The work of drafting a new constitution providing for a federal form of government will have to fall on the shoulders of the next Congress, the 18th, whose members will be elected in the May, 2019, mid-term elections, Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said recently. But the present Congress, the 17th, can begin the process with studies and preliminary drafts, she said.
The House of Representatives began the process with its Committee on Constitutional Revision proposing a provision dropping the Vice President as a successor to the President in the transitory provision of its proposed draft of a new constitution. With this break from a long-standing political tradition, the House draft was off to new controversy in the already controversial federalism movement.
The House committee’s draft of the proposed new constitution provided for a transition period to federalism. It stated that the incumbent President and Vice President shall continue to exercise the powers of their offices until the election of the next President and Vice President.
However, it further provided: “In case a vacancy arises by reason of removal, resignation, permanent incapacity, or death of the incumbent President, the incumbent Senate President shall act as President, until a President shall have been chosen and qualified.”
It was only a transition provision, but it ignores the basic principle and tradition that a Vice President is next in line in case a President is incapacitated. It was evidently directed at incumbent Vice President Leni Robredo. President Duterte has repeatedly said he believes Robredo is a weak leader, that he would be ready to resign if former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. were the Vice Pesident.
Rep. Vicente Veloso, chairman of the House Committee on Constitutional Revision, said the provision on succession was included to avoid instability because of the ongoing electoral protest of Senator Marcos against Vice President Robredo. Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, however, pointed out that the House proposal would cause even greater instability because the Senate can elect a new Senate President anytime.
In the wake of a barrage of criticism of the evidently politically motivated provision, the House as of Wednesday night was reported to have restored the VP to the line of succession in its draft. But the incident adds fuel to fears that a Constituent Assembly dominated by politicians with such narrow interests may seek to include many self-serving provisions in the new Constitution.