Monday, February 26, 2007

Reversal of fortunes

I hope the following op-ed piece of mine will be of help in the exchange about eligibility of Erap (former president Joseph Estrada) to run for the presidency in 2010. The article was published 10 days after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had announced that she would not be seeking the presidency in the 2004 presidential elections.


Ramos not barred
from running in 2004

(, Jan. 10, 2003)

By Abe N. Margallo

WHETHER or not former President Fidel V. Ramos is qualified to run for reelection in the forthcoming presidential election to be held in 2004 squarely hinges on the application or the proper interpretation of the pertinent provisions of Article VII, Section 4 of the Constitution.

The Article VII, Section 4 of the Constitution in part provides:
Sec.4. xxx The President shall not be eligible for any reelection. No person who has succeeded as President and has served as such for more than four years shall not be qualified for election to the same office at anytime.

No Vice-President shall serve for more than two successive terms xxx.
The cardinal rule in constitutional construction, it should be stated at the outset, is that when the language of the document is clear, the constitutional obligation is to apply and not interpret it. This rule is based upon the premise that the people and the framers meant what they say.

Without reference at this point to whatever could be uncovered from the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention as the true purpose of the framers, the text of the above-quoted provision, either from the standpoint of a lawyer or of an ordinary citizen, is quite equivocal and therefore requires interpretation or construction if only with a view to rendering it capable of being responsive to the complexities of the present and the future, the Constitution, to paraphrase Chief Justice Enrique Fernando, not being "a printed finality but a dynamic process."

I therefore differ with a handful of learned Filipinos, some of them are reputable legal scholars and practitioners, whose opinions support the position that the Constitution is clear enough to forever bar Ramos from running again for president.

The constitutional provision under question is below quoted anew but this time the words or phrases that may require closer scrutiny are highlighted, thus:
Sec. 4. xxx The President shall not be eligible for any reelection. No person who has succeeded as President and has served as such for more than four years shall be qualified for election to the same office at anytime.

No Vice-President shall serve for more than two successive terms xxx.
What is clear from the first clause is that "The President" refers to the incumbent president and no other. If it were intended to refer to any president, incumbent or former, it would have said, "Any person elected for president shall not be eligible for reelection."

The phrase "No person" in next line could only refer to any person who has become a president by way of succession, not by election as the word employed is "succeeded" instead of "elected," a situation obviously contemplated by Section 8 of the same Article VII of the Constitution which provides that "(i)n case of death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation of the President, the Vice-President (in the case of the Vice President, the President of the Senate, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives as regards the inability of the latter) shall become the President to serve the unexpired term."

The fact that Section 4 speaks of a term of office for less than the full term of six years of an elected president reinforces the interpretation that this clause refers to accession to the presidency by succession and not by election. Following this interpretation, Ms. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who merely succeeded Joseph Estrada after the latter's "resignation," would have been disqualified from being elected "to the same office" had she served "as such for more than four years."

Not being an incumbent president or one who has assumed the presidency by way of the application of the rule of succession under the Constitution, Ramos, absent any other ineligibility, is not disqualified to run for reelection in 2004.

It is noteworthy that the disqualification in the succeeding paragraph that states "No Vice-President shall serve for more than two successive terms" omits to mention "President." The omission is logical apparently to avoid redundancy (or inconsistency) as the incumbent president, pursuant to the clause first quoted, is already ineligible for reelection. What is clear from this particular provision is that the disqualification is with regard to serving "more than two successive terms."

Hence, the ineligibility is equally inapplicable to Ramos (assuming that by an overstretch of the imagination the word "President" could even be read into it upon a rather farfetched suggestion of an inadvertent omission) considering that there are two intervening presidents (Estrada and Ms. Macapagal) between Ramos' election and his possible reelection.

More as a footnote to our political history, I wish to reproduce a portion of an op-ed article I wrote in June 1998 about Ramos on the occasion of Estrada's presidential inauguration in an effort to compare the two personalities. The relevant part of the article reads:
Fidel V. Ramos, whom many Filipinos believed to be one of the architects (and enforcers) of Ferdinand Marcos' martial law, had assumed the presidency without such braggadocio as what Erap [Estrada] displayed on the first day of his office. Ramos proved his ability to govern by deeds and results. First and foremost a soldier, Ramos did not question the wisdom of his commander-in-chief. He gave Marcos the benefit of the doubt and followed his orders. As a military bureaucrat, Ramos saw the limits of authoritarianism and took the cudgels to end the abuses of Marcos. But then, Ramos let power slip through his hold and handed over it to Cory Aquino.

Thereafter, having led the nation to relative peace and economic prosperity, Ramos has retained the ability to continue his reign beyond the six-year limit of his term. In fact, the waters have been tested perhaps at the thought that his most likely successor would be unable to keep the benefits he had the best momentum to continue. Ramos, however, did not think himself to be indispensable. Upholding the rule of law, he stepped down at the height of his achievements.

Certainly, Ramos was not interested in ruling for its own sake. Lesser breeds, under similar premises, would have hung on. This is the true test of Greatness.
Fidel V. Ramos and Ms. Macapagal, we salute both of you. And may God bless the Filipinos and our country.

NOTE: I have finally withdrawn my salute to GMA since the Hello Garci tapes scandal. And FVR has become a continuing disappointment as well.


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