Aug 19

Response of Zeneida Quezon Avanceña to the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation for the posthumous awarding of the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation Medal to President Manuel L. Quezon


Response of

Zeneida Quezon Avanceña

to the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation for the

posthumous awarding of the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation Medal to President Manuel L. Quezon

at the Inauguration of the Museo Ni Manuel Quezon

Quezon Memorial Shrine, Quezon City

August 19, 2015


In November we will mark 80 years since my father became the first president elected to office by the people. As my father climbed the stairs of Malacañan Palace, he remembered a story. It was a legend about the mother of our national hero, Jose Rizal. The legend goes that Rizal’s mother climbed those stairs on her knees, to beg for clemency for her son who had been condemned to die. He vowed that as a Filipino leading the Filipino nation, he would never be cruel or callous to calls for compassion.

This was not an idea that came to my father only in middle age. Eighty-eight years ago, in 1927, an Indonesian nationalist named Tan Malacca came to the Philippines and the Dutch authorities asked the Americans to deport him. Filipinos rallied to his cause. In his memoirs, Tan Malacca quoted my father as saying that “the right of asylum is one of the principles of democracy and humanity, which has been adopted by civilized nations.”

My father lived those words and opened the doors of our country to refugees from Shanghai, from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, and as historians are discovering, ensured that our Immigration Act would give him and all his successors, the lawful means to respond to the needs of the dispossessed and persecuted seeking sanctuary in our shores.

In devoting his life to the freedom and independence of our country, he never forgot that freedom is the birthright of all. That what we demand and expect for ourselves, we must defend and uphold for others. Prosperity comes and goes but it is generosity, empathy, and solidarity that is the true measure of an individual and of nations. In these things the Filipino is the equal of anyone in the world.

In honoring my father today, you honor the people who trusted him to lead them—for while it was he who opened the door, it was the Filipino people who embraced as neighbors those who sought sanctuary in the Philippines. And it was, and is, as a people, that we have proven we are willing and able to be not just hosts, but friends.

On behalf of my father and our family and the country we love so much, I thank the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation for this great honor. May it encourage future generations of Filipinos to stay true to the compassionate ideals of our founding fathers.

Thank you.

Jun 10

Rogue June 2015: 50 Most Influential Filipinos Online



Rogue’s June 2015 Technology issue features the 50 Most Influential Filipinos Online:


50 Most Influential Filipinos Online (ROGUE June 2015)


May 28

Presentation on The Philippines’ Key APEC Messages for 2015

Presentation at the Capacity Building Workshop on Communications

APEC 2015 Strategic Communications Committee and the APEC Secretariat

The Philippines’ Key APEC Messages for 2015

Venue: Social Hall, 4/F Mabini Hall, Malacanan Palace, Manila

by Manuel L. Quezon III

May 28, 2015

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“It’s not a slogan, it’s a basic truth.”

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“Our logo and slogan are your first keys to getting the job done. Other people will be intimidated to hear what this is about, but you can latch onto something here to strike a conversation. Always go back to the central message.” “We will be doing many different things to bring it [slogan] forward, and find unique ways to do it. But we should be in-sync with the national team. It’s the little details that tell people we are in-sync or not.” “If everything has meaning, then we are committed to uphold that meaning. We have to do it, and do it right.”

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“The hurdle we have to get over is: don’t get lost in translation. In trying to put forward what we want to communicate, that is the challenge we face.”

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“Show that Fun Works – you can do it in a way that makes your country proud. You can do it in a way that makes people happy to be a part of it. Make it happen in a way that it is memorable, together with the Filipinos.”

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“A picture paints a thousand words. It can draw you in and make you human. Always remember that the first impression counts, and it can tell a story.”

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“Keep it short, simple and consistent. A document usually has meaning for those who produced it. Your challenge is to make it meaningful for someone who has never heard of it. Despite jargon, you have to find ways to get the meaning across. There has to be certain standards and what your team is doing cannot contradict another team. It requires familiarity with what we’re doing.”

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“Be inclusive, not exclusive. People often take this as a unique moment in time, where we can contribute in unique ways. This may cause us to be exclusive, out of pride. But you don’t want to drive people away. We need to be inclusive. We may all be parts of different teams, but we are also part of a national family. It begins with your approach, if you understand what its about, then what an accomplishment it is, then you can bring in others to be a part of that good news.”

