SUCCEEDING A PRESIDENT: Presidential succession in the Philippines

SUCCEEDING A PRESIDENT: Presidential succession in the Philippines

Rodrigo Duterte will take his oath of office as the 16th President of the Philippines this June 30 at the Rizal Ceremonial Hall of the Malacanang Palace. As mandated by the 1987 Constitution, Duterte will serve as president for the next six years or until 2022.

Of the country’s past fifteen presidents, four were not able to finish their terms and was consequently replaced by their respective Vice Presidents. They are the following:

  1. Manuel Quezon (died of tuberculosis in 1944; succeeded by Sergio Osmena)
  2. Manuel Roxas (died after suffering a heart attack in 1948; succeeded by Elpidio Quirino)
  3. Ramon Magsaysay (died during a plane crash in 1957; succeeded by Carlos P. Garcia)
  4. Joseph Estrada (left office in 2001 because of massive protests; succeeded by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo)

According to Article VII, section 8.1 of the 1987 Constitution, the Vice President automatically assumes the presidency if the President dies in office, resigns his position, gets impeached, or becomes permanently disable.

Now, what if the Vice President is not able to succeed the President for whatever reason? Section 8.1 adds: “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.” (emphasis added)

rodrigo duterte and noynoy aquino
President Rodrigo Duterte with now-former President Benigno Aquino III (Credits: Facebook page of RTVMalacanang)

Whenever a President gets into a crisis (ask Estrada, Arroyo, and even Aquino), certain quarters readily float the possibility of holding snap elections. Article VII, section 10 of the 1987 Constitution however states that a special election can only be called if there’s a simultaneous vacancy in the offices of the President and Vice-President.

This special election must be held not earlier than forty-five days but not later than sixty days from the time of such call. One caveat: “No special election shall be called if the vacancy occurs within eighteen months before the date of the next presidential election.”

To sum it up, the Vice President is the only person who can succeed a President if he or she dies, resigns, gets impeached, or becomes permanently disabled. In case the presidency and the vice presidency becomes vacant, the Senate President or the House Speaker will serve as an acting president until a special election has been held.

Future questions:

  1. How is “permanent disability” determined?
  2. Let’s assume that a terrorist attack killed the President, the Vice President, the Senate President, and the House Speaker at the same time. Can the Chief Justice serve as acting president?

PS: In the United States, the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 includes cabinet secretaries as legal successors (at present, it includes 13 cabinet members).

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Mark Pere Madrona

The Filipino Scribe (TFS) is managed by Mark Pere Madrona, a multi-awarded writer and licensed professional teacher from the Philippines. Mr. Madrona earned his master’s degree in history from the University of the Philippines-Diliman last 2020. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in journalism cum laude from the same university back in 2010. His area of interests includes Philippine journalism, history, and politics as well as social media. Know more about him here:

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