If Pres. dies, who informs the public?


The Philippines has had an experience regarding the Executive hiding the true nature of his health. Because of this, the present Constitution gives the people the right to know or be informed.

Under Article VII of the 1987 Constitution, "In case of serious illness of the President, the public shall be informed of the state of his 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."

Although the provision does not mention "death" or "dead," it still applies. What can be more serious a threat to health than death?

Below is the Record of the Constitutional Commission (R.C.C) of 1986 regarding this provision. (R.C.C. No. 43 Wednesday, July 30, 1986. https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/1986/07/30/r-c-c-no-43-wednesday-july-30-1986/)

xxx xxx xxx

MR. SARMIENTO: Madam President, may I ask that Commissioner Ople be recognized.

THE PRESIDENT: Commissioner Ople is recognized.

MR. OPLE: Thank you, Madam President.

I propose to insert a new section to be numbered Section 11, immediately prior to Section 12 on page 6, line 6, and which shall read: IN CASE OF SERIOUS ILLNESS OF THE PRESIDENT THE PUBLIC SHALL BE INFORMED OF THE STATE OF HIS HEALTH THROUGH THE MINISTER OF HEALTH OR OTHER APPROPRIATE AUTHORITY. THE CABINET MEMBER IN-CHARGE OF NATIONAL SECURITY AND FOREIGN RELATIONS AND THE CHIEF OF STAFF OF THE ARMED FORCES OF THE PHILIPPINES DURING SUCH TIMES SHALL NOT BE DENIED ACCESS TO THE PRESIDENT AS COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF.

May I briefly explain the reason for this amendment, Madam President.

THE PRESIDENT: Please proceed.

MR. OPLE: I think throughout history, there had been many recorded instances when the health of the President, or the emperor in Roman times, or the Chinese emperor in dynasties long past was concealed from the public. Generally, the wife conspires with others in order to conceal the leader’s state of health. One effect of this has been on the necessary inputs to policy coming from Cabinet ministers which have been blocked from reaching the attention of the President in that state.

This illness can occur during an awkward moment in the life of a nation when national survival ought to be secured in the face of a major threat short of, let us say, the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus when Congress comes in in order to exercise a monitoring function and, perhaps, a remedial function.

We have not yet, in this example, attained that level of the seriousness of the situation. And yet the national security might be at stake. The national survival can hang in the balance and, therefore, the right of the people to know ought to be included in this Article on the Executive, not only the right of the people to urgent access to a President in a state of illness, but especially those who deal with the safety and survival of the nation.

The Cabinet minister in charge of national security and foreign relations and the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces ought to have access to the President as commander-in-chief. The people as well should have access to this man in that kind of dubious state so that even in that critical and awkward moment in the fortunes of the national leader, we can be sure that the people have access to him for purposes of safeguarding the national security. That is the reason the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces is also mentioned in the proposal.

I think this is based on contemporary experience as well. And if we delegate this merely to a forthcoming legislature, there will arise situations or embarrassment considering that many who will compose this legislature will be very deferential towards those in power and may not even mention this at all in their agenda.

Therefore, I feel that there should be a constitutional cognizance of that danger, and the right of the people to know ought to be built into this Article
on the Executive.

MR. NOLLEDO: Will the Gentleman yield to only one question?

MR. OPLE: Very gladly.

THE PRESIDENT: Commissioner Nolledo is recognized.

MR. NOLLEDO: Will the proposed provisions apply if the President is absent because he claims to be writing a book?

MR. OPLE: Yes, but we put the burden on him to tell a lie to the people in derogation of his duties in the Constitution.

REV. RIGOS: Madam President.

THE PRESIDENT: Commissioner Rigos is recognized.

REV. RIGOS: Madam President, will the proponent entertain one very small amendment? In his proposal, the proponent says, “IN CASE OF SERIOUS ILLNESS OF THE PRESIDENT.” Would he consider deleting the word “SERIOUS” so that the phrase only reads: “IN CASE OF ILLNESS”? If we say “serious illness,” we almost have to have someone who should determine whether his illness is serious or not. So, I suggest that we delete the word “SERIOUS.”

