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Providing for succession if our officials get wiped out



TWO bills have been filed in the Senate and in the House of Representatives designating successors to the presidency in case of death of the president. The Constitution now provides that in case of death, permanent disability, or other circumstances, the president is to be succeeded by the vice president. In case of further emergency, the Senate president is to succeed the VP, and finally, if still necessary, by the House speaker.

The Philippine Constitution now names the three next highest officials to succeed the president in case of emergency. It stops at three, for the framers of the Constitution must have it thought it extremely unlikely that the nation would suddenly lose all of its four high­est officials.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who filed Senate bill 982, said it seeks to provide additional officials in the line of succession – just in case the officials designated in the Constitution are also removed by death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation. The bill would add to the line the following: the most senior senator, the most senior representative, and a cabinet member named by the president. Rep. Precious Hipolito Castelo of Quezon City has filed a similar bill In the House.

The United States Constitution provides that in an emergency, the next in the line of suc­cession is the vice president who is also Senate president, then the speaker of the House, then the Senate president protempore, then the eligible heads of executive departments led by the secretary of state.

The idea that a nation could suddenly lose all its highest officials at one stroke came up in a best-selling American novel in 1994, Tom Clancy’s “Debt of Honor,” in which the hero was a national security adviser named vice president after the elected VP was forced to resign in a sex scandal. The new VP was in an underground tunnel on his way to Congress, when the nation’s highest officials, meeting at a joint session of Congress, were wiped out in a suicide plane crash on the session hall. That elevated the hero, Jack Ryan, to the US presidency.

Since the attack on Sept. 11, 2001, in which the two World Trade Center Towers in New York City were destroyed by men using hijacked airliners, the US has been concerned with terrorist attack.

There is, however, no similar situation in the Philippines that would warrant our worrying over the sudden elimination of all our top officials. We have lived for many years now with the 1987 Constitution and its provision for three successors in case of the unexpected de­mise or other incapacity of the president.

But now two of our legislators see the need for Senate bill 982 and House bill 4062. Laws are enacted because there is need for them. The nation would value knowing the need for these bills at this time, most especially the ones in the present line of succession who might want to take some needed precautions.