POSTSCRIPT / June 15, 2004 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Chief Justice is not in line of succession

SUCCESSION: Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. may need some rest. He said days ago that if no president and vice president were proclaimed by June 30, an official in the line of succession, including the Chief Justice, would take over as acting president.

We rushed to our copy of the 1987 Constitution to confirm our recollection, and there it was in the fifth paragraph of Section 7, Article VII:

“Where no President and Vice President shall have been chosen or shall have qualified, or where both shall have died or become permanently disabled, the President of the Senate or, in case of his inability, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, shall act as President until a President or a Vice-President shall have been chosen and qualified.”

The line of succession ends with the Speaker of the House. It does not go on to include the Chief Justice as suggested by Senator Pimentel.

The succeeding paragraph, Section 8, pertains to a different scenario but runs along the same vein: “… 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.”

No mention of the Chief Justrice. Sayang, Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. would be a respected president sana who could turn around this nation’s continuing loss of faith in itself.

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THERE’S ONE LEFT: The pessimists warn that if the joint session of Congress fails to proclaim a president-elect and a vice president-elect by June 30, there will not even be a Senate president or a Speaker of the House to become acting president and salvage the situation.

In such an event, they add, the ensuing constitutional crisis would create a power vacuum that could just break the fragile underpinning of our democracy. Civil strife may just follow.

Actually, it is not that grim and hopeless. It is not true that the Senate president is out of the picture after June 30 before a new Congress is convened and organized. He is very much in the picture, in fact may be the only one left among the big boys.

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DARK SCENARIO: Many readers reacted, so we pursue the points raised in the “dark scenario” that we painted in our last POSTSCRIPT in the event Congress fails to proclaim a president-elect by June 30….

The House will be a totally new incoming assembly, so at dawn of July 1, there will be no House of Representatives, and much less a Speaker. There will be no Speaker to even think of succession in the “dark scenario” that we had brought up.

But that very moment when the House is nowhere, there is a solid Senate and it has a sitting Senate president in the person of Franklin Drilon.

One tick after midnight of June 30, only half of a supposed 24-member Senate bows out while a new group of 12 replacement senators (some of whom are reelectionists) is set to come in.

I said “supposed 24-member” because there are only 22 senators with the untimely death in office of senators Blas Ople and Rene Cayetano. The remaining 22 members include Sen. Noli de Castro, who will also get out once he is proclaimed vice president-elect, but that is something else.

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CONTINUING BODY: Unlike in the case of the House, there will not be one moment when there is no Senate. The Senate is a continuing body.

There is always a Senate. From this very moment and on to the inaugural session of the incoming Senate, there is Drilon who sits as Senate President until replaced by his peers.

(It is irrelevant, but the Sigma Rho fraternity might just realize its dream of finally having a brod sitting as Grand Archon in Malacanang.)

In the “dark scenario” that we are talking about, it is only Drilon who will be there in case there is need for an acting president to guide this nation through the night.

(Just to recall, that scenario is: “Suppose the canvassing has been completed some 75 percent with the tabulation showing Fernando Poe Jr. leading — and suddenly some widespread disturbance disrupts the canvass and the disorder shoots past June 30.”)

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FILLING VACANCIES: But there are other questions on the “dark scenario” whose answers elude many of us.

How do we fill the vacant post of a regular president after June 30, assuming nagkagulo na ang canvass?

Drilon sits there as acting president all right, but for how long? There must be an emergency mechanism for electing, proclaiming and installing a regular, not acting, president.

Congress is mandated by the Constitution to pass a law addressing this possibility, but frankly we do not know if there is such a law already. Maybe the lawyers among our readers can help clarify this?

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SPECIAL ELECTION: Actually the Constitution has an answer, or almost an answer, in the form of a Special Election. It is in Section 10, also in the same Article VII that we have been quoting.

But it pertains to a situation where the president and the vice president are both out of office for various specified reasons and the Senate president (or the Speaker) is the acting president.

Section 10 says: “The Congress shall, at ten o’clock in the morning of the third day after the vacancy in the offices of the President and Vice President occurs, convene in accordance with its rules without need of a call and within seven days, enact a law calling for a special election to elect a President and a Vice President to be held not earlier than forty-five days nor later than sixty days from the time of such call. The bill calling such special election shall be deemed certified under paragraph 2, Section 26, Article V1 of this Constitution and shall become law upon its approval on third reading by the Congress. Appropriations for the special election shall be charged against any current appropriations and shall be exempt from the requirements of paragraph 4, Section 25, Article V1 of this Constitution. The convening of the Congress cannot be suspended nor the special election postponed. No special election shall be called if the vacancy occurs within eighteen months before the date of the next presidential election.”

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FOUR SITUATIONS: Section 10 providing for a special election seems to apply only where both the president and the vice president are out of office resulting from four incidents — death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation.

It may be argued that since the absence of a president and a vice president was not a result of any of the four conditions cited, but rather the result of the failure of Congress to proclaim the winners, the crisis is not covered by Section 10 and will require a something-else solution or an extra-constitutional remedy.

Extra-constitutional? Like maybe another EDSA march where whoever gathers the most number of warm sweating bodies with the most vociferous voices wins?

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VACUUM SUCKS: In the “dark scenario” that we painted and continue to discuss, we could be entering June 30 and moving on directly into the jaws of a vacuum.

What I know of vacuums is that they suck everything around them.

Depending on the objects around the vortex and their stability, depending on the forces moving as well as the scale, direction and manner of their movement, such a phenomenon could destroy some of the objects sucked with such ferocity into the vacuum.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 15, 2004)

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