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“Using the APEC Page as an example, it is clean, easy to access, easy to read and organized. You can measure what the team is doing and give feedback.”

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On Facebook posts – “It’s about finding the right photo, the right information of the facets which need to be known, using the right hashtags and captions.”

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“Use every opportunity to present. Don’t throw everything at the wall, make it look effortless. If you have the basic framework in mind, your effectiveness will be enhanced.”

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“Our audience is the young professionals, the academe, journalists, owners of Small-to-medium enterprises. If they can be attuned to what you’re doing, you can engage them and expand your reach.”

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Apr 07

Rogue Magazine: The Twilight Zone


Rogue | April 2015

The Twilight Zone

by Manuel L. Quezon III

As a journalist who’s taken a Pentagon-sponsored tour of Korea’s Demilitarized Zone can tell you, not all government junkets need to be solemn and serious.


The best vacation is one paid for by someone else. People in academe, business, and government have raised work-related travel to a fine art: known as the conference, the convention, and the junket, respectively.

About two decades ago I went on one of those splendid American government junkets that give writers a lifetime’s worth of curious stories with which to regale their readers. The trip was jointly sponsored by the Pentagon and the State Department, whose representatives spent the trip bickering with each other as they jointly fended off the questions of our demanding press contingent.

Asian and regional journalists all of us, we included a Hong Kong journalist who admitted to us he was a colonel in the People’s Liberation Army (this was prior to the Hong Kong handover), a gloomy Russian nuclear expert who only brightened when somehow, roses came up in conversation (he collected stamps that featured roses on them), a cryptic Malaysian, an argumentative Sri Lankan, a demanding Bangladeshi, an apologetic Japanese (“So sorry for war!” he told the Southeast Asian contingent at each stop, but with particular regret when we were in Pearl Harbor, which made everyone very fond of him), a bulky, rebellious Australian, a refined New Zealander, and an irreverent Indonesian.

There was an elegant, attractive Indian editor whose feminine charms guaranteed that her Pakistani counterpart, a courtly, retired colonel set aside nationalism in favor of an old-fashioned gallantry.

There was also a Thai avidly flattered by our American minders (apparently American priorities at the time included basing war materiel in his country) and a South Korean editor who imparted fatherly advice (“Never trust the Americans,” he told me). And myself, on average two decades younger than all my companions. The Pentagon person took it upon himself to express his particular disappointment with Filipinos for kicking out the US bases.

Our grand tour began in South Korea and proceeded to Washington, D.C. before concluding in Honolulu, Hawaii. In South Korea we were taken around Seoul and paraded from one formal audience with local officials to another, including one particularly elaborate meeting with a think tank devoted to North-South reunification issues. It was a classic exercise in how to use up time saying nothing precise, using as many key words as possible. In the subway, I discovered grandmothers who spoke with their elbows –sharply—to get ahead of foreign slowpokes like me.

The most remarkable part was a day trip to the demilitarized zone — the DMZ — complete with the obligatory large, tourist bus, and chatty minders who made a grand production of the escalating security measures required as we approached the dreaded zone.

The Cold War had recently come to an end, and so there was a kind of other-worldly feeling to the whole thing as we hummed along on the bus, with the minders reminding us that “within 15 minutes” of the commencement of hostilities, jets could be screaming over Seoul and the capital imperiled by rocketry and artillery barrages. It seemed so thrillingly sinister, and yet, so improbable.

But as the bus droned on, the countryside gave way to reminders that South Korea was a country that had to constantly live under the specter of conflict.

There was Deaseong Dong (“Peace Village”), a tightly-regulated village with its 98.4 meter South Korean flagpole and Gijeong Dong, which our minders told us was a ghost town with its competing — and record-breaking — North Korean 98.4 meters flagpole and loudspeakers perpetually belting out eerie propaganda music. At night, our minders said, lights would be switched on to simulate human habitation of the “Propaganda Village.”

