So what if Rodrigo Duterte wishes to be sworn in as the 16th President of the Philippines in a separate ceremony from that of the Vice President’s? For that matter, who would want to share such an event with an alleged election cheat and a breaker of election rules?
Liberal Party (LP) candidate Leni Robredo’s claim to the Office of the Vice President remains debatable to begin with. Allegations of electoral fraud continue to put the legitimacy of her “win” on the basis of the “official” count of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) in doubt. Recently, one of the engineers of Smartmatic (the COMELEC’S primary election systems vendor) facing charges for suspected involvement in vote rigging, was reported to have fled the country further raising suspicions that the LP are mounting a massive cover-up.
Indeed, there now is sufficient reason to doubt the credibility of any “official” ruling of the COMELEC. In an en banc ruling issued recently, COMELEC officials accepted the LP’s late submission of their statement of contributions and expenditure (SOCE). According to the law and COMELEC rules, late submission of the SOCE will not be accepted under any circumstances and nominated candidates of parties in violation of these rules are barred from assuming their offices. This effectively disqualifies all winning LP candidates — including Robredo — from assuming their offices in both the executive and legislative branches of the Philippine government.
The fact that the COMELEC has demonstrated an ability to disrespect its own rules casts a dark shadow over its ascendancy as guardian and governor of the Philippines’ election processes. Duterte and, for that matter, any politician and government official can simply dismiss the COMELEC and its “rules” as nothing more than quaint administrative decoration.
More importantly, Robredo comes from a party that is renowned for its astounding hypocrisy. Back in 2010, then President-elect Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III snubbed then Chief Justice Renato Corona during his inauguration. By tradition, the Chief Justice swears-in the new President. LP supporters at the time did not seem to call out the supposed lack of “civility” in Aquino’s actions in the same way that they now mount their indignation fad against Duterte’s decision to exclude Robredo from his inauguration.
It also did not help that Robredo spewed buckets of antagonistic rhetoric against Duterte during the campaign. Again, this is likely to be a result of her association with the Liberal Party camp and the sparse foundation of principles (beyond their nebulous “Daang Matuwid” mantra) that they apply to their politics. If you were Duterte, would you trust Robredo to support implementation of your vision for the country?
And this is the whole trouble with the Philippine system — one in which the Vice President is voted separately from the President. As we are seeing today, the President-elect and the presumptive (and debatable) “vice president” (currently considered by some to be Robredo) are at polar ends. Considering that some of the measures and initiatives that need to be put in place to fix the Philippines over the next six years are hard and, most likely, will be unpopular in due course, there is little room for the messiness of having to deal with a third wheel coming from an opposing camp. Six years is a short time to implement fundamental change. You need the focus of a sprint runner to do a lot in such a short time. The last thing an administration such as Duterte’s that promises change needs are unnecessary distractions.
For example, there are bigger things at stake in efforts to re-establish the unity that the Philippines lost under six years of BS Aquino’s divisive administration. Bringing warring chieftains into a common negotiating table, for one, is a big step towards the holy grail of “unity” that’s eluded the Philippines for decades. Worrying about the inclusion or exclusion of a lame-duck “vice president” in or from a one-time inauguration ceremony, from that perspective, simply ranks way below — just above choosing the right colour shirt to wear at the office — in the overall scheme of things.
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