EXPLAINER: Duterte's dream resignation, 'junta', successor scenarios
MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has been claiming he is “ready” to quit and retire, out of fatigue, old age, and exasperation with corruption.
But these are only words. There’s a process involved for the country’s top leader to step down.
According to the 1987 Constitution, one way for the President to temporarily relinquish his presidential duties is to send to the Senate President and House Speaker a “written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
His or her powers and duties would thereafter be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President, until the President declares he is already able to return to his post, again through a written declaration.
This is stated in Section 11 of Article 7 in the Constitution:
Whenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice-President as Acting President.
If the President is unable or unwilling to make such a declaration, a majority of his Cabinet members can send to both houses of Congress the written declaration. After this, the Vice President will become Acting President.
No written declaration needed
But as to resignation, or a president letting go of his mandate permanently, a Supreme Court decision can serve as a guide.
It stated that a written declaration is not required to consider a president as having resigned.
There must only be an “intent to resign” along with “acts of relinquishment.”
The 2001 decision on the case of Joseph Estrada vs Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo reads:
“…there must be an intent to resign and the intent must be coupled by acts of relinquishment. The validity of a resignation is not governed by any formal requirement as to form. It can be oral. It can be written. It can be express. It can be implied. As long as the resignation is clear, it must be given legal effect.”
In this case, former president Estrada had argued that Arroyo’s oathtaking as president on January 20, 2001 was not valid since he had not yet penned a formal letter on his resignation at the time. He said he had written a letter to Congress that he was temporarily unable to fulfill his duties but was merely taking a leave of absence during which time Arroyo would be Acting President.
But the High Court's decision cited a chain of events, based on a diary of former executive secretary Edgardo Angara, to prove that Estrada resigned before the oath-taking.
The incidents that can be considered acts of relinquishment, according to the Court, was how Estrada did not object to a graceful exit from the presidency and how he chose not to object to a transfer of power when it was discussed with him.
Can Duterte choose his successor?
No. The Constitution states that it is the Vice President who takes over the presidency after the Chief Executive quits.
Section 8 of Article 7 reads:
In case of death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation of the President, the Vice-President shall become the President to serve the unexpired term.
However, Duterte could use the timing of his resignation to, in a way, “choose” his successor.
Vice President Leni Robredo and former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr are embroiled in an electoral contest on who actually won the vice presidency in the 2016 national elections. Duterte has named either Marcos or Senator Francis Escudero (both defeated vice presidential candidates in 2016) as his ideal successors.
If Marcos wins the case, he could be declared vice president. If Duterte resigns after Marcos wins, Marcos would then become president, because he would by that time be Duterte’s constitutional successor.
But if Duterte resigns while Robredo is vice president and Robredo then becomes president, Marcos could still win the case.
Does this mean Marcos would automatically replace Robredo as president? According to law professor and former Ateneo School of Government dean Tony La Viña, yes.
“Yes, by operation of the Constitution. She became president because she was vice president. If she loses in the Marcos appeal, then clearly she was not the VP. This of course is not a specific scenario imagined by the Constitution. But common sense would dictate the interpretation,” he told Rappler.
However, the Supreme Court would still be the ultimate arbiter if there are any challenges to this interpretation. (READ: By 2020, Supreme Court filled with Duterte appointees)
The Supreme Court is the same body that will decide on the Robredo-Marcos case as it is also the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, which is mandated to hear challenges to presidential and vice-presidential election results.
Aside from waiting for the “right” successor, Duterte also floated a military junta taking over after he resigns. He even said he himself would swear in a military general as head of government.
“If you want yourselves to be the junta, I said line up here, I'll put you in your proper place. ‘I, I, General, do hereby solemnly swear that as a regular junta member of this republic,’” said Duterte on Tuesday night, August 14.
A military junta refers to members of the Armed Forces taking over government and exercising political authority, usually in order to “save” the country from corrupt civilian officials.
Does Duterte have basis to think the military has grown so disgruntled with him or his administration that they would attempt a junta? Or was he thinking of a junta that would save him and his government?
There have been two famous cases when the defense-military establishment turned on a sitting president – the People Power Revolution that deposed Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and the People Power II that pushed Estrada to resign in 2001.
But on those two occasions, the military did not take over, as the revolts were dominated and supported by civilians. Subsequent coup attempts failed because of lack of civilian support.
While Duterte’s remarks on Tuesday cooked up a storm in the media, it must be noted that he’s spoken about resigning, even dying before completing his term, many times in the past, though perhaps with less gravity.
It remains to be seen if the President will actually quit before his term ends in 2022. – Rappler.com
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