POSTSCRIPT / September 6, 2020 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Let Duterte choose his own successor?

IT doesn’t look right, it is obscene, to allow President Duterte to “designate” who will succeed him if he dies in office or is permanently disabled at the same time that all the officials in the constitutional line of succession get killed or are totally incapacitated.

The line of succession under the Constitution runs from the President, down to the Vice President, the Senate President, and the House Speaker – and stops there.

But a bill (SB 982) filed by Sen. Panfilo Lacson would continue that listing possibly to include a senior senator, a senior congressman, and a ranking Cabinet member chosen by the President.

That formula was adapted from the “Designated Survivor” drama series on Netflix based on a US law providing for a successor from the Cabinet to be secured in a secret location during an event where the president and all his would-be successors could be wiped out.

There is a growing sense that the Duterte administration has been drawing the broad lines of the post-2022 scenario. It is crucial for him to be able to dictate who would hold the levers of power after his term.

In this context, any indication that Duterte is moving to influence events, or to pick his successor as suggested in SB 982, is suspect.

It was thus careless of presidential spokesman Harry Roque to say that Malacañang saw the “wisdom” of Lacson’s bill, even mentioning a possible terrorist attack during, say, the State of the Nation Address of the President in the Congress.

Lacson had said: “I noticed during SONA everybody is there practically, the President, Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House. So, knock on wood, if ever there is an extremist or terrorist who might think of bombing the Batasan Pambansa and everyone else is killed, we have no successor.”

The State of the Union address of the US President is the starting point of the “Designated Survivor” film where a terrorist attack kills a great number of key officials in the Capitol building, including those in the line of succession, except for one.

The only one spared is the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Thomas Kirkman (played by Kiefer Sutherland), the Designated Survivor who was secured elsewhere. He is immediately sworn in to assume the duties of the president.

The succession line under the US Presidential Succession Act adopted in 1947, revised in 2006, goes from the Vice President (who is ex-officio Senate President), down to the House Speaker, the Senate President Pro Tempore, the State Secretary, and the other Cabinet secretaries.

For President Trump’s State of the Union address on Feb. 4, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, although eighth in the line of succession, was the designated survivor. But nothing untoward happened.

The ranking of US Cabinet secretaries for succession purposes is based on when their departments were created, except for the State Secretary who tops the list. In the Philippines, the plan seems to be to leave that determination to Duterte.

Lacson points to Art. VII, Sec. 7, as the basis for his bill. It says: “xxx Congress shall, by law, provide for the manner in which one who is to act as President shall be selected until a President or a Vice President shall have qualified, in case of death, permanent disability, or inability of the officials mentioned in the next preceding paragraph.”

Note that that section merely tells the Congress to “provide for the manner” in which a successor is to be designated or selected.

Duterte, meanwhile, continues to consolidate power undisturbed by the ineffectual opposition. What he wants he usually gets. The only constraints slowing him down are the raging COVID-19 and his failing health, tandem tests that have forced him into “perpetual isolation”.

• Yes, Virginia, there are also fake priests

THE OTHER day, we were talking with media colleague Nonnie Pelayo and the conversation veered to the COVID-19 scourge and how it has changed lifestyles for better or for worse.

He noted that the almost six months of lockdowns and the closure of houses of worship have gotten people used to just praying at home or “attending” services on television or YouTube.

Poor church attendance and the resulting drastic drop in the alms collection may force many churches to shut down and see their flock going astray.

In an earlier email, Nonnie recalled the case of a priest who found out that he was not validly baptized. The deacon who baptized him said “We baptize you in the name of the ….” when the proper formula was “I baptize you….” So the priest had himself properly baptized, confirmed, and after a retreat was ordained deacon and then priest.

He recounted also the story of a fake priest who was able to have himself appointed as a “consultant” at the AFP Southern Command when the regular chaplain retired and the service could not find a ready replacement.

Months later, a group of generals’ ladies from Camp Aguinaldo arrived to bring goodies to the frontline troops. They went to the SouthCom headquarters in Zamboanga City on a Sunday and heard mass.

The manang from Manila were intrigued by the seemingly “different” mass celebrated by the “chaplain” and called the attention of the SouthCom top brass.

A check with the Catholic Bishop Conference’s directory of priests or “pink book” showed that the chaplain was not listed. He was fired and an arrangement was made with the bishop for a priest from the diocese to celebrate mass regularly at the command headquarters.

This raised such questions as what happened to the babies “baptized” by that impostor? Easy answer: Have them baptized again. How about those whose marriages he solemnized? Hard answer: They should go through the rites again if they have not parted ways.

More problematic is the uncertain fate of the dearly departed ones to whom he gave the extreme unction (last rites).

(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 6, 2020)

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Dear Sir Pascual, I prefer the USA model, extending the line of succession beyond Speaker to the senior senators such as Senate Pro-tempore, etc and the Deputy Speakers but I draw the line on Cabinet members. There should be no un-elected officials in the line of succession, except the Supreme Court magistrates sitting en banc as an oversight committee to supervise a special election.


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