"Sickness and death are not within our control as human beings."
For quite some time now, rumor mills have been on overdrive about the state of health of President Duterte. Sudden absences in official functions, postponement of Cabinet meetings without plausible explanation, and unannounced trips to Hong Kong—these are incidents that fuel the rumors.
Things came to a head when the President was said to have gone to Cardinal Santos Medical Center for a medical check-up in the middle of the working week. Secretary Harry Roque and Special Assistant to the President Bong Go, to dispel the rumors, belied the speculation. They said all was well and there was nothing to worry about.
It took President Duterte himself to contradict Go and Roque, announcing before the members of the Philippine Military Academy Alumni Association that his Barrett’s esophagus condition had gotten “worse,” but he was still waiting for further information. “So hindi ko pa masabi kung meron ba talaga akong tama o wala.
But I have this Barrett and it has been bothering me since—ever since—dahil nga sa inom rin,
” Duterte said. In a fatalistic manner, the President remarked, “If it’s cancer, it’s cancer. And if it’s third stage, no more treatment. I will not prolong my agony in this office or anywhere.”
The same concern arose during the Marcos years. Pestering rumors hounded the presidency for a long time. Marcos, savvy as he was, consistently denied the rumors and took great pains to put up a healthy front—he did so until the very end. If not for its tragic implications, it was comical to see the dictator, his face all puffed up, being carried by his security detail to the stage to deliver his speech during campaign sorties because he could hardly walk. When the Marcoses left Malacañang Palace, one of the items found by the people who raided and ransacked the palace was a dialysis machine, confirming the persistent rumors that he in fact was suffering from serious kidney ailment. Marcos is the very reason why the Constitutional Commission decided to come up with a provision to address this very contingency.
What does the 1987 Constitution say in case of disability or serious illness of the President? The pertinent provisions are Sections 11 and 12 of Article VII.
The controlling provision in case of serious illness of the President is Section 12. It says that the public shall be informed of the state of President’s health. The members of the Cabinet in charge of national security and foreign relations and the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, shall not be denied access to the President during such illness.
Section 11, on the other hand, requires the President to transmit to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. In this case, the Vice President as acting president shall discharge the powers of the president until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary. The Section continues:
“The Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President whenever a majority of all the Members of the Cabinet transmit to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.
The President reassumes the powers and duties of his office once he transmits to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists.
Should a majority of all the Members of the Cabinet transmit within five days to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Congress shall decide the issue. In deciding, the Congress shall convene, if it is not in session, within forty-eight hours, in accordance with its rules and without need of call. If the Congress determines by a two-thirds vote of both Houses, voting separately, that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice-President shall act as President; otherwise, the President shall continue exercising the powers and duties of his office.”
While Section 11 is clear-cut as to the procedure to be applied in the event the President is unable to discharge the powers of his office, Section 12, which speaks about the requirement to inform the public in case the President is seriously ill, can be a little bit more problematic. The provision does not identify the person/s charged to provide the public the information or the individual to determine the severity of the President’s ailment. Should it be done through Secretary Roque, by the President himself, or by some other government official?
I am of the belief that any information on the medical condition of the highest official should be provided by medical experts; hence, his doctors. That President Duterte may or may not be suffering from cancer is a matter of grave concern that may affect the national economy and security. The magnitude of the matter is such that not even the President himself, much less his spokespersons, are in a position to apprise the public of his state of health. This can be provided only by his medical team. Thus, a medical bulletin announced by medical doctors on the President’s health will not only dispel the swirling rumors and destructive speculation. It will also give the public the right information to properly assess the state of the nation. As the saying goes—forewarned is forearmed.
As for who would succeed him, if in fact he dies, is permanently incapacitated, or resigns because of his illness, the succession is clear and unequivocal with Article VII, Section 7 providing:
“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.
The Congress shall, by law, provide 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.”
I must say now that the framers of the 1987 Constitution were truly wise men and women, having only the best interest of the country in mind.
I do not wish ill of the President. I pray for his good health and long life. But sickness and death are not within our control as human beings. Precisely because I wish good things of the President, if in fact he is seriously ill, he should himself invoke Section 11 or perhaps resign and allow presidential succession unfold as the Constitution mandates. His supporters should want that. And for sure, that will be good for the country.
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