Duterte ponders play for power as political exit looms

Karen Lema, Reuters

Posted at Jul 09 2021 11:49 AM | Updated as of Jul 09 2021 07:00 PM

Duterte ponders play for power as political exit looms 1
President Rodrigo Duterte delivers a message at the Bulwagang Kalayaan in Villamor Air Base, Pasay City on July 8, 2021. Karl Alonzo, Presidential Photo

MANILA (UPDATED) - President Rodrigo Duterte might be barred from a second term in office, but don't be surprised if he's still running the country after a presidential election next year.

The popular Duterte gave the strongest hint yet that he might seek the vice presidency, saying on Wednesday that he was "sold to the idea" and thinking seriously about running for the largely ceremonial number two post.

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For Christian Monsod, a lawyer and one of the framers of the 1987 constitution, Duterte's real intent is clear.

"There is a plan to use a backdoor approach to stay in power," he said.

Duterte, 76, is trying to circumvent the single-6 year term limit, set by the constitution to stop power from being abused, said Monsod, a former election commission chief.

He suspects Duterte was asked by allies to choose a running mate to campaign with to help the candidate win the presidency. That president would then step down, allowing Duterte to reassume the post.

Duterte, who has portrayed himself as a reluctant president with no desire for power, says he wants his media-shy longtime aide Christopher "Bong" Go to be his successor.

His endorsement in 2019 helped Go to become a senator, a job he combines with being Duterte's personal assistant. Go says he is not interested.

Duterte's daughter, Davao Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio has outshone Go in opinion polls as possible presidential contenders. But Sara and her father are against the idea of her running.

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Temario Rivera, head of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, said Duterte's motivation to remain in power is obvious - to avoid jail and courtrooms.

Political vendettas are common in the Philippines and former leaders, minus their immunity of office, have been prosecuted and even jailed after changes in power.

"The question facing him is what is the best strategy to deal with that existential problem," Rivera said.

Duterte has repeatedly baited the International Criminal Court (ICC) and dared it to put him on trial for crimes against humanity. The ICC's prosecutor has since sought the go-ahead to launch a formal investigation into the drugs war killings.

"The strategy for Duterte is to make sure that the opposition does not win," Rivera said.

"The ICC can now proceed with their investigation in a clearer manner if you have an opposition president in power."

PALACE SAYS NO LEGAL HURDLE VS VP RUN 

"There is no legal impediment" against Duterte's possible vice presidential bid, said his spokesman Harry Roque. 

The constitution states the President shall not be eligible for any re-election. "President Duterte is not running for the same office and same position," said Roque, a lawyer. 

"A careful reading of the Constitution would reveal that there is no expressed prohibition for the sitting President to run for a lower public office position," he said in a statement. 

"Under the plain meaning rule or verba legis, if the statute is clear, plain and free from ambiguity, it must be given its literal meaning and applied without interpretation." 

Groups challenging the legality of Duterte’s vice-presidential bid to "may rightfully do so as long as they have the legal standing," said Roque.

"However, it is is still premature considering the President has not made up his mind and filed his certificate of candidacy," he added.