MR. OPLE: Madam President, if a President is merely down with flu, I do not think this safeguard ought to operate. But medical authorities — and we have an ample supply of them in this country — will know exactly when an illness has become serious.

REV. RIGOS: But the former President was reported to be suffering from flu and yet nobody believed it.

MR. OPLE: At that time, he had no constitutional standard to satisfy.

MR. ABUBAKAR: May I ask the proponent a few questions?

Concerning the President or the Executive of any state, his health primarily does not only concern the nation but also his family and probably his own personal advisers and physician. Then, why should we subject the state of health of the President to another institution or entity which has no direct concern over his health and may not know the background of his illness?

MR. OPLE: Is the Gentleman referring to the Minister of Health or other appropriate authority?

MR. ABUBAKAR: Yes. He could be the Minister of Health in as far as the President views the health situation of the country and his people. But this is a personal matter concerning the health of the President. Like us, the Members of the Commission, we do have our personal physicians, and this is a matter between us and our own physicians. So, the state of health or analysis as to the actual condition of the President should be left to the President and his doctor.

MR. OPLE: Is Commissioner Abubakar suggesting that we eliminate the phrase “THROUGH THE MINISTER OF HEALTH OR OTHER APPROPRIATE AUTHORITY”?

MR. ABUBAKAR: Yes.

MR. OPLE: We accept the amendment, madam President.

MR. ABUBAKAR: Thank You.
MR. OPLE: The first sentence will now read: IN CASE OF SERIOUS ILLNESS OF THE PRESIDENT THE PUBLIC SHALL BE INFORMED OF THE STATE OF HIS HEALTH.

MR. SUAREZ: Madam President.

THE PRESIDENT: Commissioner Suarez is recognized.

MR. SUAREZ: Thank you, Madam President.

Will the Gentleman yield to only one clarificatory question?

MR. OPLE: Very gladly.

MR. SUAREZ: Thank you.

In all seriousness, will the proponent give us examples of what he would consider a serious illness? This for purposes of clarification in the record,
Madam President.

MR. OPLE: A serious illness in my layman’s opinion ought to be one that almost but not quite incapacitates the President for that period of the serious illness.

MR. SUAREZ: Is there no duration as to the physical incapability or incapacity of the incumbent President?

MR. OPLE: I feel that as the proponent of this amendment, I might be usurping the competence others technically better prepared to answer this question. If there is a doctor in the Commission, maybe we can recruit him right now for his expert advice.

MR. SUAREZ: Maybe the Honorable Quesada could be of some assistance to us in this regard.

MR. ROSALES: Will the Gentleman yield to question, Madam President?

MR. OPLE: Very gladly.

MR. ROSALES: Is a President, receiving dialysis treatment. considered seriously ill?

MR. OPLE: Since this deals with what is generally considered a serious organic ailment, a systemic disease, I suppose that, yes, this could come under the
class of serious illness.

MR. ROSALES: Thank you.

MR. SUAREZ: I think in fairness to future interpreters of our Constitution, we have to give examples of what would constitute serious illness on the part of the President that would necessitate the issuance of a medical bulletin, in a manner of speaking, Madam President.

MR. OPLE: Yes. I already defined the standard that if this illness is systemic or organic, it affects the whole organism. An example mentioned by Commissioner Rosales is a more or less advanced state of kidney illness that requires treatment by dialysis. There are, of course, infinite examples. But the standard I would like to suggest is one where he is not really incapacitated but seriously inconvenienced in the conduct of his urgent duties as President.

THE PRESIDENT: At any rate, the thrust of the amendment is that at least the public should be in- formed.

