House, Senate bills want President to appoint 'designated survivor'

MANILA, Philippines – Two lawmakers want to empower the President to appoint a “designated survivor” in case the Chief Executive and all 3 officials in the line of succession die or are unfit to lead the country. 

Quezon City 2nd District Representative Precious Hipolito Castelo filed House Bill (HB) No. 4062 on Tuesday, August 20, while Senator Panfilo Lacson filed Senate Bill (SB) No. 982 on Wednesday, August 28.

Both measures seek to allow the President to choose a designated successor from among his Cabinet officials, who would then be placed in a secret and secure location whenever the President, Vice President, Senate President, and House Speaker are all gathered in one place.  

In the Philippines, this usually happens whenever the President delivers the State of the Nation Address.

In case the top 4 government officials die or become permanently disabled to lead the country, this "designated survivor" would become the new president.

Lacson’s bill also introduces a new provision that would include the most senior senator, the most senior district or party-list representative, and a Cabinet member designated by the President in the line of succession.

Critics have questioned Duterte's state of health in the past following his repeated disappearances from public view. (READ: [OPINION | NEWSPOINT] The specter of succession

In October 2018, Duterte admitted he went to the hospital to undergo some medical tests. In May 2019, fresh rumors were  fueled by Duterte's visit to the Cardinal Santos Medical Center in San Juan City, but Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo neither confirmed nor denied the visit.

Under the 1987 Constitution, the Vice President is first in the line of succession in case the President becomes unfit to lead the country. The next successor would be the Senate President, then the House Speaker. 

The Constitution, however, is silent on who will succeed if all 4 officials die or deemed unfit to lead the country.

'Constitutionally required'

Justice Secretary Guevarra, often assigned as the officer-in-charge when both Duterte and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea are out of country, said the "designated survivor" bill is constitutionally required.

Section 7, Article VII of the Constitution states: "The Congress shall, by law, provide for the manner in which one who is to act as President shall be selected until a President or a Vice-President shall have qualified, in case of death, permanent disability, or inability of the officials mentioned in the next preceding paragraph.

HB 4062 and SB 982 are copying the contingency plan being enforced in the United States, where an individual in the presidential line of succession – who is usually a Cabinet member – is sent to a safe and undisclosed location whenever the US president, vice president, and other officials in the line of succession are gathered in a single location. 

“Since our Constitution does not provide for the same rule, we can only imagine how tragic the outcome will be in case the unthinkable happens. The absence of a leader can lead to lawlessness and disorder, and worst, anarchy,” Castelo said in her explanatory note for HB 4062. 

Asked by reporters on Thursday if his bill was inspired by the Netflix series Designated Survivor, Lacson said, "Yes, sort of."

"Because it’s a practice in the US that there is really a designated survivor. I reviewed the Constitution, Article VII, and the line of succession part there is left hanging. It stopped at the Speaker of the House, and I noticed during SONA, all 4 of them are present – President Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House," Lacson said in a mix of English and Filiipino.

Read the bills below:

HB 4062

https://www.scribd.com/embeds/423615447/content?start_page=1&view_mode=scroll&access_key=key-61lmmLjE3MddIcpeOS10&show_recommendations=true " data-auto-height="false" data-aspect-ratio="0. 7119179163378059" scrolling="no" id="doc_89660" width="100%" height="600" frameborder="0">

SB 982

https://www.scribd.com/embeds/423615470/content?start_page=1&view_mode=scroll&access_key=key-JLRix26bJYiF0N9j25iV&show_recommendations=true " data-auto-height="false" data-aspect-ratio="0. 6526772793053546" scrolling="no" id="doc_33510" width="100%" height="600" frameborder="0">

– with reports from Lian Buan and Aika Rey/Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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