Manila Standard - Solon to PET: Resolve FM poll protest

26 August 2020

By Vito Barcelo and Macon Ramos-Araneta | Manila Standard

A congressional leader on Tuesday urged the Supreme Court, acting as a Presidential Electoral Tribunal, to expedite the resolution of the election protest filed by former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. against Vice President Leni Robredo.

House Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr. said the speedy resolution of the protest would ensure a smooth transition of power in case President Rodrigo Duterte is incapacitated, following rumors that he is afflicted with cancer.

“There should be closure on that case,” Abante said in Filipino, noting that the election protest remains unresolved after four years.

Abante also said there may be problems if Robredo succeeds the President with the election protest unresolved.

Under the Constitution, the vice president assumes the presidency should the sitting president resign or die.

Abante said the pendency of the poll protest against Robredo will definitely cause a huge problem to her ascendancy as the next president, in case Duterte dies or is incapacitated.

Marcos filed the poll protest before the PET after Robredo was proclaimed the duly elected vice president in 2016 elections.

The election protest, which was inherited by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen from retired Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguiao last year, has not moved a bit since then, raising apprehension that PET would not be able to resolve it before the term of the vice president ends in two years.

Caguiao, classmate of former President Benigno Aquino III in Ateneo de Manila, was the first assigned justice to the case until he was replaced by a 11-2 vote of the magistrates who junked the ponente’s recommendation to dismiss the election protest against Robredo.

Like Caguiao, Leonen was an appointee of former President Aquino III, who led the Liberal Party that launched the vice presidential candidacy of Robredo in 2016.

Meanwhile, Duterte advised Vice President Leni Robredo not to “add fuel to the fire,” as the country struggles to fight the spread of COVID-19,saying the problems of the country cannot be solved even if he dies.

“Do not destroy the government because it will also destroy the people. If the government is destroyed, we will all float away. Even if you say that I will die tomorrow, it cannot solve the problem of the country,” Duterte said.

Duterte's remarks were in response to the Vice President’s claim that the country seems to have “no leader” as it continues to grapple with the pandemic.

She added that the government, after giving a “bit of assistance,” seems to have left Filipinos to fend for themselves, “locked in [their] homes, living in fear.”

But Duterte said Robredo’s allegations were baseless and that the government is doing all its can to defeat COVID-19.

“Well in this time of the pandemic, people are desperate, and you are issuing a baseless statement,” Duterte said.

Duterte told Robredo that destabilizing the government amid the Covid-19 crisis would not be good for the country.

At the same time, Duterte denied he had a hand in the calls for a revolutionary government, saying he has no interest in instituting such changes.

In a taped public address aired Tuesday morning, Duterte denied giving support to efforts to push for a revolutionary government.

“There are reports about people calling for a revolutionary government…I don’t care for it, I don’t know any of them and it’s not my job,” Duterte said in Filipino.

On Saturday, the People’s National Coalition for Revolutionary Government and Charter Change assembled at the Clark Freeport in Pampanga to push for the establishment of a revolutionary government and the adoption of a new federal constitution under Duterte.

Malacañang, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and the Philippine National Police have all rejected the call.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Monday said the President has not abandoned his campaign promise to push for a federal system of government but never considered establishing a revolutionary government as one of his options.

Roque said Duterte is only looking at three options to amend the 1987 Constitution, namely a constitutional convention, a constituent assembly , or a people’s initiative.

He also dismissed suspicions the President has plans of extending his term beyond 2022.

Also on Tuesday, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian warned that calls for revolutionary government could disturb the country's fiscal position and result in an economic and political crisis.

He criticized groups calling for a revolutionary government in the midst of a deep and prolonged crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gatchalian pointed out that even the country’s economic managers, during several Senate hearings on federalism, have voiced out their stand against the shift to federalism, which in the long run could hurt the country’s economy.