Arroyo law moves increasingly suspicious

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 June, 2009, 12:00am

There is a popular saying that nothing is constant but change. No society remains static, so it should be a given that as a nation evolves, so should its laws and political system. Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo believes this to be the case. Her allies have taken a first step to amend the constitution so that the country's presidential system of government can be scrapped in favour of a parliamentary one.

Mrs Arroyo contends that the shift is necessary for the nation's prosperity. The resolution that was passed by the Arroyo-friendly House of Representatives on Tuesday made clear that the Senate should not be involved in the redrafting process. A pledge was made that the terms of the president and vice-president would not be extended and that changes would be in place in time for elections next year.

Changes to laws should not be taken lightly. Every check and balance has to be used to ensure the national interest is best served. Locking the Senate out of the discussion tramples on the rule of law; rushing so important a process opens the way to deceit and error.

Opponents of Mrs Arroyo have long accused her of intending to extend the length of her term. The constitution is specific on the length of time officials can hold office; presidents may serve only a single, six-year term. Late president Ferdinand Marcos' two decades of brutal and corrupt rule prompted the provisions; the drafters of the document put in place in 1987, the year after he was toppled by a popular revolt, wanted to prevent another dictatorship.

Mrs Arroyo has been in charge of the Philippines since June 2001, when her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, was removed by the military for plunder. Her term ends in May. A change to a parliamentary system of government would theoretically entitle her to stand for office as prime minister, a position that presently does not exist. Critics charge that this is her intention; she has made no comment.

Constitutions are not set in stone. They can be changed, but the reasoning has to be sound and the proper procedures followed. If the term of an official is determined to be too short to be effective, there is no reason why it should not be lengthened. But the aim of such a move should not benefit the person already holding the job. To ensure that laws are not undermined, such an amendment should only apply to future office-holders, not incumbents.