Are there grounds for a president's resignation under the Constitution?

MANILA, Philippines – With a fact-finding investigation on his wealth underway, President Rodrigo Duterte issued a challenge to the Ombudsman and the Chief Justice: let's resign.

Duterte said he, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, and Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno should resign and submit themselves to an investigation.

Morales' office is currently investigating allegations that there were billions of pesos worth of deposits in Duterte's bank accounts. Sereno – whom Duterte has frequently criticized in the past – faces an impeachment complaint over questions in her Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN).

What happens in the event of a resignation? And what are the grounds for one?

The 1987 Constitution and the Ombudsman Act of 1989 define the line of succession in the event of a resignation. But while the Constitution also spells out the grounds for which the President, the Chief Justice, and the Ombudsman may be removed from office through impeachment, it does not indicate the acceptable grounds for resignation.

In recent history, a Philippine president's resignation has also raised legal questions. When former president Joseph Estrada left Malacañang in 2001, he maintained that he did not resign and was still the president even after his vice president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was sworn in as his replacement. 

Estrada's downfall

Shortly after winning office in 1998, Estrada's political troubles began when he was hounded by allegations that he received millions of pesos from the illegal numbers game jueteng. Faced with mounting criticism even from within his own government, loss of public confidence in his leadership, and public protests demanding his resignation, Estrada left Malacañang Palace on January 20, 2001, around two hours after Arroyo took her oath as president.

In a statement issued that day, Estrada maintained that he had "strong and serious doubts about the legality and constitutionality of [Arroyo's] proclamation as President," but said that he did not wish to prevent the restoration of unity and order.

He added: "It is for this reason that I now leave Malacañang Palace, the seat of the presidency of this country, for the sake of peace and in order to begin the healing process of our nation. I leave the Palace of our people with gratitude for the opportunities given to me for service to our people. I will not shirk from any future challenges that may come ahead in the same service of our country."

On the same day, he also signed a letter addressed to the former House speaker and Senate President invoking Section 11, Article VII of the Constitution. It was Estrada's declaration that he was unable to exercise the powers and duties of his office.

SECTION 11. 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. Whenever a majority of all the Members of the Cabinet transmit to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice-President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President. Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall reassume the powers and duties of his office. Meanwhile, should a majority of all the Members of the Cabinet transmit within five days to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Congress shall decide the issue. For that purpose, the Congress shall convene, if it is not in session, within forty-eight hours, in accordance with its rules and without need of call. If the Congress, within ten days after receipt of the last written declaration, or, if not in session, within twelve days after it is required to assemble, determines by a two-thirds vote of both Houses, voting separately, that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice-President shall act as the President; otherwise, the President shall continue exercising the powers and duties of his office.

Estrada later questioned the legitimacy of Arroyo's administration before the Supreme Court (SC).

Citing Section 11, he maintained that he was merely a President on leave and that Arroyo was only an Acting President. 

But the SC pointed out that both houses of Congress had already recognized Arroyo as the president.

"Implicitly clear in that recognition is the premise that the inability of petitioner Estrada is no longer temporary. Congress has clearly rejected petitioner's claim of inability," the SC said.

What about the lack of a formal resignation letter?

Based on the Estrada case, the High Court said that there is no formal requirement as to the form of the resignation – it can be written, oral, or implied.

But it said that the elements of resignation include an intent to resign and acts of relinquishment.

While Estrada did not write a formal letter of resignation when he left Malacañang, the SC noted that his actions before, during, and after January 20, 2001 expressed his intent to resign.

Resignation from office, however, does not make one immune from prosecution. Six years after he left Malacañang, Estrada was convicted of plunder in September 2007 and sentenced to reclusion perpetua. Arroyo however granted him presidential pardon 6 weeks later. – Rappler.com