MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte can run for vice president and then take over as president under proper circumstances, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Tuesday.
“There’s nothing in the wording of the present Constitution that prohibits the sitting president from running for the position of vice president,” Guevarra said during a virtual meeting of Rotary clubs of Makati, Cebu and Davao.
“What the Constitution expressly prohibits is for him to be reelected. And when we speak of reelection, you’re talking about the same position as what he is currently holding,” he added, reiterating his earlier position on the issue.
Article VII, section 4 of the 1987 Constitution partly reads: “The President shall not be eligible for any reelection. 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.”
But what if the elected president dies, can "Vice President Duterte" take over as president?
For Guevarra, this is clear.
“If he ran next year for vice president and won, and something happens to the sitting president or rather the president who will win next year, that is precisely the role of the vice president — to take over if the elected president dies in office, becomes permanently incapacitated or resigns,” he said.
“That is the role of the vice president, and people are expected to understand that that will happen should they vote for a particular person to the position of vice president,” he explained.
Under the Constitution, the vice president takes over and serves the unexpired term should the president die, become permanently disbabled, be removed from office or resign — placing him/her in the direct line of succession.
As early as June, when Duterte seemed to be willing to entertain the idea of running for VP, constitutional law expert Christian Monsod already opposed the move.
"For the President to run for vice president is against the intent of the Constitution. It's an insidious move to circumvent the constitutional prohibition on reelection because the Vice President is the mandatory line of succession to a vacancy," he said.
"Now, if you allow the President to run again as Vice President, that vacancy can be created for a self-serving purpose, which is exactly what the intent is,” he added, pointing out that the intent of the Constitution is to not allow one who has served as president to again serve in the same capacity.
Monsod later called the move a plan to enter the “backdoor to the presidency.”
For University of Santo Tomas political science department chair Dr. Dennis Coronacion, the Constitution’s “institutional design” should prevent a sitting president from again occupying the same position at any point in the future.
He however acknowledged that the exact language may not be stated in the Constitution.
Duterte, 76, has since accepted the nomination for vice president in 2022 by his party, PDP-Laban, vowing to continue supposedly his crusade against illegal drugs, insurgency, and criminality.
Various groups are expected to question his bid should he file his certificate of candidacy in October.
The Supreme Court has yet to resolve a case deciding these two issues: Can the President run for vice president? And if he wins, can he take over as president?
But Guevarra pointed out that other former presidents have been able to run for lower positions, such as Joseph Estrada for mayor of Manila and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for House representative.
The Supreme Court, in 2004, rejected a challenge to Arroyo’s reelection bid for the presidency after she took over from Estrada in January 2001.
She served the remaining term of three and a half years, less than the 4-year threshold in the Constitution beyond which a president, who took over from another, can no longer seek reelection.
VP NOT IMMUNE FROM SUIT
During the same meeting, Guevarra also reiterated his view that a vice president is not immune from any suit, a position he first took in justifying the DOJ’s decision to investigate Vice President Leni Robredo of sedition raps over her alleged involvement in the viral anti-Duterte videos of Peter Joemel “Bikoy” Advincula.
Robredo was later cleared of the raps after she presented proof she was elsewhere when the alleged meeting conspiring to unseat Duterte took place.
This again became an issue after Duterte, a lawyer, said in July he will run for vice president if it means having legal immunity from suits threatened by former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.
Former SC spokesperson Ted Te immediately dismissed Duterte’s statement on Twitter: “The VP is not immune from suit by law or by tradition. Non-issue. Non-story.”