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Experts say ‘spirit of the law’ prohibits Duterte from running for VP in 2022

By AYIE LICSI Published Aug 12, 2021 10:15 pm

With the national elections happening less than a year from now, we are seeing a unique situation: an incumbent president is mulling over the idea of running for vice president.

Sure, nothing is set in stone yet—not until the filing for candidacy in October starts, at least—but recent developments with ruling party PDP-Laban have been stirring discussion. The party announced that they endorse the tandem of Senator Bong Go and President Rodrigo Duterte as their presidential and vice presidential candidates for the 2022 elections.

But what does the law say about this? Can an incumbent president run and sit as VP?

To shed light on the matter, PhilStar L!fe got in touch with experts on constitutional law Far Eastern University Institute of Law Dean Mel Sta. Maria, Ateneo School of Government Dean Tony La Viña, University of the Philippines Constitutional Law Professor John Molo, and one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution Atty. Christian Monsod.

What the written law says

Section 4, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution states: "The President and the Vice-President shall be elected by direct vote of the people for a term of six years which shall begin at noon on the thirtieth day of June next following the day of the election and shall end at noon of the same date, six years thereafter. The President shall not be eligible for any re-election. No person who has succeeded as President and has served as such for more than four years shall be qualified for election to the same office at any time."

Upon reading this, there should be a clear answer, right? Well, it's more complicated than that—even lawyers have different opinions and interpretations.

The provision starts with a clear reference to the president and the vice president positions. The word 'any' cannot refer to be elected to the presidency alone. —FEU Institute of Law Dean Mel Sta. Maria.

"The very first sentence provides the president and the vice president. And the second one, sinabi nya the president shall not be eligible for any re-election period," said Sta. Maria. "Hindi niya sinasabi ‘the president shall not be eligible for any re-election as president. Kaya para sakin, the text of the provision supports the disqualification of the president." 

"The provision starts with a clear reference to the president and the vice president positions," he raised. "The word 'any' cannot refer to be elected to the presidency alone."

La Viña argued that a sitting president can run based on the constitutional text. "It’s clear naman na re-election applies to the same position. You are not re-elected to an office you have never been elected, 'di ba? The letter of the law clearly allows anyone to run for vice president as long as they have the minimum requirements," he said. "But in terms of the spirit of the law, hindi pwede."

A VP's purpose

The spirit of the law he's referring to is linked to the purpose of the Vice President, which the Constitution says is "to assume the presidency in the case of death, disability, or resignation of the incumbent president.” Should Duterte run and win as VP, there's a chance of him becoming president. 

The Vice President is a unique constitutional office. It's the only office that exists whose sole purpose is to become president, once there is an opportunity. —UP Constitutional Law Professor John Molo.

Meanwhile, Molo said there's something "peculiar" about an incumbent president running for VP. "What's the function of a vice president? To become president—that’s it. The Vice President is a unique constitutional office. It's the only office that exists whose sole purpose is to become president, once there is an opportunity," he said.

"Yung situation nila is vastly different from vice president and a president running for vice president. I'm not making the vice president unique, the Constitution made the office unique in the sense that it only has one function: spare tire."

"The prohibition is intended so that the previous president will not have an institutional official position of influence next term. That is the spirit of the Constitution, then you cannot run as vice president because that is the second-highest position of the law. And besides, that’s one heartbeat away from the presidency," remarked Sta. Maria. 

One of the Constitution's framers Monsod said the ban on re-election also consists of the president not serving for more than six years.

"The provision 'shall be ineligible for any re-election' should also be interpreted as a number of years as president with only one exception as provided in the Constitution," he raised. The exception Monsod is referring to is the case of a vice-president succeeding to the presidency if he/she has not served more than four years as president, similar to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's.

"My interpretation is that the limitation is not only for election but also for assuming office. Because precisely if you look at it from the point of view of the constitutional design, the basis of the limiting terms is social justice," Monsod continued.

Answering the big “What if?”

The moment President Duterte files for VP candidacy, Molo and Sta. Maria foresee that controversy will then arise.

"Lahat yan haka-haka for now but we have to wait for October when the moment after they file. As for the electrons, May pa naman 'yun eh, we've had several presidential elections where controversies like this arose and the Supreme Court had more than enough time to resolve it," Molo remarked, citing Grace Poe's and Fernando Poe Jr.'s natural citizen case, which were resolved during the campaign and election periods as examples.

"It creates a legal mess, creates a legal crisis," shared Sta. Maria. "Let’s say hindi maresolve to at nanalo, pwede ba natin gawin yung ginawa kay Chief Justice na quo warranto? Baka ganon ang mangyayari, very complicated na 'yan."

Meanwhile, La Viña and Monsod believe that Duterte running for VP will change the interpretation of term limits.

Never again to authoritarianism, that’s the second theme of the constitution. The first is social justice. — Atty. Christian Monsod.

"Yung Constitution, eventually everyone will try to distort it in one way or another. Nobody will follow the rules anymore," said La Viña.

"If we open the backdoor, then everybody, every president will be thinking about serving 12 years and will use the powers of his office in order to do that and that defeats the whole design of the constitution in terms of office," Monsod noted. "If you step back and look at it, what is the intent, what is the design of the constitution with respect to public office? One of them, of course, is that the sovereign people are the principals and the government officials are our agents and it’s not the other way around."

"The constitution was approved by 76% of the voters. It was put into place after Marcos because of authoritarianism. Never again to authoritarianism, that’s the second theme of the constitution. The first is social justice. The third is the economy should be in the hands of the people themselves," he concluded.

Read the full Article VII on the Executive Branch here.

PDP-Laban's endorsement of the Go-Duterte tandem for 2022 will be up for approval by the party general assembly, which will meet next month.

Image courtesy of Karl Alonzo, taken from the Presidential Communications Operations Office's official website.