Being Right


An area urgently needed to be addressed is the issue of command succession, particularly in instances when the highest positions of government become suddenly unable to function for one reason or another.

The Constitution does provide (Art. VII.8) that in case “of death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation of the President, the Vice-President shall become the President to serve the unexpired term. In case of death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation of both the President and Vice-President, the President of the Senate or, in case of his inability, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, shall then act as President until the President or Vice-President shall have been elected and qualified.”

Unfortunately, the foregoing does not address two issues: a.) the simultaneous or eventual deaths, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignations of the President, Vice-President, Senate President, and the House Speaker; and, b.) temporary disability or temporary or illegal removal from office of the President.

For the first issue, the Constitution partly addresses it by requiring Congress to make a law on “who shall serve as President in case of death, permanent disability, or resignation of the Acting President. He shall serve until the President or the Vice-President shall have been elected and qualified, and be subject to the same restrictions of powers and disqualifications as the Acting President.”

However, it still doesn’t address the happenstance of when all four: the President, Vice-President, Senate President, and the House Speaker are killed simultaneously, as in, for example a decapitation strike by a foreign power. Which is all the more plausible when one considers all four are required to work in Metro Manila.

It’s suggested here that, while a law could be done to address both issues, yet an Executive Order and/or Administrative Order by the President could be issued that could comfortably settle the matter and serve as a confi-dence building measure as well.

Thus, in case all four officials are indeed taken out permanently, it is suggested that the President’s Executive Order/Administrative Order designate the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, then Defense, then Local Government, in that order, and then so on, to serve as acting President until such time as the Senate can elect an acting President (following the logic and spirit of Art. VII.8, paragraph 1).

An Executive Order/Administrative Order could also solve the question on temporary disability, unavailability, or removal of the President. Thus, for example, in situations when the President is temporarily incommunicado, the Vice-President should automatically step in to act as President. In cases when either or both President and Vice-President are temporarily disabled, incommunicado, etc., then it is suggested here that the Secretary of For-eign Affairs, then Defense, then Local Government, in that order, and so on, serve as acting President until such time the President or Vice-President can regain control of the reins of government.

Assuming an extreme situation when every Cabinet official, Senate President, and House Speaker are all either rendered eliminated permanently or temporarily disabled or temporarily incommunicado, it is suggested that an Executive Order/Administrative Order be issued delegating commander-in-chief powers, particularly civilian control over the military, to the Governors of Tarlac, Quezon, Cebu, Palawan, Davao Del Sur, and Zamboanga Del Sur corresponding to the six Unified Commands of the Northern Luzon Command, Southern Luzon Command, Visayas Command, Western Command, Eastern Mindanao Command, and Western Mindanao Command, respec-tively.

The six governors shall exercise Executive powers for the territories corresponding to the specific Command designated to them, including the powers described in the Constitution’s Art. VII.18, i.e., Martial Law and suspen-sion of habeas corpus, until such time as the remaining members of Congress that could ordinarily constitute a quorum or, in the absence of that, the surviving members of Congress and all the incumbent surviving Governors have been able to select a civilian as President, to serve until the contingency has passed by declaration of law.

Finally, the President can issue an Executive Order/Administrative Order, such that, when called to exercise his Commander-in-Chief powers (Art. VII.18) or in the instance the Congress declares that the Philippines is in a “state of war” (Art. VI.23), the automatic constitution of a War Cabinet (basically a streamlined National Security Council) be done. When called, the latter shall take over the functions of the National Security Council and be entrusted with the conduct of any armed conflict the Philippines is involved in. The regular Cabinet continues to operate on matters unrelated to or peripheral to the armed conflict.

As such, suggested members of the War Cabinet are the Vice-President, Executive Secretary, Secretaries of Foreign Affairs, Defense, the Local Government, Justice, and Finance, the Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff, the National Economic and Development Authority Director General, and National Security Adviser. Each War Cabinet member should be mandated with specific control and supervisory powers over other designated Cabinet members on specific matters deliberated upon by the War Cabinet.

These are things better done now rather than later.

The views expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of the institutions to which he belongs.


Jemy Gatdula is the dean of the Institute of Law of the University of Asia and the Pacific and is a Philippine Judicial Academy lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence. He read international law at the University of Cambridge.

Twitter @jemygatdula