• The Pasig Review

Marcos and Martial Law (Third of Five Parts)

From the Desk

The Legal Cover

With the possibility that the Convention would approve the Ban-Marcos Resolution, President Marcos used his most dangerous card in order to stay in power. So as to justify the argument that lawlessness and violence had reached a level that ordinary measures can no longer contain, a staged ambush of Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile was performed on September 22, 1972. The next day, the president appeared on television, announcing that effective two days earlier, the whole country had been placed under martial law. He cited seven threats to the Republic as the justification for the imposition of military rule:

The communist revolutionaries, now divided into the “traditionalists” and the “Maoists”; the rightists with their plans for a coup d’etat; the Muslim secessionist movement in Mindanao and Sulu (the two main islands which comprise our “Southern backdoor”); the private armies and the political warlords, who were actually the power brokers in the old society; the criminal elements, which partly promoted and took advantage of the situation; the oligarchs, who sought by all means to maintain the status quo and were possibly allied with the rightist conspirators; and the foreign interventionists, evidence of whose funding was confirmed by the Government through banks in Japan, Hongkong and the United States of America.

Leaders of the opposition, including incumbent and former senators Benigno Aquino, Jr., Jose Diokno, Francisco Rodrigo, and Ramon Mitra, as well as other personalities allied with the anti-Marcos movement were imprisoned. To implant fear in the Convention and to ensure the passage of a constitution favourable to the incumbent president, eleven delegates were among those placed under military custody. Augusto Sanchez of Pasig, representing the second district of the province of Rizal, was rumored to have been included in one of the detention lists.

And, true enough, the resolution was rejected by a majority of the Convention delegates, and the promulgated version of the Constitution did not expressly forbid the incumbent president from holding the highest position in the land. Later events proved that the stir caused by the resolution was all for naught: with martial law firmly in place, and in lieu of free elections, all it took was to hold rigged referenda to give President Marcos’ rule a semblance of public support. The first was held on July 27 and 28, 1973, allowing President Marcos to stay in power beyond 1973, and the second on December 17, 1977, authorizing the incumbent president to stay on both as president and assume the powers of the prime minister following the 1976 amendments to the Constitution.

In the waning months of the Constitutional Convention, the delegates were again faced with the choice between approving or rejecting what Senator Salonga considered “the most scandalous provision he has ever read in any Constitution”—the Transitory Provision. This provided for the convening by the president of an interim National Assembly, composed of the incumbent president and vice-president, president of the Constitutional Convention, and incumbent senators and representatives who opt to serve in the new legislative body. To entice the delegates to approve the article, those who vote affirmatively for the provision were automatically made members of the interim National Assembly—extremely palatable to the delegates who would become lawmakers without the benefit of an election. Senators were likewise given the prerogative to serve in the interim National Assembly.

More jarring, however, was the inclusion of Section 3 (2):

All proclamations, orders, decrees, instructions, and acts promulgated, issued or done by the incumbent President shall be part of the law of the land, and shall remain valid, legal, binding, and effective even after lifting of martial law or the ratification of this Constitution, unless modified, revoked, or superseded by subsequent proclamations, orders, decrees, instructions, or other acts of the incumbent President, or, unless expressly and explicitly modified or repealed by the regular National Assembly.

This all the more gave credence to the lingering impression that the Convention was a mere rubber stamp of the powers that be, that the new Constitution was drafted with President Marcos’ interests in mind, and was meant to justify his assumption of dictatorial powers following the proclamation of martial law a few months back. But since it was the president’s desire that the article be adopted—and no one would dare disobey President Marcos’ wishes—the article was eventually overwhelmingly approved.

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