Apocalypse now
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - September 14, 2019 - 12:00am

Under the Malolos Constitution, the Constitutional successor to the President was the Chief Justice, then called the President of the Supreme Court of Justice. The position of Vice President was, as yet, unknown. 

Today, in case of death, permanent disability, removal from office or resignation of both President and Vice President, it is the Senate President and then the Speaker, in that order, who shall act as President. The Big 4. Beyond that, Congress, by law, provides for the succession.

When President Rodrigo Roa Duterte was in China, even with Vice President Leonor Robredo very much around, it was Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra who, again, held the reins of power as Officer-in-Charge. Senator Panfilo Lacson, unnerved by the repeated sight of a non-elected official vested with the might and power of the Presidential office, started to obsess about worst case prospects. Who would be in charge if the Constitutional Big 4 were rendered incapable? 

The nightmare scenario is always the SONA or the Presidential inauguration as doomsday epicenter. At those occasions, the entire government attends. If an apocalypse were to wipe out everyone, a lá 9/11 or 1971’s Plaza Miranda bombing, who is left to run the country?

In the US, there is the Presidential Succession Act. After their Vice President, it’s the Speaker, the Senate President Pro-Tempore, the Secretary of State, then Treasury, Defense and on down the totem pole. But what if all are in ground zero?

Accidental Presidents. This is where the Designated Survivor comes in, where one from among the successors is chosen to “stay home” during the event. In the US, they used to do exactly that, i.e. stay home and eat pizza. But after 9/11, the designated would be spirited away to a secure location, together with secret service detail and matching “football” (the presidential brief case containing the authorization to launch nuclear weapons). 

This practice has no formal basis in law. But since the US has a Succession Act, for as long as the designee is on that list, then there is nothing to argue against the practice. Even the US Congress has taken to designating members to absent themselves from the Capitol. If the designated Cabinet survivor is expected to rebuild the executive branch, the designated Congressional survivor will use institutional knowledge to ensure the reconstruction of the legislative branch.

If the Constitutional Acting President becomes unable to serve, Senator Lacson would install the longest serving Senator (right now, Senator Vicente Sotto) followed by the longest serving Congressman as successors. After them, a Cabinet member designated by the President. The Bill also provides for a separate Cabinet member, designated by the President, to be sequestered at a secure location. He is the 4th Choice and the Philippine “Designated Survivor”. These four, successively, will act as President until Congress shall have called for a Presidential election. 

Republican democratic state. Senator Lacson was concerned about the democratic deficit. Since the Big 4 are all elected, so should elected officials continue to have precedence in the next 4. This same sentiment is expressed by Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin, No. 5 in protocol hierarchy. ”…There’s no law that says a number 5 can go up (in the hierarchy). And it’s not going to happen because number 5 is not an elected official”.

The contra position is that executive experience should be preferred. From this mold comes the counterpart bill of Quezon City Congresswoman Precious Hipolito-Castelo giving the President the power to “delegate” a successor from the Cabinet. 

These schemes are not without Constitutional challenges. But it does not militate against the need to have a sequence of succession rather than having none at all. According to Rep. Hipolito-Castelo,“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.” 

Let the games begin. Our awareness of the coming Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) has been largely peripheral. But SEAG 2019 will be the biggest ever games in the history of this biennial event. Malaysia’s 2017 hosting had 404 events over 38 sports. Our Philippine edition in November will see 530 events spread over 54 sports. 

The sports facilities alone at the New Clark City cluster of venues will be world class. The aquatic center meets global FINA standards. The new stadium features the first ever nine-lane Class 1 track in the Philippines certified by the International Amateur Athletics Federation, the world governing body for track and field. The Manila cluster will see the historic Rizal Memorial Coliseum again being called to duty. It joins familiar sites ULTRA, Flying V stadium, Cuneta Astrodome and the MOA Arena as competition venues.

With pressure from the Palace and the Speaker, the facilities will be ready at least a month before opening. All the budget delays and the high octane corruption allegations by the President against the organizers are now forgotten as we look forward as a nation to the games. 

The quality of the competition, the highest levels of sportsmanship, the contagion of team spirit, the inspiration of individual effort and the sublime appeal of discipline and determination rewarded – all these will enhance the SEAG immersive experience. And then, the privilege to demonstrate our world famous hospitality. At the end of the games, the best affirmation of a successful hosting will not be the medals but the fellowship they take home. If they’re happy, then we shall have won. 

There is intense anticipation of the opening ceremonies at the Philippine Sports Arena in Bocaue. The world’s focus will simply be on us putting on a good show. Maestro and music Laureate Ryan Cayabyab and the great Lea Salonga join Arnel Pineda in lending their talents and gravitas to the ceremonies. Apl de Ap and his Black Eyed Peas will close at the New Clark Arena. We look forward to enjoying this fantastic showcase for the country.

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