Once at Panmunjeon, with its Joint Security Area, we were brought to oohs and ahs at gigantic invasion tunnels constructed by the North Koreans: the menace of fanatical, Communist hordes made tangible; and then to gawk at the North Korean soldiers in their World War II Soviet-style uniforms, and the South Koreans in American-style MP uniforms glaring at each other while conducting a kind of martial choreography as they paced and peered and did the changing of the guard in their respective outposts. The South Koreans were better equipped: they had Ray-ban sunglasses to make them look more resolved.

If I recall correctly we then toured part of the heavily-mined, electrified frontier fence patrolled by South Korean troops. An orgy of grim statistics, of course: millions of mines, hundreds of watts of power, periodic attempts at infiltration and other kinds of border incursions, all the while punctuated by American heavy metal music blasting from South Korean outposts.

The end of the tour, of course, was the unintended punch line. After a few hours of being in the front lines of the impending Korean apocalypse, we were shepherded to a kind of glorified shack in which we were encouraged to buy “I was at the DMZ” keychains, T-shirts, jackets and baseball caps.

The Australian was particularly amused: “It all ends in Disneyland, eh?” From grim thoughts of the life-and-death struggle between the Free World and North Korea, matters quickly degenerated into complaints over the reduced rates of American per diems to we, the delegates (they were, apparently, more generous just a few years earlier).

In a moment of frankness (to which all Americans are so charmingly susceptible, sooner or later) one of our American minders later said that in his opinion, the old American alliance with South Korea was coming to an end; that it would only be a matter of time before they would be asked to leave South Korea. The youth, he said, were on the whole anti-American and once the ruling generation passed it would be, as they say, an entirely different ballgame.

As with all junkets, the after-hours entertainment was particularly conducive to international brotherhood. We were taken by a South Korean US Embassy minder to the sort of place where ladies do interesting things with raw eggs as a kind of cultural entertainment. Not really my kind of thing, but better than one of my more recent experiences a few years ago, in Berlin.

“Ladies and Gentlemen!” our German minder told us at one point during the day’s proceedings, “we now have 15 minutes for rest and relaxation!” He looked at us, looked at his watch, and continued, “you will now commence relaxation!” And he exercised the strictest supervision until he could point to his watch and bark, “relaxation must now cease!” And we rushed off to our next appointment.



Mar 12

Rogue Magazine: The Mourning After

2015-03 - March Rogue cover


Rogue | March 2015

The Mourning After

by Manuel L. Quezon III

As criticism bears down on his administration in the wake of the Mamasapano clash, President Aquino faces the impossibility of extricating his personal history from the national narrative.


THERE is a particularly painful grief that comes from having judged a person, only to discover later on, when it’s too late to matter to that person, that you were wrong. When those coffins emerged from the C-130s in Villamor Airbase, the steady beat of the drums, the constant repetition of “Nearer My God To Thee,” the sound of hundreds wailing as parents, wives, and children—realizing with finality that their loved ones were truly gone—broke the heart of a nation, one that had long ago consigned the uniform of a policeman to being a badge of shame instead of honor. We realized we had been wrong—and not just about one or two, but about many.


These men, in their metal coffins covered with the flag, were heroes.


The people of Zamboanga City knew it best of all. They had a personal relationship with the fallen; they viewed the liberation of their city from rogue elements of MNLF as a deliverance made possible by the SAF. It was a relationship the President shared, for we forget how he had joined them in the field and threw his full support behind them as they fought, with the Armed Forces, to clear the city, street by street. It was for this reason that he was in Zamboanga City soon after the bombs went off: the city was still recovering; its sense of security was still brittle; he wanted to ensure—and for the people of the city to know—that his interest in their recovery and their future security extended beyond past emergencies.


On his way to Zamboanga he began to get news that the operation in Maguindanao had, after its initial success, started to go very wrong. At once, conspiracy theories were hatched. When the President addressed the nation, the blame game took on Olympic proportions. Friend and foe alike joined the fray.


In August 2010, as dusk fell, the President came to our office and quietly told us that the unfolding Quirino Grandstand hostage crisis was reaching its most perilous point. The hostage-taker’s nerves are frayed, he said, and everyone involved will be tired and jittery; things can unfold in a matter of seconds, and the professionals must be primed to move swiftly and effectively to neutralize the hostage-taker if he snaps, and rescue the hostages—otherwise, a bloodbath would ensue. I will never forget how, as we watched the bloodbath he had feared take place on TV, at the back of my mind was the realization that the horror of the moment was compounded by what we knew, which was—the President had foreseen this, and he had been right.


