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The Legal Basis of having a designated survivor in the Philippines - Politixxx Today
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Manila
Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Legal Basis of having a designated survivor in the Philippines

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Javier Benjamin Tongol
Javier Benjamin M. Tongol is a nurse-lawyer and is currently a Court Decongestion Officer at Regional Trial Court Branch 23, Trece Martires City, Cavite.

A few days ago, social media went abuzz about a bill filed by Quezon City Representative Precious Hipolito-Castelo in 2019 which is House Bill No. 4062 that is aimed at “giving the President the power to delegate or designate a successor in the event that President, Vice President, Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives die or become incapacitated to fill the role of the President”. A similar bill was filed in the Senate by Senator Panfilo Lacson (Senate Bill No. 982) which according to Senator Lacson was somehow inspired in the Netflix series “Designated Survivor”. The backlash on social media criticizing the bill resulted in Rep. Hipolito-Castelo in withdrawing the bill. While this may be inspired in a series, the need for a law on having a presidential succession after the Constitutionally-mandated successors or a designated survivor is within the duty of Congress to enact into law.

Origin of the concept of “Designated Survivor”

The United States Constitution Article II, Sec. 1 does not provide for a designated survivor. When the 20th Amendment was passed by Congress on March 2, 1932, and ratified on January 23, 1933, it is provided that “The Congress may by law provide for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the House of Representatives may choose a President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them”. In 1947, President Harry Truman signed the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 which provides for the line of succession which includes several cabinet members. A designated survivor is somebody in the line of succession chosen to stay (at a secure and undisclosed location) away from events such as State of the Union addresses and presidential inaugurations.

It has been said that the practice of assigning a Designated Survivor originated during the height of the Cold War stemming from fears that the Soviet Union can take out the entire US government with one strike when all of the country’s leaders were gathered in one place, such as at the State of the Union or an inauguration. 

Presidential Succession in the Philippine context

Under Sec. 8, Article VI, 1935 Constitution:

Section 8. In the event of the removal of the President from office, or his death, resignation, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice-President, and the Congress shall by law provide for the case of removal, death, resignation, or inability, both of the President and Vice-President, declaring what officer shall then act as President, and such officer shall act accordingly until the disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.

In 1936, the National Assembly enacted Commonwealth Act No. 68 which provides for an officer to act as President of the Philippines under sections seven and nine, Article VII of the Constitution.

When World War II broke out, Congress being unable to convene to elect a successor as provided by law, Executive Order No. 398 was issued providing for a specified order of succession by President Manuel L. Quezon. He then appointed Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos who was also the Secretary of Justice and Finance under the Commonwealth War Cabinet as Acting President of the Philippines.

In 1947, Congress enacted Republic Act No. 181 which repeals Commonwealth Act No. 68 and Executive Order No. 398, which included the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives in the order of succession and in the event none of them qualified, a member of either the House or Senate elected by the Members of Congress in a joint session to succeed.

Presidential succession under the 1987 Constitution provides:

SECTION 8. In case of death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation of the President, the Vice-President shall become the President to serve the unexpired term. In case of death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation of both the President and Vice-President, the President of the Senate or, in case of his inability, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, shall then act as President until the President or Vice-President shall have been elected and qualified.

The Congress shall, by law, provide who shall serve as President in case of death, permanent disability, or resignation of the Acting President. He shall serve until the President or the Vice-President shall have been elected and qualified, and be subject to the same restrictions of powers and disqualifications as the Acting President.

SECTION 10. The Congress shall, at ten o’clock in the morning of the third day after the vacancy in the offices of the President and Vice-President occurs, convene in accordance with its rules without need of a call and within seven days enact a law calling for a special election to elect a President and Vice-President to be held not earlier than forty-five days nor later than sixty days from the time of such call. No special election shall be called if the vacancy occurs within eighteen months before the date of the next presidential election.

Until now, Congress has not yet enacted a law that provides for a line of succession who would act as Acting President in the event that the President, Vice President, Senate President, and Speaker of the House of Representatives have died or become incapacitated to become President of this country. 

While the Castelo and Lacson bill takes the first step, Congress must do its duty as accorded by the Constitution to ensure the continuity of government and to address challenges that may arise in the event that such a scenario takes place. Congress may look into the wisdom of the past in order to be guided by what can be done to address this likely scenario.  As long as it does not encroach the Constitution and does not serve as political expediency, the bill must be enacted into law.

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