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Filipino lawyer shoots down Duterte's immunity bid

Law doesn't allow a vice president to escape legal action while in office, he says

Filipino lawyer shoots down Duterte's immunity bid

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has admitted he is looking to run for vice president to avoid possible legal action against him. (Photo courtesy of the Presidential Communications Office)

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has admitted he is contemplating running for vice president next year to dodge prosecution for any wrongdoing.

However, the plan was shot down by a professor from a Jesuit-run law school who said being vice president would not put him beyond the reach of the law.

“According to the law, if you are president or vice president, you have [executive] immunity. So, I will run as vice president,” Duterte told reporters on July 17.

Duterte was referring to a law that says a president may not be prosecuted during their tenure so as not to degrade the dignity of their office.

But according to Mel Sta. Maria, Duterte’s interpretation of the law is all wrong.

Only the president enjoys executive immunity, the professor at Ateneo de Manila University School of Law said in a Facebook post on July 18.

If cases can be filed against Vice President Robredo, why would you be immune if you are vice president?

“You are so wrong there, Mr. President … The constitution and our jurisprudence do not provide that the vice president is immune ... Your interpretation is highly erroneous,” he said.

The prominent lawyer, who is also dean of the Far Eastern University Institute of Law and a staunch Duterte critic, pointed to the fact that his own vice president, Leni Robredo, had criminal charges laid against her.

Sedition charges were leveled against Robredo in 2019 in connection with videos that circulated online that linked Duterte’s family with the drug trade. She was later cleared by the Department of Justice.  

“If cases can be filed against Vice President Robredo, why would you be immune if you are vice president?” Sta. Maria said.

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He also cast doubt over whether a president could run for vice president because of the “principle of succession.”

A president can only serve one six-year term in office.

Running for vice president is contrary to the law, although the constitution does not expressly prohibit it, because there is the possibility of a vice president becoming president if the president dies or resigns, he said.

Meanwhile, Manila Bishop Broderick Pabillo urged Catholics to be more discerning of politicians who turn public office into a “family business,” referring to speculation that Duterte’s daughter Sara will run for president.

Bishop Pabillo’s comment came after Duterte's vice presidency admission.

“What we can do as voters is to be discerning. When we know that candidates are relatives, a son, daughter, spouse of the incumbent, let’s not vote for them,” he told Radio Veritas on July 18.

“How can politicians be held accountable when their successors are related to them? It is important to have accountability so that there will be no abuse of authority. Also, they protect the same interests together with the same cronies. This cannot result in change.” 

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