Nor will I ever forget how, in the frantic, anxious minutes after he returned to the Palace, I suggested to him that he needed to go on TV immediately because the country needed a consoler-in-chief. He looked at me and said he owed the country the facts. He proceeded to interrogate the top brass; and only after this did he address the country. I only understood why he said this when it later emerged that prudent measures he had ordered to prevent mass slaughter were not carried out.


In subsequent crises—whether man-made, such as rebel attacks, or acts of nature, such as typhoons and earthquakes—we had the same President, but different reactions from him. His strengths—an understanding of logistics, a long view with regards to the national interest, a vise-like grip on his own emotions, a reluctance to say things for the sake of saying something, and an insistence on rationality and facts when addressing the public—have also been his weaknesses. We (the people), who live life so vividly, are often confounded by dogged determination to do his duty behind the scenes when what we have come to expect is the grand gesture, the clichéd phrase, cathartic unfolding of a familiar script.


When preparations were being made to return the remains of the fallen SAF troopers to Manila, the President instructed that the fullest honors be rendered; that every family’s particular circumstances be gathered, and every possible source within the limits of the law be explored, to provide for each family’s needs. Would he go to Villamor? No, he would not. But why? And he told a story: when they came home from Boston, they barely had any time to be together with their father for the last time: could we imagine what it was like to see his grisly remains for the first time? He would not deny them time. The families must have time to come to terms with their grief. He would not bring a circus to intrude but, instead, see them when his public role was proper—to deliver a eulogy—and his presence would serve a purpose beyond ritual: to assure them concrete plans were in place to provide material security to families confronted not only with grief, but anxiety about their future.


Here is where the vividness of the past collides with the forgetfulness of the present, and where duty defies expectations. The President was crucified for his absence in Villamor; and again, friend and foe alike thundered and shrilled, whether out of disappointment or delight.


The President belongs to a generation that was raised with a very different perspective on public emotion from what we have come to expect from celebrities. That perspective is derived from a life lived in public view; from a constant awareness not only of being constantly watched, but of always of being expected to set an example. This is particularly true of sons. I do not think and, indeed, I strongly doubt that my upbringing was very different from his—and from a very early age it involved a lot of don’ts: when in public, don’t fidget; stand up straight; mind your manners; do your duty, whether it’s enduring a speech, or making one; most of all, show strength and never cry. So thoroughly had this been drilled into me that, on the day of my father’s funeral, his reminders kept echoing in my head, and it was only when they were sealing his tomb, and most mourners had left, that I could cry. I practically collapsed in my aunt’s arms, and to this day, I wonder how she managed to keep us standing.


Consider this instinct, which is so strong in the natural course of things, and what it must be like for those who share the same instincts in the midst of the trauma of tragedy. My father lost his mother, sister, and brother-in-law in an ambush; among my earliest and most vivid memories was his telling me that the only time he had to properly grieve was in the brief time he had with his sister, when he arrived home after having been told the news. After that brief time together, time was not theirs, nor was grief; they were part of a collective experience that is both highly personal—for other relatives, friends, officials, and followers—and yet strangely impersonal, with everything reported, editorialized upon, filmed and photographed.


The President has said time and again that, when his father died, he became the head of the family, the protector of his mother and sisters—not only during times of genuine peril, but also in the years of near-constant political storms and stress. This is a situation that is not conducive to wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve, or demonstrating weakness, not just in public, but even in private. It is what made him who he is; it is the only way he knows how to do what he must.


Publicly, it meant he commiserated with the grieving the only way he knew how: in terms of his own loss, only for it to become clear how little anyone else can comprehend how colossal that loss was for him. Here was a very public rupture, indeed. Yet no one was at fault; certainly not those in the midst of grief; not a President confronted with, how unknowable to others, how deep one’s private loss can be; not the public, for whom the personal loss of yesterday had become intertwined with a national story of redemption at once deeply personal, yet which had become, over time, so distant.


