President Rodrigo Duterte’s “true believers” believe he is in the very pink of health and has no cause to worry about prematurely leaving his office. Therefore, Vice President Leni Robredo poses no visible threat, even though she is much younger and stronger, and the Constitution names her as his immediate successor, should he ever fail to complete his term. He is also said to enjoy such high popularity with the pollsters, the military and the police that there is no way they could remove him, as they had removed Marcos and Estrada. Why then this undue preoccupation with the Vice President?

“A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” Churchill might have called it. It is not easy to wrap one’s head around it, but one must try.

Robredo is not the most popular figure after DU30. She invites serious misgivings about her innate capability and competence. Some retired senior military officers seem to think that, should a constitutional contingency arise, the armed service may not be able to follow the constitutional law on presidential succession faithfully. They might not willingly give in to Leni; they might instead favor something extra-constitutional.

Informed sources tell us that an internal survey conducted by the military to ascertain support for DU30 should he declare a “revolutionary government” showed that the officers and men of the Armed Forces would follow “the Constitution and the Flag,” while those of the Army would follow “the President and Commander in Chief.” It is not clear exactly what this means, but it doesn’t seem to augur well for Robredo.

Robredo is now being investigated by the Department of Justice in connection with a charge filed by the Philippine National Police, for her alleged participation in the production and distribution of some defamatory videos titled “Ang totoong narcolist” (“the true narcolist”) against personalities close to DU30. The victims include the President’s son, now congressman and Deputy House Speaker Paolo Duterte, who was accused by a hooded character code-named “Bikoy” of having made billions from the illegal drug trade.

Thirty-four other individuals are charged with Robredo. Whether or not they committed the alleged crime is the end-question, but it is not the most relevant with respect to Robredo. She is an impeachable official. Like the President, the members of the Supreme Court, the constitutional commissions, and the Ombudsman, she may not be charged in court with any crime other than the impeachable crimes enumerated in the Constitution. These include treason, culpable violation of the Constitution, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, and betrayal of public trust. 

If Robredo has committed any of these crimes, she should be impeached on the proper grounds, in the proper forum. She cannot and should not be charged with anything like sedition or inciting to sedition in an ordinary criminal complaint. Her alleged involvement in the Bikoy videos, if shown to have factual basis, is a private crime against private individuals; it deserves  a response not from the state but from the affected private parties. How in Heaven’s name did they morph into state crimes?

The Department of Justice must educate us on this. A highly informed source tells me that whatever happens to the DOJ investigation, Robredo is ultimately headed toward impeachment. It’s the real game plan. She may not have committed a serious impeachable offense, but DU30 has presumably developed what the late President Marcos, in his time, described as a serious case of “allergy” to his Vice President, Fernando Lopez. The Lopezes used their business and media empire to casually denigrate Marcos, so he abolished “Toto Nanding’s” office and ruled without a vice president.

Unless DU30 abolishes the constitutional government and proclaims a “revolutionary government,” as he has threatened to do, he might simply replace Robredo without abolishing her office. This would not be unprecedented. He had earlier caused the removal of Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno without going through the impeachment process, although the Constitution says such official may be removed only through impeachment. Sereno was removed through a quo warranto proceeding, by means of which her Supreme Court colleagues declared her appointment to the Court null and void ab initio, as though the President himself had no right to make it.

That decision had no basis or precedent under the Constitution. In the honest view of many, it destroyed not only our Supreme Court before the international legal and judicial community but above all our very own “democracy.” We have not quite recovered from that injury. It remains to be seen how DU30 is going to avoid further injury if and when he decides to remove Robredo, constitutionally or extra-constitutionally.