How Sara may just become President
The field in the 2022 presidential race could thin out into a photo-finish between ex-senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Vice President Leni Robredo, but a third candidate worth watching is Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio running for vice president.
With only three months to go before he exits, President Rodrigo Duterte may be a lame-duck according to traditional political lore, but it is too early to crop him, or the Duterte dynasty, out of the emerging picture.
Based on the latest surveys on presidential and vice-presidential preferences, the Marcos-Duterte tandem is leading at this point in the multi-stage race now only 28 days from the May 9 finish line.
Even if Robredo catches up on Marcos as they round the corner after the Holy Week three weeks before Election Day, Sara Duterte’s strong showing in surveys could result in either a Marcos-Duterte or a Robredo-Duterte winning pair.
For Bongbong and Sara to make it together will be normal, but a Leni-Sara winning combination will be phenomenal – but not entirely unexpected, with a crop of supporters sprouting like mushrooms in humid and somewhat warm Ro-Sa (Robredo-Sara) weather.
The likelihood of Sara’s winning as VP with either Bongbong or Leni has sent election analysts reassessing their data, fortune-tellers polishing their crystal balls, and political butterflies reviewing their flitting patterns.
Robredo has said that she could work with any vice president, a statement that reminded us of her having been allowed once into Duterte’s Den then let out after the brief trial coexistence failed.
Leni’s becoming president with Sara as her vice president should not be complicated if both work together in good faith even while the VP’s father, the by-then former President Duterte, occasionally makes his diminished presence felt.
Suspicion could linger that the Dutertes, among other players, may be plotting every single day of a Robredo presidency to oust Leni so Sara the VP could take over.
That disturbance would be more political than legal. What could cause colossal legal complications is if on Election Day both Marcos Jr. and his partner Sara Duterte get the highest number of votes to win – but with his DQ still unresolved by the Supreme Court.
If the DQ petitions reach the high court rather late (meaning very close to the date when the president-elect should be officially proclaimed) to enable the 15-member tribunal to resolve with finality Marcos’ DQ, what happens?
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The Constitution says in Sec. 4, Art. VII: “xxx The returns of every election for President and Vice President, xxx shall be transmitted to the Congress. xxx Upon receipt of the certificates of canvass, the President of the Senate shall, not later than 30 days after the day of the election, open all the certificates xxx in joint public session, and the Congress, xxx, canvass the votes.
“The person having the highest number of votes shall be proclaimed elected xxx.
“xxx The Supreme Court, sitting en banc, shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of the President or Vice President, and may promulgate its rules for the purpose.”
The target is to have a president-elect ready to take his oath by noon of June 30, the day of the inaugural and turnover.
Whichever party/petitioner loses in the DQ cases crawling in the Comelec is expected to sprint to the SC. But what if the DQ petitions do not, for whatever reason fair or foul, reach the tribunal on appeal fast enough?
(These details may appear irrelevant to the cases, but FYI, 12 of the current 15 members of the Supreme Court, including Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo, are Duterte appointees. Senior Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe, one of the three appointees of the late President Noynoy Aquino, will retire on May 14 at age 70, creating a vacancy.
(Under Sec. 15, Art. VII, two months before Election Day until the end of his term, the President is barred from making appointments, “except temporary appointments to executive positions when continued vacancies therein will prejudice public service or endanger public safety”.
(The Comelec, now composed of a full body of seven commissioners who are all appointees of President Duterte, has said that it would resolve all the DQ cases against Marcos this month.)
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But April ends just one week before Election Day, when official ballots listing the 10 presidential candidates (including Marcos) will be marked by voters to indicate their choice. There are about 67 million registered voters.
It could happen that the election of the president (among other officials) would be ongoing, or already completed, while the SC would still be hearing the petitions to disqualify Marcos.
To prevent a “crisis”, can President Duterte butt in, declare after May 9 a failure of election, and stay beyond June 30 as interim president? The answer is No. In the first place, only a majority of the Comelec en banc – not the President – can declare a failure of election.
We also learn from Sec. 6 of the Omnibus Election Code, as amended by Sec. 4 of RA 7166, that “failure of election” simply means that there was no election held in a particular precinct, barangay, city, municipality or province due to force majeure, violence, terrorism, fraud, or other analogous causes or that the election was suspended. There is no mention of the disqualification of a candidate among the causes.
If Marcos wins as president with Sara Duterte as vice president – and they are both able to get sworn in and have in fact begun performing their duties – will Marcos, if disqualified later by the SC, still be removed? How and by whom?
Will Sara Duterte then emerge, probably as planned, from the ashes of May 9 as the next President?