VIDEO, NEWS5 EXCLUSIVE | President Aquino says he is open to Cha-Cha, 2nd term, and a weaker SC
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(UPDATED 9:00 p.m.) MANILA - President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday said he is open to constitutional amendments, expressing what he perceives to be a need to clip the powers of the Supreme Court, while potentially paving the way for a second term for himself.

In an exclusive interview with News5's resident legal analyst Atty. Mel Sta. Maria, Mr. Aquino replied to this question: "Sarado ba kayo sa pag-aamyenda ng Constitution hanggang ngayon?" (Are you still closed to amending the Constitution until now?)

Aquino replied: "Bago nito, bago nangyari lahat ng ito, sarado....aminado ako (Before all these things happened, I was closed to it, I admit that)."

"Pero ngayon, napapag-isip ako talaga... yung tinatawag na judicial reach (But now, I'm seriously rethinking things. Because of the judicial reach.)"

The President stressed that he was worried that opening up the Constitution to amendments could result in some of the "good provisions" also being "diluted." Still, he noted how the 1987 Constitution mandated the Supreme Court to step into even political questions, in contrast to the setup when the Marcos-era SC refused to check the Executive on the 1972 martial law declaration because it was a "political question."

"And in fact in the 1987 Charter's martial law provision, any citizen may petition the SC as to the factual basis for the imposition of martial law," Aquino noted. "Ang problema lang ngayon, may nagtatanong, sobra ba?" (The problem now is, there are those who ask: Has it gone too far?)

He said under the current setup, the court can say, "Yung kongreso, executive, kumilos kayo, pero anytime, puede namin kayong kastiguhin...(Congress and Executive may do their work, but we can check them anytime)." Consequently, instead of being judicious with "judicial restraint," added Aquino, "parang  masyadong madalas ginagamit (it seems the Court is using its powers to check other branches much too often)."

He added: "Ngayon, yung balance between the three branches, tila nawala." (Now, the balance between the three branches seems to be vanishing.)

Mr. Aquino alluded to the ruling on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which he said shattered the constitutional presumption of innocence before being proven guilty. He noted that the Court not only declared the DAP unconstitutional, it also excoriated the Executive's "bad faith" and the presumption of regularity of official acts.

Aquino's statement came on the eve of hearings in the House of Representatives for the judiciary's 2015 budget. Representatives of the Court, led by SC justices, were expected to attend the hearings on Thursday.

The hearings on the judiciary's budget comes amid weeks of tension between the Executive and the Judiciary following the July 1, 2014 ruling by the high tribunal, declaring unconstitutional the key planks of the President's pet economic stimulus scheme, the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

The President fired the opening salvo in the ensuing word war by openly attacking the SC in a national address aired live on television last July 14.

Then, his close allies in the House of Representatives aired moves to abolish the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF), or at least investigate how the SC has been spending it. Some allies openly talked of impeaching SC justices, reviving criticism about how the Executive "bribed" lawmakers to secure a conviction of then Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012.

Soon after, the court blocked two attempts by Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares to get copies of the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) of all sitting justices over the past 10 years. Court sources earlier told the request was unprecedented and smacked of a "fishing expedition."

The latest irritant between the two branches is the Judicial and Bar Council's exclusion of Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza from the list of nominees to be considered for the vacant SC seat left by the May 2014 retirement of Associate Justice Roberto Abad. Malacanang Palace wrote the SC, asking it to direct the JBC to give Jardeleza a chance to answer questions raised against him.

Second term? PNoy will listen to 'bosses'

Asked by News5's Sta Maria if the constitutional amendment the President is now backing would also render him open to seeking another term in office, Mr. Aquino said: "Nung pinasukan ko ito, ang tanda ko one term of six years...Ngayon, after having said that, syempre ang mga boss ko, kelangan kong pakinggan 'yon." (When I first got into this, I noted, one term of six years. Now, after having said that, of course I have to listen to the people.)

He quickly stressed, however: "Hindi naman ibig automatic na hahabol pa ako na  magkaroon pa ako ng dagdag dito, 'no?" (That doesn't automatically mean I'll be chasing after another term, right?)

The President told Sta. Maria he wants to consult the people on one crucial question: "How do we ensure the reforms we began will become permanent?" he said in Filipino.

His response echoed the coy remarks of Lacierda last week when he was asked by Palace reporters to comment on the statement made by Interior Secretary Mar Roxas to ANC, saying that if it were up to him, he'd rather have Mr. Aquino serve for another term.

Lacierda stoked intrigue over the President's openness to Roxas' float last week, even as all the talk was later quashed by Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma. Coloma said the President was in fact "counting the days" left in his term and was looking forward to being spared of the crushing burden of his office in 2016.

Lacierda did not shoot down outright the notion of a second term for Aquino despite the 1987 Constitution's term limits, but instead kept saying that it was the President's policy right from the start to "listen to his bosses," the term Aquino had used to refer to the people, since he took power in 2010.

Lacierda insisted, however, the Palace had nothing to do with a perceived "campaign" in social media to get more people to line up behind the idea of a second term for Aquino.

The 1987 Constitution is ironically called "the Cory Constitution" because it was drawn up soon after the incumbent's mother Corazon became president in 1986 with the peaceful revolt that ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

The former president made it her top priority to put in place a Constitution to guide the nation through the process of democratic restoration after two decades of strongman rule.

Mrs. Aquino repeatedly shot down suggestions to amend the 1987 Charter later, and mustered a huge rally at the Rizal Park in September 1997, in a bid to dissuade her hand-picked successor, then President Fidel Ramos, from tinkering with the Charter to lift term limits.