Regime of extensions – or not? 

By Atty. Anfred P. Panes

On top of the virtually perpetual extension of mobility restrictions with corresponding pandemic responses known to anyone, the legislative department of the country tackles yet another matter – term extension.

A Resolution of Both Houses No. 7 was lodged by a lawmaker – a part of which proposes for a “Constituent Assembly” in view of Constitutional amendment to extend the term of the President for up to the total of 10 years  – 5 years upon election and another 5 years for the re-election.  The same Resolution also proposes 5 years and one re-election for members of House of Representatives instead of the current three-year term with two re-elections as the case may be.

In force and effect in the present is the rule under Article 7, Section 4 of the Constitution which provides that the President shall be elected by a direct vote of the people for a term of 6 years and should not be eligible for re-election. To amend this provision, Article 17, Section 1 of the Constitution allows any amendment to the Constitution proposed by means of a “Constituent Assembly” effected by the Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths (3/4) of all its Members.

Visualize this. If the House of Representatives is composed of 250 members and the House of Senate is composed of 24 members, it must warrant at least 206 votes to compose a “Constituent Assembly” to effect an amendment of the Constitution.  However, the amendment is not automatic because it needs to be ratified by a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite held not earlier than 60 days nor later than 90 days after approval of such amendment.

While it poses a political question addressed to the wise judgment of the legislature, the factual circumstances in the ground must be considered.  We have to look at the bigger picture. This is not just about party stability and homogeneity of top officials.  For a competent public official, 6 years might be too short. Conversely, 6 years of general unresponsiveness and incompetence is damaging for the general welfare, human rights, rule of law, and constitutional supremacy.

Our Constitution is rigid for a reason.  Constitutional amendment entails a formal and difficult process. The amendment must adhere to the Doctrine of Proper Submission to sufficiently educate the electorate of the repercussions thereof before their votes, through a plebiscite, may be had.

Hence, the enjoyment of legislative prerogatives must be crafted to be compatible with grassroots realities. We have enough pretenses of resilience.  In fact, we are still coping up with learned helplessness as an individual and as a society.  We may not be hearing more of this at the moment but once it takes off, the popular democracy will once again stir the public opinion.

The author is the Founding Partner of A.Panes Law and a Professorial Lecturer of the USA College of Law.