Lawmakers want a 'designated survivor' for the presidency

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 29) — At least two bills have been filed in Congress seeking a designated survivor for the presidency in case all of the constitutional successors to the Malacañang die or are unable to take the helm of the country.

The proposed laws filed by Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson and Quezon City 2nd District Rep. Precious Hipolito Castelo lets the president pick his successor in case the vice president, the Senate president and the House speaker could not ascend to the presidency when the incumbent chief executive dies or becomes incapacitated.

“In the United States, dating back to the Cold War era, the practice is to keep a ‘designated successor’ away from events at which numerous high-ranking federal officers gather. 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,” Castelo said in filing House Bill No. 4062.

Under Lacson and Castelo’s proposals, whenever there is an event where the president and all the constitutional successors to the Palace are in attendance, the president will have to choose a successor from the Cabinet who will be kept away from the event in a secret and secure location.

This Cabinet member will act as the chief executive when the incumbent president and all those in the line of succession dies or are unable to ascend to Malacañang. They will serve as acting president until a new president is elected.

However, under Senate Bill No. 982, the Cabinet member selected by the president to succeed him will be the last option for the presidency in case everyone in the line of succession could not act as president.

The first choice for the president’s successor is the senator who has served the longest in the upper chamber. If there is none, the next in line would be the most senior lawmaker in the House of Representatives.

Lacson, who has long pushed for a designated survivor to the presidency, admitted that he was inspired by the hit US TV show of the same name.

Kapag maipasa ito, maraming hindi a-attend ng [State of the Nation Address,]” he said in jest.

[Translation: If this passes, no one else would attend the SONA.]

In the US, the administration appoints one member of the Cabinet to remain outside the Capitol during the State of the Union (SOTU) in case disaster strikes.

During US President Donald Trump’s SOTU in February, US Energy Secretary Rick Perry was chosen as the designated survivor. Perry is the 14th in the presidential line of succession.

The Philippines’ 1987 Constitution provides that the vice president will act as president in case of the latter’s death or disability. If the vice president could not ascend to the presidency, the Senate president — or if he is also unable — the House speaker becomes president.

The Constitution also requires Congress to pass a law on who will become the president in case the acting president dies, is disabled or resigns.

Previously, under Batas Pambansa Bilang 882, the members of the then-existing unicameral legislature will elect among themselves the acting president.

CNN Philippines Correspondents Joyce Ilas and Xianne Arcangel contributed to this report.