Who's the Designated Survivor? The Very Short Presidential Line of Succession, Explained

Breaking down all the colorful characters on the presidential line of succession.

While the passing of Queen Elizabeth II in September brought an end to the 70-year-long Second Elizabethan Era—news that unsurprisingly rocked the world—the death of the world leader hardly introduced a new age of messy and chaotic political times, as the deaths of political figures have been, uh, famously well-known to do so in history. One could chalk it up to the Queen being the sovereign head of state, while the government is primarily run by the Prime Minister, but there’s no doubt that the well-established royal line of succession played a large role in “keeping the peace,” as it were.

No country’s order of succession and safety contingencies should their world leader kick the bucket at an untimely hour are simple—even with all the hearings and meetings to put these rules into laws—but it’s best to be aware of what the intricacies are, to avoid said messy and chaotic political times. Saving you that Wikipedia or Official Gazette click, here’s a breakdown of what exactly happens if the President of the Philippines dies in office, because the laws we have in place may surprise you.

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Who’s on the Presidential Line of Succession in the Philippines?

The current law, as detailed in the 1987 Constitution, has four main players on the presidential line of succession. Should the President die, become permanently disabled, be removed from office, or resign, the Vice-President takes over, is sworn into the Office of the President, and fulfills the remainder of the term as President. (Official Gazette)


We’ve seen this happen not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times in Philippine history, when Veep’s Sergio Osmeña and Elpidio Quirino took over their respective President Manuel’s (Quezon and Roxas), after each died of natural causes. Carlos P. Garcia notably did the same when President Ramon Magsaysay died in a plane crash three years into his term, while VP Gloria Macapagal Arroyo got her early entrance into the Presidential gig when President Joseph “Erap” Estrada was impeached and then resigned in 2001. 

We follow the VP with players number three and four on the presidential line of succession, the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively. Only, should both the Offices of the President and Vice-President become prematurely vacant, said successor will only be installed as “Acting President.” (Official Gazette) Important distinction there. 

While the Senate President or House Speaker could get their untimely and unfortunate promotion, they merely get the powers and duties of the position, and not the position itself. Sort of like how your friend could lend you their password-less phone as they head over to the washroom, and you theoretically could do anything you wish with the phone while they’re gone, but it’s still their phone and they will be returning, so don’t get any power-tripping ideas.

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Following the event of the President’s and Vice-President’s deaths, permanent incapacitations, removals from office, or resignations, the Acting President takes on the powers and duties of the Office, while Congress calls for a special election three days after either of the Offices are vacated. According to the Constitution, “the special election should occur 40 days after the enactment of the law, but not later than 60 days after the enactment of the law.” (Official Gazette)

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Now, since we’ve noted the major players on the presidential line of succession, let’s talk about the minor—you don’t need to know them, but probably should—players in the rest of the list of successors to become “Acting President.” Following the House Speaker, we’d have the most senior senator in terms of service to the Senate. As senators only usually serve two consecutive terms, keep an eye out for the senator who’s on their third or higher non-consecutive term, as they’d be likely to fall in the presidential line of succession.

Following the most senior senator is the most senior representative from the House of Representatives (again, in terms of service) and, finally, a cabinet member specifically chosen by the current president to be a “designated survivor” in the event everyone preceding them in the line of succession just so happens to be, uh, wiped off the board. If you haven’t seen the Netflix series, a designated survivor is pretty much a chosen elected official who doesn’t attend the same event which all members of the line of succession are expected to be at, so the annual State of the Nation Address, for example.

While appeasing to know that there is at least a contingency for the unlikely event that the six people on the presidential line of succession are somehow unable to perform the duties of the Office, there actually isn’t. At least, not officially. Former Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson filed in 2019 a bill that proposed the extension of the presidential line of succession past the House Speaker, to include the most senior senator, most senior House representative, and a designated survivor. However, the bill, as of September 2022, is still pending being passed into legislation. (Senate of the Philippines)


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It must be human nature for people to procrastinate on “urgent” tasks that don’t have a strict deadline. It famously took the aforementioned United Kingdom almost 700 years before landing on the Act of Settlement 1701 and Sophia of Hanover to clearly define the descendants to take the Crown. Likewise, the United States saw eight presidents dying in office before the 25th Amendment put a detailed structure of succession into legislation. 

Coming back full circle, the Philippines follows in that tradition of having a measly four-person presidential line of succession two decades into the 21st Century. God save the Philippines, indeed.


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