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Marcos and Martial Law (Fourth of Five Parts)

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By November 29, 1972, the framing of the new constitution had been completed. After having affixed their signatures to the document on November 30, 1972, the delegates presented the new charter to the President in ceremonies held at the Palace on the same day. Through a resolution, the Convention requested President Marcos to schedule a plebiscite, to which the president acceded by issuing Presidential Decree No. 73 on December 1, 1972, fixing the date of the referendum for January 15, 1973. When it became evident that the new Constitution would be rejected by the citizenry, President Marcos deferred the conduct of the plebiscite. What was held on January 10 to 15, 1973, instead, were barangay assemblies, hastily created by virtue of Presidential Decree Nos. 86 and 86-A issued on December 31, 1972 and January 5, 1973, respectively, wherein the people were consulted on various matters including the approval of the new constitution, the holding of a plebiscite for that purpose, the holding of elections in November 1973, and the convening of Congress on January 22, 1973. Though many regarded these gatherings as farcical and misleading, President Marcos, through Proclamation No. 1102 issued on January 17, 1973, declared the 1973 Constitution ratified by the barangay assemblies, effectively forestalling the opening of Congress and declaring its abolition with the operation of the new Constitution. Succeeding challenges to the implementation of the new charter were dismissed by the Supreme Court by a 6 to 4 vote.

As if it were not enough that the new constitution was tailored-fit to his schemes, President Marcos still had one act of betrayal to perform to prove that he was the ultimate power in the country. The same referendum that approved the new charter also suspended the convening of the Interim National Assembly mandated by the notorious transitory provision of the constitution, dashing the hopes of those who approved the provision and the members of Congress who believed that they would constitute the new legislative body under the new constitution. And since the 1973 Constitution provided for a different legislative body, military offices padlocked the offices and session halls of the Senate and the House of Representatives at the Legislative Building on the morning of January 22, 1973, signalling the abolition of the two lawmaking bodies—all part of the overall plan of President Marcos to arrogate all the powers of government, including the judicial to a less blatant extent, unto himself. President Marcos defended himself against accusations that he had single-handedly abolished the old Congress:

The claim that I abolished the old Philippine Congress under the Constitution of 1935 is without basis in fact. I proclaimed Martial Law on September 21, 1972. On this date, the Congress of the Philippines continued to meet in session but was adjourned for the year. It was supposed to resume its session on the fourth Monday of January 1973. The fourth Monday usually falls on the 24th or 25th of the month. On January 17, 1973, however, the new Constitution of 1973 was ratified by the Filipino people. This new Constitution provided for a parliamentary system of government and created the interim National Assembly and thus abolished the old Congress of the Philippines operating under the Constitution of 1935. Accordingly, there was no need for any authority or person much less the President to act to bring about the elimination of the Philippine Congress. The people of the Philippines had already taken final action. The old Congress had lapsed into nonexistence with the Constitution of 1973.

The abolition of Congress served yet another purpose. Should the term of the president or vice-president expire without their successors having been elected, the Senate President would have become acting president. And true enough, no presidential elections were held in November 1973. But President Marcos had already eliminated any rival for power by abolishing the legislative body. Senate President Puyat, who would have acted in President Marcos’ stead upon the expiration of his term, did not have any illusions, to his credit, that the President would readily give the presidency up. Thus the stage was set for the seemingly perpetual hold by President Marcos on power.

With the entire power of the state at his disposal, President Marcos was able to quell any form of dissent against his rule, with any means possible. Human rights abuses, such as forced incarcerations, torture, and even killings, were committed. The due process of law seems to have been suspended, all in the name of silencing enemies of the state, which, in truth, were simply enemies of the President. The Lacaba brothers, who both studied at the Pasig Catholic College and who were critical of the President, both suffered in the hands of the military. Emmanuel was summarily executed in Davao del Norte, while Jose, who had been imprisoned, was only released after Nick Joaquin made it as a condition for his acceptance of the National Artist Award. To counter these abuses, a band of lawyers organized the Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity, and Nationalism (MABINI). The group included Sanchez and Rene Saguisag from Pasig, Jejomar Binay of Makati, and other legal luminaries who defended those who fell victim to the injustices of the regime.

For more than five years, President Marcos was able to exercise lawmaking functions in the form of Presidential Decrees, Letters of Instructions, General Orders, Executive Orders, Proclamations, and other executive issuances which, as the transitory provision stipulated, remained part of the law of the land. The Batasang Bayan, created by Presidential Decree No. 955, convened on September 21, 1976, and composed of appointive members from the cabinet, local governments, and special sectors, was merely an advisory body and did not enjoy lawmaking functions. The prerogative to adopt or reject their proposals still remained with President Marcos.

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