MR. OPLE: Yes, Madam President. It is the public’s right to know; besides, the safeguarding of our national survival and security can be irretrievably impaired if the access of those in charge of national security and foreign relations is cut off through confabulations in the household, so that the President is kept in a state of ignorance about a period of national danger.

THE PRESIDENT: With the elimination of the Minister of Health, who will then inform the public? I just want to clarify that.

MR. OPLE: Madam President, I think we will leave the burden to the Office of the President to choose the appropriate means of releasing information to the public.

THE PRESIDENT: What does the Committee say?

MR. GUINGONA: Madam President, I was going to propose an amendment because, from the discussion, it would seem that there are many details that have to be filled in. Commissioner Ople mentioned about who should give the information, and Commissioner Suarez was talking about what kind of illness would fall within the perception of the proponent. So, I thought, if the distinguished proponent would accept, the details should be left to the Congress to determine by law, because we have no physician in this body, and perhaps the legislature would be able to provide the details. I agree fully with the principle or the concept expressed by the honorable proponent.

MR. OPLE: I accept the amendment, and so the first sentence will now read: IN CASE OF SERIOUS ILLNESS OF THE PRESIDENT, THE PUBLIC SHALL BE INFORMED OF THE
STATE OF HIS HEALTH AS MAY BE PROVIDED BY LAW.


Madam President, I think I have just changed my mind after an expert on medical matters came around. We are called upon to be more trusting with respect to the Office of the President that they will know what appropriate means to take in order to release this information to the public in satisfaction of the public’s right to know about the presidency.

MR. GUINGONA: Madam President, may I explain? I thought all along that the honorable proponent was thinking of a situation such as when recently there was an attempt on the part of the Executive not to inform the public. And now, we are going to entrust this obligation or duty . . .

MR. OPLE: Madam President, we will leave something for people power to do. Maybe Commissioner Aquino can lead a march, if they are not satisfied with the information coming from the Office of the President.

THE PRESIDENT: So, the proponent does not accept the amendment.

MR. OPLE: Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: Is Commissioner Guingona also not insisting on his proposed amendment?

MR. GUINGONA: No, Madam President.

THE PRESIDENT: Are we now ready to vote?

MR. RODRIGO: Madam President, just one question.

THE PRESIDENT: Commissioner Rodrigo is recognized.

MR. RODRIGO: If there is such a provision in the Constitution, there must be a sanction for the violation of that provision. So, for the record, if the incumbent President fails to comply with this provision, will this be considered as culpable violation of the Constitution which is ground for impeachment?

THE PRESIDENT: What does Commissioner Ople say?

MR. OPLE: Did the Gentleman ask if this will be a culpable violation of the Constitution?

MR. RODRIGO: If the President fails to comply with this, would it be classified as culpable violation of the Constitution?

MR. OPLE: I think we are using the moral pressure of the Constitution.

MR. RODRIGO: For the record, would failure to comply with this constitutional mandate be considered culpable violation of the Constitution which is one of
the grounds for impeachment?

MR. OPLE: In the sense that a constitutional standard was violated, I think that is a perfectly censurable act. But I am not inclined to say at this point that it attains to the level of a culpable violation.

MR. RODRIGO: Thank you.

FR. BERNAS: Madam President, since it is not clear who is commanded to make the revelation, we cannot determine really who culpably violates the Constitution. I think the intention of the proponent is merely to establish a principle in general terms.

MR. OPLE: Yes, Madam President.

SUMMARY: In short, the framers of the 1987 Constitution originally intended the Minister of Health (now called Secretary of Health) to inform the public in case of serious illness of the President. Later, they decided to change it to "as may be provided by law," thereby giving the Congress the power to craft rules regarding the matter.

However, after much deliberation, the final draft neither had the first proposal nor the second. Now, it reads: "In case of serious illness of the President, the public shall be informed of the state of his health." Therefore, in case there is an attempt on the part of the Executive to hide his state of health, it is up to the people to use their freedom of speech and expression if they are not satisfied with the information coming from the Office of the President.

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