There are three years left in President Duterte’s term, and to this day, the Supreme Court, acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), has yet to decide on the protest filed by defeated vice-presidential candidate Bongbong Marcos. Finally, after almost three years, the recount in the “pilot” areas chosen by the losing candidate’s camp has been completed; showing that in fact, in these three pilot areas (Camarines Sur, Iloilo, and Negros Occidental), Vice-President Leni Robredo has gained about 15,000 verified votes to add to her 263,473, or about 6% more.
Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte openly announced in Russia that he is suffering from one more disease (the muscular debilitating myasthenia gravis) to add to his openly admitted Buerger’s disease, blood circulatory problems, and a back injury which requires him to take pain killers including the addictive drug Fentanyl which reportedly has side effects on mental functions. There is, too, on record, the psychiatric diagnosis presented as evidence by his wife’s lawyers in Duterte’s marital annulment proceedings.
The longer we take to decide this crucial electoral protest, the closer we get to the risk of a Constitutional crisis. The situation indicates that the President could die or become physically or mentally incapacitated sooner rather than later. Of course, he has access to the latest in modern medical technology (stem cells, hyperbaric chambers, etc.) which probably has allowed him to function so far. We must credit him for his will power and determination to stay in office despite all the health issues he himself has disclosed.
Meanwhile, given that this government is moving more and more toward an authoritarian rule of man, rather than of laws, a sudden gap in the national leadership could trigger confusion as to who is in charge. An unresolved presidential succession issue could give rise to ambitious, nay, even adventurous, patriotic coup plotters, which could bring us to more perilous chaos.
What is causing the Supreme Court to dilly-dally over this constitutionally crucial decision? The Sandiganbayan has just decided to dismiss another one of the hundreds of million-peso graft charges against the Marcos family on the flimsy excuse that the prosecution had submitted photocopies rather than originals of documents as evidence. All that money that should have gone back to the Filipino people now stays with the Marcos family, thus enabling Bongbong Marcos to fund more and more of his electoral protest activities; and putting the Vice-President at the mercy of family and friends to fund her counterpart.
Let’s look at the composition of the current Supreme Court: Duterte appointees comprise nine members (Carandang, Gesmundo, Hernando, Inting, Lazarp-Javier, A. Reyes, J. Reyes, Zalameda, plus one vacancy), or 60%. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo appointees (A. Carpio, Bersamin, Peralta) now total three or 20%, and PNoy Aquino’s appointees (Caguioa, Leonen, Perlas-Bernabe) also total three or 20%. Duterte appointees are clearly the overwhelming majority. With the pending retirement of Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin (on Oct. 18) and Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio (Oct. 26), it will be, no buts about it, a Duterte Supreme Court, especially since he will also appoint the next Chief Justice.
Will the theoretically last bastion of Constitutional independence, the Supreme Court, acting as the PET, decide in the national interest? Or will it, like the pathetic legislature, accommodate Duterte’s preferences? He has on more than one occasion expressed his preference for Marcos as his successor. Meanwhile, too many politicians are looking forward to the raw and unprepared Sarah Duterte as her father’s successor. I fear the latter is a possibility if her father completes his term in office, given the mindset of most of our Filipino voters based on political surveys.
The Vice-President’s lawyer cites provisions in Rule 65 of the PET rules which states that if, after getting the results of the recount in the three pilot provinces “the Tribunal is convinced that the… protestant… will most probably fail to make out his case, the protest may forthwith be dismissed, without further consideration of the other provinces mentioned in the protest.”
The Marcos camp insists now on proceeding to the “technical examination” of the votes cast in Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, and Basilan. They seek to annul all the votes cast in these provinces due to “terrorism, threats, intimidation, and harassment of voters as well as pre-shading of ballots in all of the 2,756 clustered precincts.”
The Marcos camp had selected the three pilot provinces as indicative of trends in other provinces. The recount in these provinces has been completed. The trend indicates the Vice-President’s votes may have, in fact, been understated.
It is time to decide. The PET must dismiss the Marcos protest and confirm the victory of Leni Robredo as our duly elected Vice-President and constitutional successor to the presidency. Further delays are detrimental to the national interest. Already the uncertainly may be causing the increasing drop in foreign investments.
Teresa S. AbesamiS was professor at the Asian Institute of Management and a Fellow of the Development Academy of the Philippines.