Enough is enough!
To the nation’s nearly two-year-old Covid-19 pandemic and all the woes associated with it, President Duterte has added something new and scary as far as the voters are concerned.
He has announced his plan to run for Vice President with his former aide, Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, as presidential candidate in the May 9, 2022 elections.
This would be good news if it meant Duterte’s threat to declare a revolutionary government is definitely over; if the spike of the Deltra variant of Covid-19 will not cause a sudden, unilateral move to postpone the elections; and if there were nothing morally and constitutionally repugnant and infirm about it.
But except for some election lawyers and some pre-paid political analysts, no one seems to believe the plan could stand a serious moral and constitutional challenge.
Under our single-term presidency, no president can run for reelection. The reason is simple enough. No president should be allowed to use the resources of his office to stay on beyond six years. Now, if an outgoing president were allowed to run for vice president, he could use those same resources to get himself and his teammate elected, and eventually recapture his former office. Since his unique duty is to succeed the president in case he dies, is incapacitated, or removed, or resigns, his election would create a backdoor to the presidency from which he had been shut out. As the master would have been instrumental in making his factotum president, a post-election resignation could be easily arranged to put the master back in office.
I hope no Comelec commissioner or SC justice would tell Duterte he is not prohibited from running for vice president. The constitutional design of a single-term presidency is so clear in everything that is written in the Constitution that its framers obviously found no need to spell out the most obvious prohibition.
But Duterte has had an unusual luck in overcoming electoral challenges. In 2016, he missed the deadline for the filing of certificates of candidacy (COC), and had to file as a substitute for another candidate who had withdrawn. He thus became a substitute for one Martin Dino, who had earlier filed his candidacy for the mayorship of Pasay city. How Duterte became a presidential candidate on the basis of that mayoral COC is one of the unsolved riddles of the 2016 elections.
Since then, Duterte has controlled the three branches of government. He has been more thorough than President Marcos, who respected the Supreme Court and allowed independent and critical magistrates to flourish. In 2018, Duterte had Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, President NoynoyAquino’s appointee, removed from office, without going through the impeachment process mandated by the Constitution, but simply by having Solicitor General Jose Calida file a “quo warranto” (by what warrant?) petition against her, and having the other SC justices declare her appointment null and void ab initio. Whether or not Sereno deserved to be chief justice is not the issue here; but the process of her removal was simply wrong.
What will happen now if and when Duterte is challenged before the Supreme Court?
Will the justices be able to rule according to the Constitution, the law, and their consciences, or will they simply have to submit to what Duterte says? I am afraid if and when that day comes, the people themselves, not just the justices, will have to intervene. For that reason, we need to have a deeper understanding of our Constitution, and how we can protect and defend it from those who misuse their borrowed political power.
In our Constitution, we have the three co-equal branches of government. The President must not usurp the rights and duties of the Congress or the Courts, and the latter must not usurp the President’s powers either. And yet how often has this principle or doctrine of “separation of powers and checks and balances” been transgressed and trampled upon?
In September 1972, when Marcos declared martial law to confront the communist insurgency, he closed down Congress and assumed executive and legislative powers for so many years. After the 1986 EDSA revolt installed Cory Aquino as “revolutionary president”, she abolished the 1973 Constitution, assumed legislative powers and named 48 men and women to write the 1987 Constitution, instead of asking the Filipino people to do the same.
Upon the promulgation of the new Constitution, and the termination of the revolutionary government, Cory unilaterally extended her term through Section 5 of the Transitory Provisions of the Constitution, which says: “The six-year term of the incumbent President and Vice-President elected in the February 7, 1986 election is, for purposes of synchronization of elections, hereby extended to noon of June 30, 1992.”
This gave us to understand that Cory and Doy Laurel were “elected” in the Feb. 7, 1986 elections, even though Marcos and Arturo Tolentino were proclaimed by the presidential board of canvassers as the duty elected president and vice-president, and this proclamation was never revoked by the revolutionary government.
In 2000, the House of Representatives impeached President Joseph Ejercito Estrada for bribery and corruption. The Senate opened trial after constituting itself into an impeachment court. But the House prosecutors walked out when they could not get the senator-judges to admit a questionable envelope which a private bank had volunteered to the court without the benefit of a subpoena. They then took their case to EDSA, and Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., who had presided over the botched trial, swore in Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as president, without Estrada having been tried for, or convicted of, any of the House charges, and before any vacancy could occur in his office.
This remains one of the biggest mysteries in Philippine politics.
In 2011-2012, President Noynoy Aquino caused Chief Justice Renato Corona to be impeached and removed by Congress. On Dec. 12, 2011, P-Noy asked 188 members of the House to sign a 56-page impeachment complaint against Corona in exchange for pork barrel funds. At the 2012 Senate trial, the House prosecutors withdrew five of the eight Articles of Impeachment for lack of evidence, and focused on only one out of the three remaining charges. The prosecution ran into serious difficulties, but P-Noy released P50 million or more to each of nineteen senator-judges to ensure Corona’s conviction and removal.
The alleged bribery was confirmed in the Senate, but no one moved to invalidate the impeachment verdict, or impeach Aquino, or dissolve the Senate. Later P-Noy would use the same pork barrel funds to railroad an anti-Catholic “reproductive health” law at the prompting of US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Through all these crises, the Constitution and the nation have survived. But Duterte’s latest ploy could put the Constitution and the nation to their utmost test. This is because after long years of political exploitation and deceit, the Filipino people may have reached the point when the most patient among them are ready to explode. Enough is enough.