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Marcos and Martial Law (Second of Five Parts)

From the Desk

The 1973 Constitution

No charter, however well-crafted, could be expected to remain immutable and unchanging while the citizens it was written for are themselves dynamic. Naturally, the constitution, as the tool of the people, needs to change with the demands of the times. The first stirrings for changes to the charter began in the 1950s. However, despite various attempts, nothing materialized until 1967.

With the approval of three Resolutions of Both Houses on March 16, 1967, the process to amend or completely revise the constitution was set in motion. The second of these R. B. H.s called for a convention to propose amendments to 1935 Constitution. The convention was to be composed of two (2) elective delegates from each representative district, to be elected in the general elections to be held on the second Tuesday of November, 1971. Republic Act No. 4914, approved on June 17, 1967, mandated the election of delegates.

As envisioned in Republic Act No. 4914, each representative district were allotted two delegates, or a total of 214 members. With the passage of R.B.H. No. 4 on June 17, 1969, and the introduction, on the same date of Senate Bill No. 1065 by the Committee on Codes and Constitutional Amendments, the number of delegates was increased to 320, with each representative district having at least two delegates on the basis of proportional representation.

The bill eventually became Republic Act No. 6132, approved on August 24, 1970, and governed the election of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Republic Act No. 6176, approved on May 27, 1971, amended the 1971 Constitutional Convention Act by mandating that the opening session of the convention be held at the Manila Hotel on June 1, 1971, instead of in the session hall of the House of Representatives as stipulated in the original act.

When the Constitutional Convention opened, the nation saw a new breed of men “out to alter the pattern of traditional politics in the country.” The delegates themselves were aware of the dual role they were expected to perform: framing a new Constitution and creating a new image of political responsibility in our public life. It did not take long before the spirit of traditional politics engulfed the convention: its leaders were elected on the basis of personality and not on programs or ideologies—a continuation of the old system the convention was supposed to eradicate. What was envisioned as a non-partisan assembly of the finest minds of the nation—one of the demands of the reformists in the First Quarter Storm a few months before—eventually became hostage to political considerations and influences. Not a whimper of concern was heard when the president suspended the writ of habeas corpus, and only a belated expression of sympathy was made, after an appeal to the delegates’ moral sensibilities, for the victims of the Plaza Miranda bombing.

It also did not help that the convention itself was tainted with the suspicion that it was a tool of Malacañang, or that it was in the hands of the Establishment, or that it beckoned to strong lobbies of American, Chinese, Japanese, and other foreign complexion.

Of the two most contentious issues in the 1971 Constitutional Convention—the national territory and the form of government—it was the latter that proved more controversial and nearly caused the breakdown of the convention itself. Pre-convention surveys revealed that only 5.6 per cent of the delegates favour a shift to the parliamentary system, while 19.4 per cent prefer a semi-parliamentary system. The others were leaning towards the retention of the presidential system, provided that reforms were instituted. The pro-parliamentary delegates argued that the “country could not be redeemed from the rut in which it had bogged down unless it adopts the parliamentary system of government,” and that this system “is the only system that can remove the causes of graft and corruption in the government.” Besides, had the First Republic survived, the Philippines would have had a longer tradition under the parliamentary form of government. Those against it feared that the government would lose rapport with the people who are used to electing the head of government by direct vote. Moreover, if the people has already lost its faith in the legislature, regarding it as one of the most corrupt institutions in the government, then why entrust it with executive functions?

The parliamentarists threw their weight behind the no re-election, anti-dynasty resolution that would effectively ban President Marcos or his wife from running for a new term in 1973, arguing that the a clean slate entailed the emergence of new leaders and the eschewing of the old system the incumbent president represented. To allow President Marcos to run for a third term is a mockery of the mandate for change demanded by the people when they elected the delegates for the Convention. Besides, the results of the 1971 general elections wherein most of the president’s candidates lost reflect the sentiment that the people have had enough of Marcos. In the Committee on Executive Power, the parliamentarists vigorously defended their position for a shift in the system of government, but the presidential form held such a sway over the delegates that towards the end of 1971, the Committee voted for the retention of the presidential system of government. When Delegate Gerardo Espina announced that the Committee he headed had opted for the presidential form, sans complete draft, he was instructed by the Convention to submit a full version, defining the structure, the officers, their respective terms of office, functions, jurisdiction, powers and the offices under the proposed form of government for the proper assessment of the Convention. When the complete draft was presented to the Committee at the end of 1971, the members overwhelmingly gave it their approval.

But then, a curious thing happened. Invoking their privilege to change their minds, a bloc of committee members pushed for a new vote, reviving the issue of whether the Committee should adopt a parliamentary or a presidential system. In no time at all, a large chunk of presidentialists had turned parliamentarists, producing and quickly approving a draft espousing the parliamentary form of government, downgrading the erstwhile majority report favouring the presidential system into the minority report. More unsettling was the absence of the no re-election and dynasty provisions, included in previous iterations of the Committee reports, in the new draft. Since the document called for the popular election of a ceremonial president and the election by the National Assembly of a Prime Minister, the no re-election ban had become unnecessary, according to the new parliamentarists, paving the way for the continued hold on power by President Marcos. The adoption of the parliamentary form of government could only benefit the President’s ambitions: he could continue being president without subjecting himself to a general election which, many pundits agree, he would surely lose, since the chief executive would be elected by the party in power of which he is leader.

Casting a dark cloud over the Convention proceedings was the suspicion that the presidentialists-turned-parliamentarists changed their minds for 10,000 reasons—an allusion to the money envelopes received by the delegates from sources allied to the Palace—allegedly in exchange for their votes against proposed provisions inimical to President Marcos’ interests. Delegate Eduardo Quintero revealed that he received 18 envelopes containing various amounts totalling P11,150 from March to May 1972. Before the Committee on Privileges, Delegate Quintero stated that he was pressured by the President to withdraw his signature from the Ban Marcos resolution which, at that time, was under intense discussion in the Convention. The resolution read:

No person who has at any time served as President of the Philippines, under this or the previous constitution, shall be eligible to occupy the same office or that of Prime Minister. The spouse of such person shall be ineligible to occupy either office during the unexpired office of his term or in the immediate succeeding term.

The First Lady also allegedly admitted to him that she was the source of the envelopes to assist the delegates from Samar and Leyte, her home province, financially. From then on, the integrity of the Convention became questionable, with many believing that the Constitution would be nothing more than a document that would justify the Marcoses’ stay in power.

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