President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday he would step down from office if former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. or Senator Francis Escudero—and not Vice President Leni Robredo—would succeed him.
In a speech during a dinner he hosted for the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas in Malacañang, Duterte belittled Robredo’s ability to lead the country, saying she could not be a good leader compared to Marcos or Escudero.
The President said he had nothing against Robredo but said he did not think she was capable of running a country with pressing problems, such as the drug menace.
Duterte said he thought of stepping down because the fight against corruption was seemingly without n end.
“I think deep in my heart if you follow the succession and Robredo takes over, no. That’s my honest opinion. If only it were someone else, in the likes of Escudero or Bongbong Marcos,” he said.
This was not the first time the President cast doubts on Robredo’s ability to be President.
Both Marcos and Escudero lost in the 2016 vice presidential race against Robredo. Marcos, however, has a pending election protest before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.
Duterte has also said he would step down as early as next year, if the proposed federal charter is ratified by the public.
Robredo’s legal adviser, Barry Gutierrez, lashed out at the President for saying he would prefer a military junta to lead the country than to follow the Constitution’s law of succession that Robredo should take over the presidency if he steps down.
He said it was not Robredo who was incompetent, but Duterte’s Cabinet officials who were.
“They [officials] are competent, according to the President. Look [at the former] tourism secretary who did nothing but to commit corruption, the NDRRMC head who was missing in action during the floods, [and the] National Food Authority chief who had caused a rice shortage,” he said.
He added that the vice president did not need a presidential endorsement.
“Just abide by the Constitution,” Gutierrez said.
Escudero said he was flattered to be included in the President’s list of worthy successors, but said Duterte had no legal say in making this happen.
“I think he merely expressed his frustration due to the slow pace of what he wanted to see and achieve in our country in the field of corruption and peace,” Escudero said.
The Palace on Wednesday said the President was in good health and active after he said he was tired and thinking of stepping down.
In a press briefing in Malacanang, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the 73-year-old President is very active, very sharp and obviously does not suggest any problem in his physical condition.
“I assure you that he’s strong and healthy. He is almost everywhere all the time,” Duque said.
Last year, in one of his speaking engagement, Duterte said that he has been experiencing migraines and back pains caused by problems with his spine.
He also admitted having Buerger’s disease, a cause of blockages in the blood vessels, which he acquired from smoking during his youth, and Barrett’s esophagus, which is associated with an increased risk of developing esophageal cancer.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, meanwhile, said he is in favor of the President taking a needed respite from his daily task of running the government, just like other leaders of foreign governments do.
At the weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay on Wednesday held at the Café Adriatico in Manila, Dominguez said the Chief Executive has been working “nonstop” for two years and a break from his job might be needed.
“That guy is 73 years old and working nonstop for two years,” Dominguez said, adding the daily task of steering the government, running after corrupt government workers, drug problems, and not to mention the stress brought by the destruction of Marawi City due to heavy fighting between government troops and ISIS-affiliated extremists in Mindanao for five months last year, might have been taking their toll on his physical well being.
“He needs a holiday... even the US presidents take a vacation. Even ordinary people take a vacation,” he said.
Duterte told the military and the police in a speech in Malacañang during a command conference that he was tired of running after corrupt government employees.
“… My chase against graft and corruption seems to be endless, and it has contaminated almost all government departments and offices,” Duterte said.
Early this week, Duterte relieved 20 military officials allegedly involved in corruption, including anomalous and ghost projects at the V. Luna Medical Center in Quezon City.
Before that, Duterte also fired last week the entire board of directors of Nayong Pilipino Foundation over a “grossly disadvantageous” 70-year property lease contract.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he did not believe the President was serious about stepping down only if he would be replaced by Marcos or Escudero and said the remark was probably said in exasperation.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senator Francis Pangilinan, on the other hand, said the President’s preference of his successor would not prevail over the Constitution.
“That’s not an option in the Constitution. If the President resigned, the Vice President will assume the position,” Drilon said.
Pangilinan added that it is not up to the President or a military junta to decide who takes his place if he steps down.
A ranking military official of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on Wednesday guaranteed members of Congress that he would reject a junta even if ordered by his Commander-in-Chief.
During the Commission on Appointments committee on national defense confirmation hearing on the appointment of Lt. Gen. Arnel dela Vega, Senator Panfilo Lacson posed the question of a military junta.
“My question is purely hypothetical. You are summoned by the Commander-in-Chief, one-on-one, no other officer of the AFP is present, you’re asked to support a military junta, how would you react?” Lacson asked.
“In such case that the current President is the one to ask me, I would…” Dela Vega began, but he was cut by Lacson.
“It doesn’t matter who the President is,” he said because the question was hypothetical.
Dela Vega, AFP Western Mindanao Command chief, replied: “I would deny the instruction, sir, as it’s against the laws of the land, your honor.”
Lacson thanked the nominee and said in jest that opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros would recommend his confirmation to the plenary.
Hontiveros, who was at the hearing, said she was nodding her head “with full appreciation” when she was listening to Dela Vega’s response.
“Your response this morning gives me that much more hope… that the AFP will help stay the course for a democratic and civilian-led government so thank you for your answer,” she said.
The panel later recommended Dela Vega’s nomination along with other military officers. With Julito G. Rada
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