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Federalism can't cut short VP Robredo term – experts

MANILA, Philippines – Constitutionalist Amado Valdez said that the post of vice president will be abolished when the country shifts to a parliamentary form of government under the federal system that President-elect Rodrigo Duterte is pushing.

Vice President-elect Leni Robredo, however, “will not be denied” the 6-year term to which she had been voted until 2022, he clarified.

“Both the president and vice president posts will be abolished if there is a change in our form of government. Everybody will be out of the positions which are under the present Constitution,” Valdez told Rappler in a phone interview on Wednesday, June 7.

A former dean of the University of the East College of Law, Valdez said that the positions present in the current form of government would have to shoulder the tasks in transitioning to federalism.

“They are still needed. By the time their term expires, that’s the only time the situation will normalize in the new system of government,” he explained in a mix of English and Filipino.

Impossible, no legal grounds

Pampanga 3rd District Representative Oscar Rodriguez affirmed Valdez’s point. Sitting as a vice chairperson of the House committee on constitutional amendments, Rodriguez said that cutting short Robredo’s term is a “remote possibility” and even “impossible.” 

“It won’t happen immediately. Because the people have to be consulted whether a constituent assembly or a constitutional convention is held [to change the constitution],” he said in Filipino.

Another vice chairperson of the same committee, Dasmariñas City Representative Elpidio Barzaga, said that there are no legal grounds to cut short Robredo’s term even if the shift to federalism happens. 

Barzaga said that, as a general rule, laws and the Constitution should be observed in future situations and should not have any retroactive effect.

“Under that premise, pursuant to the Constitution, pursuant to the mandate of the people, Leni Robredo already [has] a mandate and a vested right to be our vice president for a period of 6 years,” he said.

Barzaga emphasized: “Even assuming further that in that federal form of government, there will be no vice president, under these circumstances, there is no legal ground to cut short the term of Leni Robredo. We have to wait after 2022 before that provision could be effective.” 

On Tuesday, newly-elected Davao del Norte Representative Pantaleon Alvarez pointed out that there will be no vice president in the federal form of government President-elect Rodrigo Duterte is advocating.

Eyed by Duterte’s Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) as the new House Speaker, Alvarez said that retaining the seat Robredo recently won will depend on the agreements that will be drafted by members of the constitutional convention or the constituent assembly.

Only in PH-style federalism  

Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate supported Alvarez’s statement that having a vice president in a federal government is conditional at this point. But he noted that there is still a way to keep the position despite the government shift.

The minority member of the House committee on constitutional amendments said that the country can adopt a Filipino style of federalism, which may allow for creating or retaining a position.

“[It can be done] as long as the roles and authorities of a position are defined,” he said in a phone interview.

"We can have a presidential-type of federalism like in the United States. Or we can have the French style, wherein there is a president and a prime minister who almost have equal power," he said.

Long time coming

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr, Robredo’s party mate in the ruling Liberal Party (LP), implied that the second highest post in the land may be changed to a deputy prime minister instead.

Asked about the expected scenarios in terms of having a vice president in the form of government that is being pushed by the Duterte camp, he said, “The United Kingdom and German models provide deputy prime ministers."

But Belmonte, who recently visited Alvarez in Davao, stressed that “things are still vague at the moment” and that “the federal thing is a long way off.”

Valdez said he sees the entire 6 years of the Duterte administration being “spent for transition.”

“The constitutional convention may run for one year. Then there’s the plebiscite that has to be approved. That will take another 6 months. There will be conferences and Congress has to pass supporting laws to implement the Constitution,” he said. –

Patty Pasion

Patty leads the Rappler+ membership program. She used to be a Rappler multimedia reporter who covered politics, labor, and development issues of vulnerable sectors.