the Constitution by sophistry, i.e. through a tortured reading of the Constitution.

They have pounced on the word “consecutive” to pervert the meaning of the term-limit provision to allow almost lifetime tenure for senators, as though they are like justices of the Supreme Court.

The SC ruling in Socrates v. Comelec and a legal opinion by the Comelec legal department have become the dubious standard for this deceptive attempt to avoid the term limits.

Many senators are today serving patently illegal terms without being formally challenged, because of the assumption that any court challenge of their election will be summarily dismissed owing to the SC ruling and Comelec decision.

Consequently, there is an acute and compelling need for a full resolution of this conundrum.

No debate on term limits
This situation has happened because there has never been a serious debate on term limits in this country.

There was no public debate when the 1986 Constitutional Commission deliberated and passed the term-limit provisions of the 1987 Constitution.

There were no public discussions of term limits when the people were asked to ratify the new Charter on Feb. 2, 1987. That day, the Charter was ratified and went into effect, when some 16 million Filipinos voted “yes” to the new Constitution.

There was also no public discussion of the interpretation of term limits that the Supreme Court and Comelec were secretly cooking away from public view.

There was no attempt whatsoever to submit to the people the pretzelized interpretation of term limits by the SC and the Comelec.

Consequently, termed-out senators have run with abandon for extra terms in Congress, without getting their hands slapped. Some are now even enjoying their fourth terms in the Senate.

These jokers even have the hypocrisy to reproach others for betrayal of public trust.

A debate for the ages
It is in this light that I say it is time for the nation to finally debate the issue of term limits, so that the people can at last be heard.

We could model this debate after France’s recent “Great National Debate,” which took place over a period of three months this year to consult the French people on major national issues that had divided the nation. The debate led to 10,000 local meetings, around 2 million online contributions and 100 hours of presidential talking.

The debate was launched by President Emmanuel Macron as a response to protests by “yellow vest” demonstrators over living standards.

The term limits issue is similarly such an issue for our people and our nation. All citizens will want to take part the moment we open this debate. They will have an opinion one way or the other, the moment you explain the issue to them.

In this debate, we should hear the opponents of term limits in the Senate, the House, the high court, and the Comelec on their case for vitiating the constitutional term limits in the way they have.

We should hear from the living members of the 1986 Concom whose hedging has served as fuel for the perverted interpretation of the Constitution.

We should hear the overstaying or termed-out senators argue with a straight face on how indispensable they are to the work of the Senate and the House.

We should hear Senior Justice Antonio Carpio defend his ponencia in Socrates v. Comelec, and explain why he personally opposes term limits.

We should hear the Comelec legal department defend its disastrous opinion on term limits.

We should hear our legal community speak out on this issue.

We should hear the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) as it finally breaks its incomprehensible silence on the issue.

And we should hear the classical, legal, political, civic, and real-world arguments on term limits fully ventilated in public, so the court of public opinion can pass judgment.

No more Trillanes
This will be a debate for the ages.

We will hear politicians argue frankly about how indispensable they are to the offices they serve.

We can evaluate patiently the argument of one reader, who tells me that what the Constitution decrees is not a “term limitation,” but a “prohibition to serve.”

Who will be the Filipino senator who will have the courage of conviction to say that he is “indispensable”?

Antonio Trillanes 4th might have the gumption, of course, but he will no longer be in the Senate starting June 30.000
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