Malacañang said Monday President Rodrigo Duterte, whose six-year term ends in June next year, seeks to challenge existing laws which do not extend immunity to sitting Vice Presidents—an indication he may run for vice president in 2022 in the belief he would win.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque was referring to the comments by the President last Saturday when he floated the idea of running for vice president in 2022 for immunity.
Duterte’s critics—Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV—have threatened him with criminal charges over drug war killings, if not “tolerance” of Chinese incursions within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.
“Let us just say that it is an opportunity to challenge jurisprudence,” Roque, a lawyer like Duterte, said.
But Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said Duterte was just "teasing" the public when he announced that he would run for vice president to escape possible criminal charges.
In an interview on GMA News Unang Balita, Pimentel said Duterte knew there was no provision in the 1987 Constitution that a vice president had immunity from suit.
"He is just teasing us. He is a lawyer, he is reading the Philippine Constitution and he is not wasting time reading the (ruling party's) PDP-Laban Constitution,” the senator said.
Pimentel said: “He knows that a vice president has no immunity from suit. He is just teasing us, and he is just checking the reaction of the public, including the lawyers, so he will know who are the bright ones.”
At the oath-taking of the new PDP-Laban officials, Duterte said he would pursue the vice presidency in the 2022 national elections if his critics continue to threaten him with criminal complaints once he steps down from the presidency.
Roque did not elaborate on the President’s interest in immunity from prosecution.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said last year that a sitting vice president was not immune from suit in 2019 since the 1987 Constitution did not provide for such.
"The Constitution does not grant the vice president immunity from suit. Since she is not immune from suit, the vice president has to face the charges even during her tenure," Guevarra said when asked about the sedition and inciting to sedition charges filed against Vice President Leni Robredo in July 2019 over her alleged link to a viral video linking Duterte to illegal drug trade.
Also from Congress, veteran lawmaker Edcel Lagman of Albay cited two previous Supreme Court decisions allowing the prosecution of then Vice President Gloria Arroyo to proceed (David. vs. Arroyo and Lozada vs. Arroyo.)
The President also said last Saturday that the mandate of the vice president was just to wait for his or her death since its only role was to assume the presidency the moment the President becomes incapacitated.
Before his party mates urged him to run for vice president, the Chief Executive had said he was already tired of being President.
Reacting to the President's remark that he would pursue the vice presidency, Bayan Muna chairman Neri Colmenares said Duterte's plan to "escape imprisonment" showed that he would just run for "self-serving personal interest."
Colmenares, a lawyer, also claimed that immunity for president as well as vice president was already removed from the 1987 Constitution.
PDP-Laban secretary general Attorney Melvin Matibag, for his part, said Duterte was known for "playing with words." He said the public should just wait if Duterte would really run for vice president.
In related developments, a militant party-list group slammed the Duterte-Duterte tandem being pushed by the administration for 2022 national elections—in reference to Sara Duterte-Carpio and Rodrigo Duterte as candidates for president and vice president.
Bayan Muna said the tandem was not merely a political dynasty but also “a clear intent to establish a monarchy.”
Rep. Ferdinand Gaite of Bayan Muna criticized the Hugpong ng Pagbabago led by Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio for its alleged circumvention of the law.
Hugpong spokesperson Anthony del Rosario had said that should President Duterte and his daughter indeed run and win the two highest positions in the government next year, this still could be considered a political dynasty, the lawmaker noted.
"Del Rosario is interpreting the term political dynasty as something detached from the Constitution to justify their utter disregard for that important provision.... it looks as if they are trying to establish a monarchy, passing on and expanding their power by bastardizing our elections," Gaite said.
"The Duterte family would be brazenly violating several provisions of the Philippine Constitution if they push for this Duterte-Duterte tandem. Obviously, this family is willing to throw away our Constitution in the trash just to remain in power. Is this the kind of leadership that we want?" he added.
1Sambayan Convenor lawyer Howard Calleja earlier said the Filipino people would reject the Duterte-Duterte tandem in the 2022 presidential elections because this was clearly an insult to Filipinos.
"We feel that this is an insult to the Filipino people; and we feel that whatever happens, we trust the Filipino people will see this as a selfish move - nothing to the benefit of the people, but only to perpetuate power to one family," Calleja said.
The Dutertes have been in power in Davao City since the 1980s, with President Duterte serving as its mayor for 22 years—a position which he passed on to his daughter, and this same strategy is what they want to replicate once President Duterte's term ends in 2022, he said.