House draft charter takes VP Leni Robredo out of succession

Jess Diaz - The Philippine Star
House draft charter takes VP Leni Robredo out of succession
“Again, that was not my provision. You can ask the others. My only provision was the one on how to establish a federal state… wherein it is the people who will petition and then Congress will have an organic act for every region that is being petitioned. That’s the only thing I added,” she stressed.
Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — A draft federal charter prepared by administration lawmakers excludes Vice President Leni Robredo from the presidential line of succession and designates the Senate president as the automatic successor to the president in case of a transition to a federal system.

On Monday, the House started tackling Resolution of Both Houses (of Congress) No. 15, which is the version of a federal constitution authored by Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and 21 of her colleagues.

The same draft charter lifts the term limits for House members and senators, but Arroyo stressed it was a “collegial decision,” not hers.

“Again, that was not my provision. You can ask the others. My only provision was the one on how to establish a federal state… wherein it is the people who will petition and then Congress will have an organic act for every region that is being petitioned. That’s the only thing I added,” she stressed.

In the draft charter, next to the Senate president in the succession line are the Speaker and the chief justice.

Arroyo said she and her House colleagues consider it “our obligation to bring it (Charter change) as far as where we can bring it.

“But at the end of the day, it’s up to the Filipino people,” she said.

Her co-authors include Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. and deputy speakers Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso, who chairs the constitutional amendments committee; and Reps. Alfredo Benitez of Negros Occidental, Aurelio Gonzales Jr. of Pampanga and Eugene Michael de Vera of party-list group Arts, Business and Sciences.

Benitez, Gonzales and De Vera had earlier proposed their own separate versions of a federal constitution.

The Arroyo group’s version of a federal charter retains the present presidential structure of government with a president, vice president and Congress with a Senate and House of Representatives.

It does not automatically create federal states. It gives such authority to the legislature. This is the provision that the former president said she contributed.

The president and vice president are to be elected at large together. A vote for the president is a vote for the vice president to avoid a scenario where the president is at odds with the vice president, like in the case of President Duterte and Robredo.

The president and vice president will have a term of office of four years with one reelection. Twenty four senators will be voted at large and House members by congressional districts.

Like the president and vice president, senators and House members will have a term of office of four years. But the proposed new charter does not contain a reelection limit for members of Congress.

The legislature will have a Commission on Appointments that has the same powers and composition (12 senators, 12 House members) as the one in the present Constitution. However, the Speaker, instead of the Senate president, will be its ex-officio chairman.

In dropping Robredo from the line of succession, Veloso said lawmakers were trying to keep the country from plunging into uncertainty that may arise from a decision by the Presidential Electoral Tribunal on the election protest filed by former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. against her.

“Can we submit this Republic to that kind of uncertainty? We’re just foreseeing reality,” he stressed, noting that Robredo’s victory over Marcos was only by a “very slim margin.” A PET ruling favorable to Marcos would likely be questioned by Robredo’s camp, he said.

Marcos is an ally of Duterte while Robredo belongs to the opposition Liberal Party.

Not enough time

  “Dead on arrival,” is how Senate President Franklin expects to receive another Charter change initiative from the House of Representatives.

“It’s futile insofar as I am concerned,” Drilon said of the renewed effort to change the Charter.

In voicing his unwillingness to entertain another Cha-cha, Drilon said there’s not much time left as Congress would be very busy in the coming weeks deliberating on the proposed P3.757- trillion budget for 2019. Moreover, some members of Congress would also be campaigning for next year’s midterm election, he added.

Apart from lack of time, Drilon said some provisions in the draft resolution were questionable, especially the one redefining the order of succession for the presidency.

He said a well-defined order of succession is important to ensure political stability in the country.

Drilon said senators could always replace the Senate president through voting.

“The Senate president is a gift of the 23 senators. Precisely if they want to achieve stability, the stability is to follow the rule of succession; otherwise there will be instability, because the Senate president can be replaced anytime,” Drilon said.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said there is no more time for the Senate to even talk about charter change.

“It’s not in our radar,” Sen. Richard Gordon stressed.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri also cited the lack of time for tackling any Cha-cha initiative.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the renewed effort of House members to amend the Constitution and find ways to cling to power is shameful.

For Sen. Risa Hontiveros, the proposed amendment to the succession provision is “not only absurd and unjustifiable, it is also a colossal, shameless affront to long-established, recognized and practiced democratic processes.”

“I am confident that the majority of my fellow senators, including Senate President Vicente Sotto, will not support such a brazen move and will see it for what it is: an attempt not just to coopt, but to weaponize the Senate in aid of their agenda. It must not see the light of day in the Senate,” she said.

Robredo’s lawyer Romulo Macalintal decried the use of the electoral protest against her to justify some lawmakers’ effort to change the presidential line of succession.

“The election protest filed by former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as ground for ousting VP Leni is clearly frivolous if not outright ridiculous,” Macalintal said in a statement.

“Since when did a pending election protest be the basis of succession to the highest position of the land? Veloso’s ground has no visible means of any legal or factual support. It is baseless and does not deserve any consideration,” he added.

“The proposal is mere political calisthenics judging from the reason for the proposal as aired by Cong. Veloso,” he said.

Former senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., a member of the consultative committee tasked to review the 1987 Constitution, voiced disapproval of Robredo’s exclusion from the line of presidential succession. 

“Why single out Vice President Leni Robredo in your proposed charter? She should be included in the line of succession,” he added.

Manila Mayor and former president Joseph Estrada said it would be “foolish” to drop Robredo from the line of succession.

“The constitutional provision which declared the vice president is the successor of the president is time-tested. It should be retained because the vice president is the one who is next in line to the president,” Estrada said.‎ with Marvin Sy, Delon Porcalla, Helen Flores, Jose Rodel Clapano, Robertzon Ramirez

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