With questions surrounding the president’s state of health, it appears that some camps, both from the administration and the opposition, have started to more take the Presidential Line of Succession issue more seriously.
Whether you want to recognize her vice-presidency or not, the fact of the matter is that it’s Vice-president Leni Robredo who’s constitutionally mandated to succeed the President Duterte should something happen to the old man. But of course, it is never that simple.
Of course, if PRRD finishes his term, then this who article becomes moot and academic, so let’s assume otherwise. That is, what if PRRD exits Malacañang before June 2022?
I see four possible scenarios.
SCENARIO 1: LENI TAKES OVER DUTERTE’S UNEXPIRED TERM
If Leni replaces PRRD, we can expect her to exact revenge against her political opponents, which is what the Liberal Party is absolutely known for, starting with Duterte allies who did the most damage to LP’s political and financial prospects. A President Leni will most likely pick on Solicitor General Jose Calida and Duterte alter-ego Senator Bong Go. And if she does, I bet it will be really bloody.
Surely, nobody in Malacañang right now will want Leni to become president ever.
SCENARIO 2: A MILITARY JUNTA TAKES OVER
Leni, due to her very vocal opposition to the War on Drugs, is the favorite of neither the military nor the police, who are the agents of the War. She is a lot less popular than Duterte, and most of the military’s rank-and-file are from North Luzon, so a coup d’etat is not unlikely.
She can, of course, ask for help from the United States. But unlike before, US intervention for US-leaning Filipino politicians may be a lot less reliable given that the US may already be too busy dealing with its domestic economic (recession), political (Trump v. Dems), and social (#BlackLivesMatter) issues.
I do not like this idea because military juntas are out-and-out dictatorships so that the ensuing political uncertainty will inevitably hurt the Philippine Economy, which is still reeling from COVID-19 pandemic.
SCENARIO 3: DUTERTE ALLIES DECLARE A REVOLUTIONARY GOVERNMENT
Should PRRD step down, Duterte allies can declare a Bong Go-led revolutionary government a la Aquino 1986. Unlike Aquino, however, this option has several complications.
For one, Senator Bong Go, while arguably popular, is nowhere near as popular as PRRD 2016 or Cory 1986, and something like a RevGov requires an extremely popular leader.
Add the fact that the Duterte Administration’s international reputation is in tatters, thanks to the efforts of LP allies and the general incompetence of PRRD’s communications team.
This means a Duterte-aligned Revolutionary Government may find gaining widespread international recognition, an essential element in the establishment of a new government, near impossible.
Needless to say, a RevGov declaration will send an already ailing Philippine Economy (TY COVID!) down the drain.
SCENARIO 4: BBM WINS THE PET PROTEST
If BBM wins the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) Protest, then he becomes the vice-president, so that he will be replacing PRRD if and when he prematurely steps down. But that’s easier said than done. For one, the PET protest has not significantly progressed for quite a while now, with some camps accusing Leonen of delaying the case.
Now, there have been talks of a possible SolGen-initiated Quo Warranto complaint against Leonen, after the later was reported to have failed to file 15 years’ worth of SALNs. Recall that the Supreme Court voided Atty. Lourdes Sereno’s SC appointment on the same grounds.
However, at least two complications are present in such a situation.
The quo warranto case vs. Sereno was filed on 05 March 2018 and decided just two months later on 11 May 2018. However, the fact-finding part includes the hearings in the House of Representatives which, in turn, was triggered when 25 solons endorsed the 30 August 2017 impeachment complaint v. Sereno. That is, the whole process of removing Sereno took about 9 months.
While it can be argued that the prospective QW case v. Leonen may be shorter due to the existence of jurisprudence (Republic v. Sereno, G.R. No. 237428), remember that the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging, so that processes in the courts are much slower than usual.
Honestly, it appears that a QW vs. Leonen will be an open and shut case, and the only questions are whether Calida will indeed file one and how long the SC decision-making process will take.
Assuming Calida files a QW petition tomorrow, and assuming that the decision will be 9 months from now, the SC will have a little below a year to resolve the PET Case. That is a problem, especially if the case goes to a third anti-Marcos Associate Justice.
Moreover, such a sequence of events is in itself problematic, because the theory here (after discounting the Scenario 1), is PRRD may step down anytime. In the first place, what use would such a QW petition be vis-à-vis the Line of Succession if Leni will not be unseated right away?
These four scenarios each have their pros and cons, and there’s lots of stuff that can happen within the next several weeks or months. With that said, here are some questions:
1: How healthy or sick is the president and will he finish his term?
2: Are administration stalwarts aware of the abovementioned scenarios?
3: What will Robredo and the Liberal Party do to ensure her hold on power?
4: Will administration stalwarts do something to tip the scale in their favor?
5: Will the historically interventionist United States intervene again in Philippine domestic affairs?
6: Will administration stalwarts be willing to cede power if only to prevent a President Leni Robredo?
7: Will the QW petition accelerate the PET protest or will it do the exact opposite?
8: As SolGen’s QW plans slowly materialize, will Leonen strike a deal with OSG if only to save his neck?
9: To protect his SC tenure, will Leonen stir up anti-Marcos sentiments by, say, circulating a draft PET decision, and if so, will Filipinos believe him?
A lot of things can happen. For all we know, PRRD manages to exit in June 2022. But then, an intelligent lawyer once told me that “Hope is not a strategy.”
That is, while I fervently hope that PRRD survives the entirety of his term, issues like the Presidential Line of Succession should be taken seriously, in case things don’t turn out as hoped.
P.S. Naisip ko lang habang jumejebs.