We did not elect this President to be another run-of-the-mill leader. Every president ends up, sooner or later, obsessed with history; each one is the product, not only of the history of his or her times, but also of his or her own personal history. That history has been his strength, and at times, his weakness. Most, however, leave nothing to chance, and it is a rare President who takes the long view and possesses the certainty that, when the dust settles and emotions abate, vindication will be his. This surely comes at a high cost—not only politically, but personally. In the end, when he addressed the nation for a second time, he finally showed what he had felt all along, but hadn’t permitted himself, until that moment, to fully reveal.


Yet with the passing of that moment, he must continue to confront what he is: to his mind, someone not permitted the freedom of public emotion. For you will never be alone, never allowed to let go, never permitted to come to terms—until your own time is up, and the next generation steps forward to come to terms with what you had to live with all your life: neither joy nor grief are exempt from being public property.


Feb 16

Opening Remarks at the MacArthur and Laurel Perspectives of the War Years

Opening Remarks

At the MacArthur and Laurel

Perspectives of the War Years

Muralla Ballroom, The Bayleaf Hotel

Intramuros, Manila

February 16, 2015


It pains me deeply not to be able to join you today; a personal invitation from Mrs. Laurel is something I always look forward to. Our families are bound by the strong ties of affection; I myself am an admirer of the great senator Sotero H. Laurel, whose contributions, as a statesman and educator, added luster to the Laurel name, a name indivisible from the concepts of patriotism, statesmanship, and valor in service of the country.

I was also looking forward to meeting James Zobel, who has been very kind to my office in terms of helping us in our pursuit of historical documents through the MacArthur Memorial.

Let me say this: The 70th anniversary of the Battle of Manila and the forthcoming anniversary of the end of the war have brought an outpouring of memory, triggering a concerted effort to transition from remembrance to commemoration. As those who lived through those harrowing days pass from the scene, it is incumbent upon the rest of us, who continue to bear their memory, to pursue the task of understanding and giving meaning to their life experiences.

As part of that effort, I would simply like to share three points relevant to the topic at hand: the great dilemma that confronted Filipinos at that time under circumstances that were unique to our country. We forget that, then, among the nations in Southeast Asia, the Philippines was the only one that had a concrete expectation and understanding of independence. We were the only ones that had an autonomous government, and only we had our own Armed Forces, one pledged to the Allied cause.

On this note, let me share an excerpt from a letter of President Manuel L. Quezon to General Douglas MacArthur, dated January 28, 1942:

The relevant paragraphs read:

In reference to the men who have accepted positions in the commission established by the Japanese, everyone of them wanted to come to Corregidor, but you told me that there was no place for them here.

They are not Quislings. The Quislings are the men who betray their country to the enemy. These men did what they had been asked to do, under the protection of their Government. Today they are virtually prisoners of the enemy. I am sure they are only doing what they think is their duty. They are not traitors. They are the victims of the adverse fortunes of war and I am sure they had no choice. Besides, it is most probable that they accepted their positions in order to safeguard the welfare of the civilian population in the occupied areas. I think, under the circumstances, America should look upon their situation sympathetically and understandingly.

Here in a few paragraphs one can find the dilemma of those who had the responsibilities of leadership at that time, in particular of those who could not be part of the government-in-exile. The dilemma strikes at the heart of a crucial debate: what are the responsibilities of a Filipino leader to his fellow Filipinos. This goes beyond any other tie—political, legal, or even personal—as these leaders had to fulfill public duties, as well as address their own personal expectations of what constituted their duty to their country. This brings me to the dilemma faced by Sotero Laurel. When World War II broke out, Sotero Laurel was in the United States. He came to serve as secretary to Vice-President Sergio Osmeña. When the Japanese established the Puppet Republic and appointed Sotero’s father, Jose P. Laurel, as President, Sotero did the honorable thing: he offered to resign.

In response to that offer, this is the reply he received from President Quezon.

