PRESIDENT Ramon Magsaysay had only 10 months left of his term when he died in a plane crash in Mt. Manunggal on March 17, 1957. Upon being informed of the president’s death, his vice president, Carlos Garcia, flew posthaste from Australia where he was attending a meeting of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization to assume the presidency and took his oath before Chief Justice Ricardo Paras.

President Erap Estrada was barely three years into his six-year term when he was forced out of office while facing impeachment trial by the Senate. Although he would later claim that there was no vacancy in the presidency since he did not resign but merely went on leave, his vice president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, was sworn in to succeed him on Jan. 20, 2001.

Garcia’s assumption took place under the 1935 Constitution, Arroyo’s under the 1987 version. Both documents set very clear rules on succession: in case of the death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation of the president, the vice president shall become the president to serve the unexpired term.

What happens when both the president and the vice president die or are permanently incapacitated, are removed or resign from office? The president of the Senate or, in case of his disability, the speaker of the House shall act as president until a president or vice president shall have been elected or qualified. That is what the Constitution also says.

The date of the election will be fixed by Congress which is required to meet at 10 a.m. of the third day of the vacancy of the office of both the president and vice president and, within seven days, call for a special election which should be held not earlier than 45 days or later than 60 days from the time of such call.

With the rules and the order of succession clearly set in the Constitution, why is there a need for a “designated survivor” that Sen. Panfilo Lacson proposed in his bill?

Because the bench is shallow since the Constitution, according to him, does not provide for “special circumstances” when the president, vice president, Senate president and House speaker die at the same time or one after another. Who will act as president until the special election is held and a winner proclaimed and qualified?

Lacson has a point. Indeed, the Constitution does require Congress to pass a law that defines the line of succession when all the four top officials are not available to perform the duties of the presidency. It says: “The Congress shall, by law, provide for a 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.”

Under Lacson’s bill, if all the four officials are unavailable, for the reasons stated in the Constitution, to discharge the office of the presidency, the acting president shall be chosen in the following order: the most senior member of the Senate in terms of length of service in the Senate, the most senior House member in terms of length of service in the House and the Cabinet member designated by the president.

The inclusion of the Cabinet member is what makes Lacson’s bill objectionable because he does not have a direct mandate from the people. Lacson should delete him from his bill.