Only some media report presidential ‘term-sharing’ scheme as unconstitutional

CHEERS TO the media reports that called the “possible term-sharing” of political aspirants Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte-Carpio as unconstitutional.  But only a few of the online counterparts of broadcast and print media and one late-night newscast called this out as part of our failure as a democracy. That most news organizations did not think of giving this more prominent space and time is a sign that something is very wrong about how the media are covering the elections. 

One would have thought that journalists especially would be the first to point out that only the people own the electoral franchise. No politician owns the elections. Candidates certainly should be aware that they cannot decide for themselves to share the power that they have yet to gain. The Dutertes and Marcoses do not own the elections. No public official even if elected does. The people are the only holders of the franchise. 

On November 12, Quezon Province Governor Danilo Suarez, Lakas-CMD co-chairman, said in an interview with TeleRadyo that Marcos and Duterte-Carpio both rank high in the surveys. “So I don’t know, baka mag-term share sila,” he said. He said this after Sara Duterte joined Lakas-CMD and fueled speculations that she will run for a national post.

Most of the media reported all these as breaking news and cited Marcos, Lakas-CMD President Martin Romualdez, and other Marcos-Duterte allies who rejected the idea of term-sharing. “In my opinion, I don’t think that is necessary to even consider a term-share,” Romualdez said. The media should have asked Romualdez what he meant by that. His rejection of term-sharing is based on his calculation that their side holds the upper hand and does not need to negotiate at this time. 

Without providing the necessary constitutional context, merely reporting the term-sharing scheme suggests that it is something the Dutertes and the Marcoses can decide amongst themselves. Such reports fail to state that these candidates have an exaggerated sense of the power they will hold, if elected.

Clearly, the reporters involved failed their obligation to be informed—and to inform the public— about the profound significance of the Constitution as the supreme law of the land which defines the limits of what politicians and government officials can do.  

Because the claims were not questioned, this kind of “he-said, she said” reporting accepts the idea that Marcos and Duterte can, if they wish, decide amongst themselves to do as they please with the electoral system. Such reporting misses the point of elections as the most important expression of the people’s sovereignty in a democracy. 

But the exceptions stood out: TV5’s Frontline Tonight through its News ExplainED segment and Rappler both cited the Constitution; while online counterparts ABS-CBN News Online and Inquirer.net respectively cited a political analyst and a lawyer that said this would be “confusing” and “a mess.” Some online reports also briefly pointed this out but none as sharply as the aforementioned.

Giving this issue prominence in the regular newscast, TV5’s Ed Lingao provided the necessary facts and context. He cited Article VII, Section 4 of the Philippine Constitution that reads “the President and the Vice-President shall be elected by direct vote of the people for a term of six years… and shall end at the noon of the same date, six years thereafter.”

Lingao looked back at Alan Peter Cayetano and Lord Allan Velasco’s house speakership deal in 2019 which involved “several” miscommunications over their “gentleman’s agreement” that ended up stalling  budget deliberations and prompted President Duterte to intervene. But Lingao also cited less controversial examples of term-sharing, such as the three term-sharing agreements of Senator Franklin Drilon for Senate President with the late Sen. Blas Ople, the late Sen. Renato Cayetano, and former Sen. Manuel Villar.

Pero ‘di hamak na mas madali maghati ng termino sa kongreso at sa senado, karagdagang titulo lang naman kasi yan sa mga senador at congressman… at binoboto lang sila sa pwesto ng kapwa congressman o senador. Ibang usapan na ‘pag ang nakaupong presidente ng Pilipinas ay bababa sa kanyang pwesto dahil sa kasunduan na wala namang kasulatan,” he concluded.

(Term-sharing is easier in the House or Senate as it only serves as an additional title for senators and congressmen… and this is decided by their fellow congressmen or senators. It is a different thing altogether when a seated President resigns his/her position on the basis of an unwritten agreement.)

Online, Rappler’s Lian Buan further clarified the constitutional process for presidential terms:  “the Constitution does not provide for term-sharing for presidents. If the president can no longer serve, the constitutional succession is vice president, then the Senate president or the House Speaker.”

Inquirer.net’s John Eric Mendoza cited  election lawyer Romulo Macalintal who rejected the suggestion of a term-sharing agreement if Marcos-Duterte should win in the 2022 elections. “It should not, in the first place, be considered or thought of by any leader who has a sincere intention to lead our people. If a local elective official cannot even complete his projects in the city or municipality within their three-year term, how much more of a president if he will only serve for three years?” Macalintal said. He also cited the old Philippine charter that provided for a four-year term of a president and vice-president, which was found to be too short for the “vast functions and duties they are expected to do.”

Similarly, news.ABS-CBN.com’s Aleta Nishimori cited Prof. Dindo Manhit who said that these plans will only add to the confusion of voters and if Marcos and Duterte-Carpio are going to unite, then that could only be considered a coalition. “Isang tao, isang boto. Anim na taon, ‘yun ang sabi ng ating Saligang Batas,” he added. (One vote per person. Six years, that is what the Constitution says.)

The media should be the first to flag efforts or proposals that reveal politicians’ over-reach of power in violation or in circumvention of the Constitution. The public deserves to know who among political aspirants have no respect the supreme law of the land.