The letter is dated September 30, 1943:


My dear Laurel:

Your letter of September 27 touched my very soul. Being a father and having a son I understand what you mean. The question of your remaining in the service of the Government of the Commonwealth must be decided solely upon this question. Are you in conscience loyal to America and to the Government of the Philippine Commonwealth regardless of whether your father has in truth become pro-Japanese. If you are loyal to the Government of the Commonwealth it is your duty to remain in your job and it is my right to advise you to do so. I may say in passing that I am not convinced that your father is a traitor either to the United States or to the Philippines. I know him personally and have been closely connected with him officially for many years. I believe he is doing what he honestly believes is in the best interest of the Filipino people for the time being, and not because he has become a tool of the Japanese.

After saying what I have said it is a matter for you to decide what you should do. If you are loyal to America and to my government, stay in your job. If you are not, resign, and I will accept your resignation forthwith.


Sincerely yours,

Manuel L. Quezon


I have always maintained that the sins of the father should not weigh upon the son. But sons in turn have great latitude in adding to or diminishing the reputations of their fathers. Therefore, the true measure of a father is what a son does to uphold and live by the code of conduct of his father. Nothing speaks more highly of Laurel than what his son did: offering to resign. The letter speaks of this, far from the judgment of his peers.

I cannot, and I should not, preempt what Mr. Zobel will be saying today. We can trust that it will be both interesting and thought-provoking. We must ponder what he says with the spirit of impartial inquiry, from the perspective of an inquisitive Filipino. And today, I am reminded of the words of another great leader of that war.

In his eulogy for Neville Chamberlain, dated November 1940, Winston Churchill said:

It is not given to human beings, happily for them, for otherwise life would be intolerable, to foresee or to predict to any large extent the unfolding course of events. In one phase men seem to have been right, in another they seem to have been wrong. Then again, a few years later, when the perspective of time has lengthened, all stands in a different setting. There is a new proportion. There is another scale of values. History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days. What is the worth of all this? The only guide to a man is his conscience; the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions. It is very imprudent to walk through life without this shield, because we are so often mocked by the failure of our hopes and the upsetting of our calculations; but with this shield, however the fates may play, we march always in the ranks of honour.


This is how statesmen must be judged. This is how generals must be judged. This is how those who feel they have served their respective countries must also be judged.

Thank you very much, and good day.




Nov 14

Rogue Magazine: The Master of Tropical Baroque

Rogue Nov. 2014 cover

Rogue | November 2014


The Master of Tropical Baroque

by Manuel L. Quezon III


Nick Joaquin beautifully captured the country’s political landscape,
and created a literary benchmark that every writer aspires to attain.


Nick Joaquin to me was sin and stories. The first due to an early memory of my father arriving home with a copy of Manila: Sin City which he cautiously placed on a high shelf, beyond my reach; the second due to Pop Stories for Groovy Kids, one set in green, the other in orange, brought back from Erehwon, then the only “serious” bookstore in our vicinity. This was Manila, in the 1970s, during the Marcos dictatorship. (As a kid, it was his children’s stories; as a teen, it was the guilty pleasure of retrieving his book of essays from the forbidden shelf to read about gambling and prostitution, the heat of August and the Ruby Towers quake. The forbidden Sin City turned out to be rather tame but tantalizing nonetheless: it opened up history.) Not the history of textbooks, but history written in a hurry to meet magazine deadlines.

The pleasure of the forbidden would return when I made his novel Caves and Shadows the first “serious” novel I pestered my father to buy for me, my successful lobbying made more delicious by his failing to notice that the cover featured a crab on a woman’s breast, remarkably daring in book design in then-prudish Catholic Philippines. The book remains my favorite novel by a Filipino, made all the more precious because it long remained out of print.

Bored to tears by textbooks and the clumsy prose of historians, his A Question of Heroes opened up an appreciation of our greats that might otherwise have been impossible. His The Aquinos of Tarlac, now hard to find, but in its time the best-selling non-fiction work in the Philippines, brought forth, in turn, the discovery of political biography. His stories were now, for me, about sins: of the high and mighty, both generations gone and those in the here and now.

But it was when I found in a shop, and read with feverish delight, his Reportage on Politics, that his influence on me became profound. I had strayed from the writings of Filipinos, been entranced by the journalism-as-history of Ryszard Kapuscinski, a Pole who wrote on the decay and destruction of despots: of courtiers in hiding pining for the rule of the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie; of his witnessing the collapse of the autocracy of the Shah of Iran.

