By Ruben D. Torres, Manila Times, 27 Aug 2021
THE acceptance by President Duterte of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) nomination for him to run as vice president and choose his presidential running mate in next year’s election definitely changes all previous political equations. Indeed, it can be a real game changer.
All kudos to the President’s political strategists and tacticians.
While the incumbent president will just be contending for the second highest position in our government, the impact on the contest for the presidency itself is considerable. Let us look at the present political landscape, especially anent the choices and possible winners in the presidential and vice presidential races.
So far, the most popular choice for president is Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, who as everyone knows is the daughter of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Sara is not a member of her father’s party, the PDP-Laban, but is the organizer and leader of her own Hugpong ng Pagbabago. If Sara decides to run for president, she will definitely be the official candidate of the Hugpong. There is, of course, the possibility at some later time, for the PDP-Laban and Hugpong to coalesce, bringing their respective candidates together. With such a coalition, it will eventually be a Duterte-Duterte tandem for the two highest elective posts in the country. The PDP candidate for president will withdraw and the Hugpong candidate for vice president will do likewise.
Should there be no coalition, and both Sara and Digong run for president and vice president, respectively, albeit under different political parties, the likely result would be that Sara will win as president and her father as vice president. The likelihood of this happening is very high as both Sara and Digong have very high approval ratings. Whoever joins Sara as her vice presidential candidate or that of Digong as his presidential candidate will be running for election but really aiming for appointive positions – as members of the cabinet of the winning president.
Even as the President has accepted the nomination of the PDP-Laban for the vice presidential position, there are reports that if Sara runs for president, Digong will not push through with his vice presidential ambition. If Sara will not run for president, then the most probable tandem will be Sen. Bong Go for president and Digong for vice president.
While Digong’s acceptance of his party’s nomination is a politically brilliant move and is a political game changer, there is a potential spoiler – the Supreme Court.
I surmise that soon after President Duterte files his certificate of candidacy with the Commission on Elections, a case will be filed with the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court will be asked to rule on whether the provision of Article VII, Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution, which reads in part, “The president shall not be eligible for any reelection,” prohibits a president who is about to complete his six-year term of office from running for vice president.
The President’s lawyers must have studied the constitutionality of an exiting president running for vice president and advised Digong, who is similarly a lawyer, accordingly. The crux of the arguments of the lawyers of the President is that “reelection” means running again for the same position. The ban should not apply if the exiting president runs for another position, say the vice presidency. Although not squarely to the point, there are precedents to support this contention. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, after her presidency, ran as representative for a district in Pampanga. President Joseph Estrada ran for mayor in the city of Manila. Verily, it can be argued that running for vice president or for any other lesser elective positions are outside the ambit of the phrase “any reelection,” which is proscribed by Article VII, Section 4 of the Constitution.
The opposing view maintains that allowing an exiting president to run for vice president is tantamount to a virtual circumvention of the constitutional prohibition and that there is a judicial doctrine that “what the law prohibits to be done directly should not be done indirectly.” In regard to the circumvention argument, let us look at some situations where the vice president either becomes the acting president, or the regular president no less.
Under Section 7, Article VII of the Constitution, the following are two instances where the vice president becomes acting president, i.e., when the president-elect fails to qualify; and if a president shall not have been elected. The same provision envisages a situation where the vice president becomes the president thus: “If at the beginning of the term of the president, the president-elect shall have died or shall have become permanently disabled, the vice president shall become the president.”
Section 8 of Article VII of the Constitution spells out the instances in which the vice president becomes the president by succession. To wit: “In case of death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation of the president, the vice president shall become the president to serve the unexpired term.”
Should the Supreme Court rule that the constitutional provision which prohibits a president to run for “any reelection” means that the exiting president is prohibited to run for president again but not for a lesser position and thereby agreeing with the interpretation of his lawyers, President Duterte would be able to serve as president for another six years. This can happen with the resignation of the duly elected president. Setting aside the cases where the succession by the vice president is constitutionally allowed, a Vice President Duterte may actually become the chief of state while the duly elected president keeps the title and performs his/her powers and authority with the approval or blessings of the vice president.