[ANALYSIS] Allowing Duterte's VP run can open door to another dictatorship

In 2011, the academic Björn Dressel wrote an article entitled, "The Philippines: How much real democracy?" Such a noteworthy query because the Philippines played an important role in the democratization wave that passed through Asia in the late 1980s through the early 1990s. We were the first country in the region to topple an authoritarian regime, ousting the dictator Ferdinand Marcos via direct citizen action in 1986. But three decades on, the democratization trajectory of the Philippines is still a curious case.

Pertinently, Dressel correctly sees the paradox that has plagued the country all these years. On one hand, he acknowledges “signs of a vibrant democracy” such as high voter turnout, robust civic engagement, and institutional arrangements that aim to promote and safeguard human rights and civil liberties. But on the other hand, he points to “flaws in the democratic process” exemplified by elite domination of both politics and governance.

This privileged and influential segment of the Filipino polity, or “political dynasties,” has been a constant feature since the Spanish colonial period. And while elite families in politics are not unique to the Philippines at all, the magnitude of Filipino political dynasties brings an unwelcome notoriety. They have been described by an Australian journalist as “dynasty on steroids.”

This ignominy of the Philippines being the playground of dynastic politicians reached an extreme level of absurdity with the push for Mayor Sara Duterte to run for president in 2022 with her father, incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte, as her vice president (VP). Notably, some officials in the administration have unashamedly declared full support for it. And even more perplexing is the position of Malacañang that a Duterte-Duterte tandem in 2022 does not fall under the category of a political dynasty.

Of course, the criticism that this daughter-father duo is the height of dynastic electoral politics will be hard to shake off, especially during a campaign period that will be conducted mainly online. But the brunt of the controversy really lies with the idea of allowing President Duterte to run for VP because of the profound threat it poses to the country’s very constitutional underpinnings.

The 1987 Constitution provides that, “The President shall not be eligible for any reelection.” (Article VII, Section 4) To be clear, a plain reading of this provision shows that it does not expressly prohibit an incumbent president from running, at the end of his term, for another public office other than the presidency. 

Hence, the assertion made by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque during a televised briefing that President Duterte’s possible run as VP would not be unconstitutional on the basis of a purported constitutional construction rule, namely, “What is not prohibited is allowed.”

The complete rule actually reads as, "What is not expressly or impliedly prohibited by law may be done, except when the act is contrary to morals, customs, and public order." Secretary Roque missed a very important caveat embedded in this rule, and that is the act in question must not be contrary to “morals, customs, and public order” for it to be allowed.

More poignantly, according to the Supreme Court, “This principle is fundamental in a democratic society, to protect the weak against the strong, the minority against the majority, and the individual citizen against the government.” 

Therefore, the question of whether President Duterte should be allowed to run for VP in 2022 really calls for a review of Philippine constitutionalism. This matter urges Filipinos to ponder if indeed the 1987 Constitution was even crafted “to protect the weak against the strong, the minority against the majority, and the individual citizen against the government.”

Understanding the Constitution requires seeing the document as a whole, and to recognize the relationship of particular provisions to one another as well as to the overall institutional design of government in the constitutional text. 

The ban on presidential reelection signifies that the 1987 Constitution abhors the concentration of executive power on a single person. The charter obviously proscribes successive presidential terms of office because, to put it bluntly, it aims to prevent a repeat of the Marcos dictatorship.

And common sense dictates that allowing President Duterte to run for VP in 2022 after serving a full term goes directly against this constitutional proscription, as it paves the way for him to hold onto power beyond the acceptable period contemplated by the 1987 Constitution. To put it bluntly once again, allowing him to run for VP can open the door to another dictatorship. 

Furthermore, when Filipinos promulgated the 1987 Constitution, they vowed to establish a government that promotes the common good and secures the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law. (See Preamble). 

Filipinos also pledged to adhere to these two constitutional prescriptions in Article II:

“SECTION 1. The Philippines is a democratic and republican State. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.

SECTION 26. The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

The 1987 Constitution clearly envisions a democratic form of government, infused by the proverbial “of the people, by the people, for the people” spirit. And crucially, the charter does not sanction depriving the people of political power. Hence, it also envisages the democratic transition of state control through the conduct of free and fair periodic elections. 

Most important of all, the 1987 Constitution prescribes “giving equal access to opportunities for public service” to all Filipinos. Concomitantly, the charter also proscribes political dynasties as they lead to the kind of electoral politics dominated only by a select few. Although unfortunately, as Dressel and many others have shown, elite domination is already the grimmest pathology of our political system.

Nevertheless, it is still our responsibility to further the democratic ethos of the Constitution. And a rational and historical appreciation of the 1987 Constitution supports the rejection of the proposal to allow an incumbent president to run for VP at the end of his or her term in office. 

Indeed, just like getting more than you need from a community pantry, we know in our hearts that allowing President Duterte to run for VP in 2022 is unacceptable. – Rappler.com

Michael Henry Yusingco, LLM is a Senior Research Fellow at the Ateneo Policy Center of the Ateneo School of Government. He is the author of the book, Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective.

Voices features opinions from readers of all backgrounds, persuasions, and ages; analyses from advocacy leaders and subject matter experts; and reflections and editorials from Rappler staff. 

You may submit pieces for review to opinion@rappler.com.