POSTSCRIPT / August 19, 2018 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Duterte ‘telling’ PET to favor Bongbong?

PRESIDENT Duterte is not keeping it a secret that he wants to hand the presidency, when he resigns, to the son and namesake of the late President Ferdinand Marcos – even if Bongbong Marcos is not in the line of succession under the Constitution.

The plan was revealed in quick sequence: On Tuesday, Duterte said he wanted to resign and preferred somebody in the likes of Marcos or Sen. Chiz Escudero to replace him. On Thursday, his spokesman said Duterte would resign if Marcos wins his election protest against Vice President Leni Robredo.

Duterte’s spokesman said: “He thinks (Marcos) is one of the better qualified persons to succeed. If he wins the protest and becomes vice president, yes, he (Duterte) will make true his word (about resigning).”

Asked if Duterte wants Marcos to win his protest before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said: “That I do not know. That’s a different question.”

We posted on Twitter on Friday: “By announcing his preference, is Duterte trying to influence the PET/SC on the Marcos electoral protest? xxx Also a signal for PET to rush BBM winning his protest?”

As we write this, likes, retweets and replies keep coming in, mostly reflecting the same impression that Duterte was sending a signal to the PET and conditioning the public mind to accept his next moves.

One tweeter, Rich Tan @Tanimal15, said: “Tampering tawag dyan.” (That’s tampering.)

The term broadly applies to moves or machinations to coerce or influence witnesses, among other parties, so as to affect the eventual resolution of a case.

While we do not see the President’s declaration as tampering, it reminds us of how, in the recent quo warranto hearing against then Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Duterte vowed to have her ousted — and a majority in the tribunal voted to remove her, maybe by coincidence.

It is a matter of conjecture how the President’s expression of a desire to see Sereno kicked out influenced eight of the justices. It would be interesting to track how the same magistrates would now vote on motions during the hearing on Marcos’ poll protest.

It is unfortunate that the President intruded into a case he has interest in by announcing his preferred outcome. It may not be his intention, but he looked like sending a not too subtle message to those who may be susceptible to being influenced.

If lawyers are cited in contempt of the PET for issuing media releases to protect their clients’ rights, with more reason it would seem contemptuous for the President – who appoints all SC justices —  to announce who he thinks should win in an election dispute before it.

The electoral tribunal hearing the Marcos vs Robredo case is composed of all SC justices sitting as PET members.

It is not for Duterte to dictate who would replace him in case of his death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation. The line of succession is clearly defined by the Constitution, which the President is sworn to preserve and defend.

As a lawyer, even as he makes light of his getting low grades in law school, Duterte knows that the line of succession goes down from the president, to the vice president, the Senate president, the Speaker of the House of Representatives – and stops there.

Ex-senator Marcos – or senator Escudero who was also mentioned by Duterte, or Foreign Secretary Alan Cayetano who was the President’s VP running mate in 2016 – are not in the line of succession.

Whatever commitments Duterte may have made to the Marcoses about the presidency cannot be superior to the Constitution under which he ran and is serving.

One way out of the political cul de sac is for Duterte to change the Constitution – the same route taken by Marcos’ father who staged a “coup from the center” in 1972, ruled by decree and replaced the Charter that barred him from running for a third term.

It is curious that Duterte is fast-tracking the revision of the Constitution with the avowed plan to totally overhaul the government into a federal setup or something more attuned to his agenda.

Another option that Duterte has mentioned is a military junta taking over when a crisis develops, presumably with him as the Commander-in-Chief. Meantime, he flatters the military-police service by rallying them to protect the people and the state.

The “protector” job is already given the armed forces in the Constitution. We wonder if the military is aware that that role has been removed from the Federal Constitution that a consultative committee of Duterte has written.

 ‘Du30 need not quit, BBM will lose’

WE ASKED lawyer Romulo Macalintal, Robredo’s counsel, if he thinks Duterte is trying to influence the tribunal. He said: “I don’t think President Duterte is influencing the tribunal. He clearly stated that he was merely giving his own opinion.”

Macalintal added: “As to his plan to resign if Marcos wins the protest, the President’s resignation will never happen, because Marcos will never win his protest. No evidence of any tampering or cheating has been proven.

“All we have are Marcos’s self-serving objections to the ballots of Robredo. Such objections, in my experience as election lawyer for the past three decades had never been sustained by the SC nor any tribunal as valid grounds to invalidate the votes of candidates.”

As to Roque’s statement that the President would resign only if Bongbong wins his protest, Macalintal said: “President Duterte seems to doubt the qualification of VP Robredo. He said that Naga City is a ‘hotbed’ of illegal drugs, a statement that has no factual basis.

“Be that as it may, the existence of alleged illegal drugs in a place is not a ground to disqualify Robredo in the same way that President Duterte cannot be disqualified nor his ability to lead questioned on the basis of the illegal drugs all over the country, a menace that he has failed to eradicate after six months as he promised to do.

“The qualifications of the vice president are the same qualifications of the president as provided for in the Constitution. If President Duterte resigns, VP Robredo becomes the president under the Constitution.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 19, 2018)

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