Lacson pushes for immediate passage of 'designated survivor' bill

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 31) – Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson is calling on fellow lawmakers to urgently act on a proposed legislation determining the line of succession beyond what's currently defined in the Constitution.

In a statement, Lacson lamented Congress's failure to pass a measure extending the line of succession beyond the House speaker, saying a "constitutional crisis is possible" if the president, vice president, Senate president and House speaker perish in any occasion wherein they're all present. He cited as an example a terrorist attack at the Batasang Pambansa while the President delivers his State of the Nation Address.

Lacson, also the principal sponsor and one of the authors of the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act, added "exceptional circumstances" like terrorism "illustrate the need to address soonest" the limitations to the succession line.

Under the 1987 Constitution, the vice president shall act as president should the chief executive die or suffer a permanent disability. If the vice president is unavailable, the Senate president will ascend to the presidency. If he is also unable to do so, the House speaker will.

RELATED: Anti-Terrorism Council won't be 'sole arbiter' in tagging, arresting suspected terrorists – Lacson

The senator's statement comes a day after Quezon City 2nd District Precious Hipolito withdrew the bill's counterpart in the House of Representatives, a move Lacson described as "unfortunate."

On Sunday, the congresswoman withdrew House Bill No. 4062, which aims to give the President authority to pick a successor who isn't part of the constitutional line of succession, after drawing the ire of netizens over the weekend.

"I hope the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes and Laws will immediately conduct a hearing on Senate Bill No. 982, which I filed in August last year - or appoint me as subcommittee chairman, as I am willing and ready to sponsor and defend such an important piece of legislation on the Senate floor," expressed Lacson.

SB 982 provides that in case all four officials are unable to assume the presidency, the following shall do so in this order:

- the most senior Senator, based on the length of service in the Senate;

- the most senior Representative based on the length of service in the House of Representatives;

- the member of the Cabinet designated by the President.

To date, Lacson's bill is pending in the committee, according to the Senate website.

In the United States, the administration appoints one Cabinet member to stay outside the Capitol while the president delivers his State of the Union (SOTU) should a disaster happen.

US Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt was the designated survivor during US President Donald Trump's SOTU this February. Bernhardt is eighth in the United States' presidential line of succession.

Constitutional law expert: Lacson bill allowed by Constitution but…

Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, dean of San Beda Graduate School of Law, said the 1987 Constitution allows Congress to pass a law providing presidential line of succession after the House Speaker.

Aquino applied Article VII, Section 8 of the 1987 Constitution in this issue, which states “the Congress shall, by law, provide who shall serve as President in case of death, permanent disability, or resignation of the Acting President.”

However, Aquino discussed the sensitive nature of such proposal like Lacson’s bill as he invoked Article VII, Section 10 of the 1987 Constitution that orders Congress to convene on the third day of the vacancy in the President and Vice President positions to enact a law calling for special elections for the said offices.

“The need for the bill proposed by Lacson is that there can be no hiatus in the presidency, which is why we do need such a bill… but it is really inconceivable for me, except if you watch television too much, that the President, Vice President, Senate President, and House Speaker all die at the same time,” Aquino told CNN Philippines’ Rico Hizon on Monday.

The constitutional law expert questioned the timing of the Lacson and Castelo bills on presidential line of succession, saying there are more other pressing issues in the country that need to be solved amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Constitution has provided a line of succession. Follow the Constitution,” advised Aquino.