VP Duterte? Against spirit of Charter, lawyers say
MANILA, Philippines — If President Duterte, who is limited to a single six-year term, runs and wins the vice presidential elections next year, he would be going against the spirit of the Constitution because he could assume the presidency again through succession, according to two prominent lawyers.
Mel Sta. Maria, dean of the Institute of Law of the Far Eastern University, said a president seeking the second highest post in the country would be violating the 1987 Constitution.
Section 4, Article 7 of the Constitution states: “The President and the Vice President shall be elected by direct vote of the people for a term of six years … 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 any time.”
Sta. Maria, on his Facebook page, said the word “any” refers to reelection to either president or vice president, as mentioned in the same provision.
“‘Any’ cannot refer to being elected to the presidency alone. Had this been the intent, it would have been very easy for the constitutional framers to state: ‘The President shall not be eligible for reelection as President.’ But it did not,” he wrote.
He said the Constitution has narrowed the prohibition on reelection to only the presidency and vice presidency, citing the case of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who ran for a seat in the House of Representatives.
“The spirit of the Constitution leads to no other conclusion but that when an incumbent President’s term is over, he or she should not be allowed to have any institutional influence at the highest level of government in the next administration,” Sta. Maria said.
According to him, this would create an opportunity for the previous President to either cause instability within the government or “make the next President nothing but a stooge.”
“What cannot be done directly cannot be done indirectly. To do so would be a mockery of the prohibition,” Sta. Maria said.
“What the Constitution proscribes is a situation that treads or creeps toward the direction of autocracy and/or political dynasty, especially if the next group of leaders will just be relatives of the previous ones,” he said.
Roughly a year before the presidential elections, administration allies and members of the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) are urging Duterte to run for vice president, with his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, as the party standard-bearer.
Key members of the opposition reject the proposal, with the administration rival coalition 1Sambayan calling it a “joke of the worst kind.”
Lawyer Howard Calleja, a convener of 1Sambayan, said allowing Duterte to run for vice president would be to put him in a position only a “stone’s throw away from continuing his terror regime.”
“The act of him filing his certificate of candidacy for reelection in October, while he is still the sitting President, is exactly what the Constitution prohibits,” Calleja wrote in a column last week.
“The letter and spirit of the Constitution prohibits any person to be placed in power perpetually and having access to unlimited resources of the government to promote his and her own political agenda,” said Calleja, who specializes in civil and criminal litigation, and election law.
In a remark that was echoed by Sta. Maria, the Ateneo Law School professor said: “What the Constitution prohibits directly, we cannot circumvent it by doing it indirectly.”
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said that Mr. Duterte will “leave it to God” on whether he will run for vice president.
During his interview on Tuesday with Christian televangelist Apollo Quiboloy, Duterte said that he was “resisting” the call of his PDP-Laban party mates.
“That is the word used. So [it means] he doesn’t like it but he is not yet saying no,” Roque said at a press briefing.
In a separate radio interview on Wednesday, Roque said he believed Duterte really wanted to retire but that he might reconsider. But whatever the President’s decision is, it would be “good for the people,” he said.
He said the President’s decision would depend on whether his daughter would run for president.
Roque hinted that Duterte might take a longer time to decide, as he did in 2016, because there would still be a period for candidate substitution.
‘If Sara runs, Duterte will not’
“You know, he keeps his plans very close to his chest. My advice to everyone is, you can speculate all you want but we will find out whether he will file a certificate of candidacy only in October.
We’re not even sure that October is the cut off because there is a period for substitution sometime in December,” Roque said.
“If Mayor Inday Sara will run, I am sure that he will not run for vice president, but if [she] will not run, he has always said—and even Sen. Bong Go, too—that if [she] will not run, then … Go can run, but [the senator] said he will do so only if his running mate is President Duterte,” Roque said.
Duterte had been consistent in discouraging his daughter from running for president, given the hardships of being president, he said.
The mayor would have to make her own decision, and that “it’s better that way so there would be no buck-passing in the end.”
Being the next president is not “an entitlement” of a president’s daughter, Roque added.
“She knows she has to work for it. She knows that when she wins that the challenges are very great ahead of her, and that’s why it will have to be her personal decision,” he said.
Responding to accusations that a Duterte-Duterte tandem in 2022 would establish a political dynasty, Roque said it would be a “different dynasty.”
“Well, they are relatives, but a dynasty is perpetuation of the same family by choice or because of a willful decision. If Mayor Sara runs, it will be against the wishes of her father, and I don’t call this dynasty because clearly, the President is clear [when he said] ‘I don’t want the mess of the presidency on my family,’” Roque said.
“But if she so decides, then it is up to the electorate, and I don’t think we can accuse the Duterte family of perpetuating themselves in power because the President made it clear [that he doesn’t want her to run for president].”
Roque himself wants the Davao mayor to run for president.
“But I respect that the decision will have to be made by Mayor Sara herself,” he said.
“I think, as a card-bearing member of the People’s Reform Party (PRP), the party of [the late senator] Miriam Defensor-Santiago, it is Inday Sara who … has the same qualities as Miriam Defensor-Santiago to become president,” he said. INQ
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