A number of state leaders have contracted COVID-19. Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Boris Johnson of the UK, and US President Donald Trump have all been infected. As a protocol, their respective administrations have disclosed their health status to the public, as well as details of their hospitalizations and treatments.
But what if Pres. Rodrigo Duterte contracts the killer virus?
If he catches COVID-19, he is required to tell the public about it, regardless of the severity of his case. If his symptoms are mild or he has none at all, he could continue to wield his power as the nation’s president. But if his symptoms are severe and he can’t properly do his job, a transfer of powers may take place.
Under article VII, section 11 of the constitution, in the event that the president is unable to discharge the duties and powers of his office, he is mandated to transmit a written declaration of the same to the Senate President and the Congress via the House Speaker. The majority of all the members of the cabinet may also transmit it to the Congress if the president is unable to do so.
In both scenarios, the vice president will assume the powers of the office as acting president. The president, once they regain their physical health, can reassume powers through another process,
In case the president himself transmits the written declaration of temporary disability, he could reassume the exercise of his powers and duties upon transmitting a written declaration that he is able to discharge them once more. Otherwise, the vice president will continue taking on the role of acting president.
If the cabinet transmits the written declaration, the president could submit another stating that no such inability exists so that he may reassume his powers and duties. The cabinet, however, may then transmit within five days their written declaration that the president is unable to do so.
The Congress shall then decide the issue. If Congress determines — by a two-thirds vote of both houses voting separately — that the president is unable to discharge his powers and duties, the vice president shall continue acting as president.
The most crucial part of this issue will have to be the Palace’s willingness to be transparent. They might want to project an image of strength and simply shrug off any issues. Worse, they may deny it outright.
In the past four years, the Palace has kept mum when it comes to matters of Duterte’s health. They have been secretive about the president’s trips to medical check-ups, refused to issue medical bulletins, and simply averted questions relating to allegations of illnesses or underlying conditions. On more than one occasion, it would be Duterte himself who would talk about an ailment he is suffering from.
The idea of transferring powers to a figure of the opposition will also likely not sit right with the president’s tight-knit alliance. They are known to shun anyone that disagrees with them, and are staunch supporters of everything that the president stands for. An outsider such as, say, Vice President Leni Robredo, who is also the leader of the opposition, may not receive the best fanfare if she ever assumes the position of acting president. After all, even as vice president, the Palace has not been welcoming to Robredo.
If Pres. Duterte contracts the virus and his symptoms turn out to be severe, rendering him unable to perform his duties as president, will the ruling party in the administration allow a seamless transfer of powers? And, perhaps more importantly, if Duterte becomes infected, will the Palace even disclose the president’s diagnosis in the first place?