POSTSCRIPT / August 26, 2021 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Election grants VP immunity from suit?

THERE is a need this early to make crystal clear, at least for the benefit of us non-lawyers, if the election to the office of Vice President confers on the winning candidate the same immunity from lawsuit traditionally enjoyed by the President.

If yes (that the vice president also enjoys such immunity), is that privilege prospective or retroactive, and under what conditions? If prospective only, does it cover all acts committed while he is the VP? Is the mantle of protection lifted once he is no longer the VP?

We are suggesting clarification of these (among several related) questions because President Duterte has been saying that he wants to run for vice president in the May 2022 national elections to gain immunity from suit enjoyed by that office.

He has said on many occasions that the VP’s immunity (an idea that many lawyers have disputed) has prompted him to aspire for the post. Maybe he should make a definitive statement on the matter formally in writing.

One such time he harped on immunity was last July 18 when he addressed PDP-Laban party members meeting at the Clark Freeport in Pampanga. Dwelling on charges that his critics reportedly planned to file after the end of his term next June, he told his party mates:

“They keep on threatening me with lawsuits and everything. (Former senator Antonio) Trillanes and itong si (former Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio) Carpio and his ilk panay ang takot sa akin na mademanda ako (always threatening to sue me).

Sabi ng batas, kung presidente ka, bise presidente ka, may immunity ka. Eh di tatakbo na lang ako na bise presidente. And after that, tatakbo uli ako na bise presidente, at bise presidente, at bise presidente.”

(The law says that if you are president or vice president, you have immunity. If that is so, I will just run for vice president… and keep running for VP.)” Some quarters say, however, that immunity from suit applies only to the president.

 Duterte not yet off ICC hook

LEGAL action against Duterte has also been initiated at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where his alleged crimes against humanity related to extrajudicial killings linked to his war on drugs are being processed.

Preparing his defense, Duterte withdrew the Philippines from the 2002 Rome Statute that established the ICC. But it turned out that despite the pullout, the court can still try crimes committed while the Philippines was a member from Nov. 1, 2011, until March 16, 2019.

Duterte’s blanket refusal to submit to the ICC can be gleaned from his statement that “(The ICC) can never acquire jurisdiction over my person, not in a million years.”

Aside from questioning the ICC’s jurisdiction, will he also invoke immunity before the world court?

 VP gets immunity from voters?

SUPPOSE in the campaign leading to the 2022 polls Duterte presents his VP candidacy in the context of the election giving him immunity – and he wins – could he then say that the people themselves, by their direct vote, had granted him or validated his immunity?

If despite the electorate being made aware of accusations against Duterte, the people still elected him VP, could that “vote of confidence” be taken as political vaccination against the viral charges against him?

Lawyers know the answers to most of these questions. It is best, however, that the voters are apprised early that their vote for Duterte could be (mis)interpreted as condoning any past misdeed as president and granting immunity for any future transgression as VP.

This departs from the traditional view of the vice president being merely a “spare tire” waiting to be installed if the president goes “flat”. It amounts to giving voters the judicial task of deciding the guilt or innocence of a VP candidate under a cloud.

The PDP-Laban, or at least the faction led by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, has announced that Duterte, the party chair, already accepted its endorsement for him to run for VP.

The party resolution pairing Sen. Bong Go as presidential bet with Duterte (VP) is set to be presented for adoption at its Sept. 8 national convention in Bulacan. The senator says he is not eyeing the presidency, but nobody seems to listen.

Go says he is busy in the Senate as it is: “Nakatutok ako sa aking tungkulin bilang senador upang tulungan ang bansa na malampasan ang krisis na ating hinaharap. Bakuna muna bago pulitika. Mas mabuti unahin niyo na muna yung mga interesado na tumakbong Pangulo.”

(I’m focused on my responsibilities as a senator to help the nation overcome this crisis we’re facing. Vaccine first before politics. Ask first those who are interested in running for president.)

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IN HIS Tuesday night TV show, Duterte talked about his running for VP: “Okay, I will run for vice president. Then I will continue the crusade… I’m worried about the drugs, insurgency. Number one is insurgency, then criminality, drugs.”

Is Duterte implying that Go may not have what it takes to be president, that Duterte has to stay as VP to ensure the administration is able to sustain the campaign against those problems (some of which he himself failed to solve in six months as he had promised)?

“I may not have the power to give the direction or guidance, but I can always express my view in public for whatever it may be worth in the coming days,” he said. “It’s up to Filipinos. I’m just here.”

Meanwhile, we are waiting to hear from the opposing wing in the splintered PDP-Laban that, last time we checked, had senators Koko Pimentel and Manny Pacquiao as the moving spirits.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 26, 2021)

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