BY VINCE NONATO and WENDELL VIGILIA
A PROPOSED measure has been filed separately in the Senate and the House of Representatives seeking the appointment of a “designated survivor” to lead the country in case a constitutional leadership crisis arises.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, inspired by the American series with the same title, has filed Senate Bill No. 982 seeking to expand the line of succession to the presidency and hiding away a “designated survivor” during events.
Lacson’s Senate Bill No. 982 sought to “ensure that the office of the President is never vacated even in exceptional circumstances.”
Quezon City Rep. Precious Hipolito-Castelo, on the other hand, has filed House Bill No. 4062 seeking to empower the president to appoint a “designated survivor” to lead the country in case the president and all those in the constitutional line of succession die or will be unable to perform the duties of the chief executive.
HBN 4062 notes that while the Constitution provides for a line of succession in case of incapacity, death, resignation, or removal of the president from office, it does not say who will lead the country if all the officials are rendered unable to discharge the duties and responsibilities of the president.
The 1987 Constitution provides for the Vice President, the Senate President and the House Speaker, in that order, to succeed the President in case of death, permanent disability, removal from office or resignation.
Lacson’s bill seeks to expand the list to the most senior senator and then the most senior representative based on the length of service. Last in line will be the member of the Cabinet designated by the President.
The bill will require that the designated Cabinet member be “sequestered in a secret and secure location” prior to “any public or private activity, event or function with the attendance of the President, Vice President and other high-ranking officials.”
Castelo cited the dilemma of a constitutional leadership crisis in case of a security breach during the annual State of the Nation Address (SONA) of the president.
The SONA, held at the Batasang Pambansa complex, is attended by all ranking executive and judicial officials, members of Congress, Cabinet members, and diplomats, among others.
“While the strongest and strictest security measures have always been implemented and enforced during SONA, there is always a chance, however slim, that a tragedy can happen,” Castelo said.
In the United States, dating back to the Cold War era, Castelo said the practice is to keep a “designated successor” away from events at which numerous high-ranking federal officers gather.
The lawmaker said this is done in order to guarantee that there will always be someone to assume the reins of the government in case an unimaginable disaster happens and all the officers in the presidential line of succession are killed.
“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, to anarchy,” Castelo said.
Lacson, asked by reporters if his bill was inspired by the American political thriller “Designated Survivor,” said: “Yes, sort of.”
In the drama series, Kiefer Sutherland played the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development who became President after everyone else in the line of succession was killed in an explosion during the State of the Union address.
The series ran for two seasons on ABC and one final season on Netflix from 2016 to 2019. A South Korean remake also recently aired.
Sought for comment, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he will leave the fate and content of the proposed legislation to the discretion of Congress.
“I will leave it to Congress to designate the survivor who shall temporarily become the acting president. He may be drawn from the Cabinet or from the legislature, the office being of a political nature,” Guevarra said.
He noted that the Constitution actually mandates the enactment of such a bill “in the event that the acting president (the Vice President, the Senate President, the House Speaker) dies, resigns, or becomes permanently incapacitated.” – With Ashzel Hachero and Reuters