Arroyo's draft charter nixes VP succession during transition period

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House Speaker Gloria Macagapagal Arroyo and Vice President Leni Robredo.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 9) — The draft charter authored by House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo puts the Senate President, and not the Vice President, as successor to President Rodrigo Duterte should he step down during the transition to a federal government. 

Section IV, Article XVII or the transitory provisions of the draft constitution authored by Arroyo and 21 other lawmakers reads: "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."

Amid backlash from fellow lawmakers, Leyte Rep. and House Committee on Constitutional Amendments Chair Vicente Veloso noted the proposed charter is still a working draft.

Veloso added he is open to amending or deleting the provision if his colleagues wish to do so. 

"If it will be the desire of all members of the House of Representatives that we delete the second paragraph, we can delete that," Veloso said Tuesday.

"What we have is a proposed revised Constitution, a working draft."

In light of electoral protest

Veloso earlier said the provision is in light of the poll protest of former Senator Bongbong Marcos against Vice President Leni Robredo.

"May nag-propose na idiretso na lang sa Senate President para wala 'yung case na ma-delay tayo in the occupancy sa napaka-importanteng position," Veloso said. "Ang hirap nito, it's not only an ongoing protest. It is... The dispute involves a very slim margin."

[Translation:Someone proposed to direct powers to the Senate President to avoid delays in the occupancy of an important position. It's difficult. It's not only an ongoing protest. The dispute involves a very slim margin.]

Veloso added the bill presumes that the transition period will last for three years at most, and a new president and vice president will be elected in 2022.

But Robredo's legal counsel, Romulo Macalintal, said the measure will never happen as it is baseless. He called the proposal "mere political calisthenics."

"The election protest filed by former Senator Bongbong Marcos as ground for ousting VP Leni is clearly frivolous if not outright ridiculous. Since when did a pending election protest be the basis of succession to the highest position of the land?" Macalintal said in a statement Tuesday.

Macalintal said both Houses of Congress lack the time to make a final draft of a federal form of government.

"Our lawmakers and the people are not even fully aware of this form of government," Macalintal said. "The Senate and the House could not even resolve how they would vote, whether jointly or separately. There is still the need to submit the proposed charter for people's ratification and the process would involve substantial time and public funds which will never be achieved till the next presidential polls in 2022."

Members of the House minority bloc on Tuesday also expressed their misgivings regarding this draft charter provision. Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said Vice President Leni Robredo should not be robbed of the chance to succeed Duterte during the transition period to a federal government.

"That election protest will have to take its course but, meanwhile, we have an elected, a duly elected Vice President who is incumbent and should not be deprived of the constitutional right to succeed to the presidency," Lagman told reporters.

Meanwhile, Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III said in a message to reporters, "We don't have time to even talk about it (draft charter)."

As for Malacañang, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the decision to amend the transitory provisions is up to Congress.

"That's the constitutional obligation of the Congress," Roque said in a press briefing Tuesday.        

Marcos filed the electoral protest against Robredo in June 2016, after he lost to Robredo by 263,473 votes in the 2016 elections— among the narrowest margins in the history of the country's vice presidential elections.

Duterte, a known ally of the Marcoses, repeatedly expressed that he does not want Robredo to become his successor. He also earlier said he wants someone like Marcos as next in line for the presidency.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Xianne Arcangel contributed to this report.