Abroad, watching from afar the senile last days of our homegrown dictatorship, foreigners seemed the only ones who could write about similar cases of the curtains coming down on dictatorships. Meaning was in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Autumn of the Patriarch, not in anything by a Filipino. Marquez’s book told the story of a dictator’s death, and its magical realism evoked the oddities of a society steadily achieving the removal of its homegrown tyrant. James Fenton seemed more capable of writing about the flight of the conjugal dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos than any Filipino.

Then came Nick Joaquin’s Quartet of the Tiger Moon, and for once there was a rival to James Fenton’s reportage on the fall of the House of Marcos, what Filipinos call the People Power Revolution of 1986.

But it was that one slim collection, his Reportage on Politics, found one weekend in 1988, in a tattered condition, that finally gave me what every aspiring writer needs: a model to emulate. Here were the stories I wanted to read, about the period I found most interesting: the period of the fallen Third Republic (our first period of independent democracy from 1946-1972), peopled by heroes and villains, most of whom were still alive, the rest departed not so long ago; an age so vivid to my elders but totally alien to my martial law baby eyes. Here was Mrs. Macapagal, the mother of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, setting out to clean a Palace now gone (demolished by her husband’s successor); here were political parties with rivalries stretching back generations; here were politicians castigating pollsters, denouncing survey results, movie idols making aborted runs for the presidency.

Most delightful of all, the book contained the finest piece of Filipino political reportage I’d ever read: “13 o’clock,” in which Speaker Pepito Laurel, drunk as a skunk, wrestles a microphone to the ground during a session of the House, and where, presiding over a sine die session in which the legislature literally commands time to stand still, a devious Ferdinand Marcos saves his senate presidency by surreptitiously restarting the clocks, allowing him to gavel the session adjourned. This was the model; the way to write about politics and politicians; this was the keen eye for detail, the mordant wit, the way to get it done. The only other literary journalist to approach his level of influence on me would be Pete Lacaba’s reportage on the First Quarter Storm (the student rebellions in 1970 in Manila) and was he not heir to the great Joaquin?

That same year, Tom Wolfe, my preeminent writing idol of the time, published a literary manifesto titled “Stalking the Billion Footed Beast”. Profound was its influence, simple though its message was: be curious! Look, observe, inquire, and by so doing, write real stories, whether in journalism or fiction. Ten years later, Nick Joaquin would make a speech with much the same message: seek out reality, embrace it, then mold it to your will; reality was the clay necessary to produce great works of the imagination.

As he himself pointed out, before the Latin Americans had given birth to magical realism, the humid improbabilities of say, Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, he had labored forth on what we like to call his Tropical Baroque. Long before Tom Wolfe published The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, there had been Joaquin with his reportage on politics, on people, events and crime (he felt great pride in the authorship of his crime pieces, bellowing an exhortation to me once, that they must be included in an anthology I was working on, something I was unable to do). And he was right; what’s more, unlike Americans like Wolfe, his journalism as fine writing has aged well. Kool Aid suffers from artifice; Joaquin’s reportage continues to shine.

He would close his more important public remarks with, “I have spoken.” A literal translation of the way the Tagalogs of old would close their more solemn remarks. General Emilio Aguinaldo, a Garibaldi of sorts for the Philippines, of whom he had written a play of penetrating psychological insight rivaled only by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s fictional meditation on Bolivar (The General in His Labyrynth), used to close his remarks in the same way. This small detail, to me, personified the manner in which his heritage was made the world’s by his pen.







Oct 15

Rogue Magazine: The unbearable burden of being

Rogue Cover - October 2014

Rogue | October 2014

The Unbearable Burden of Being

by Manuel L. Quezon III



Since independence in 1946, we have nearly doubled the number of our provinces, and gone from 18.4 million people to 100 million today. The sheer volume of both people and government means you have more doing less for more. And so you have officials and citizens, both, exasperated with the system.

 Having reestablished the government of France after the German Occupation, Charles de Gaulle went into a decade-long retirement, sulking in his tent like Achilles until the Algerian Crisis when he made a political comeback and established an almost monarchical presidency. He found the parliamentary government established after World War II frustratingly chaotic, leading to his famous remark, “How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?”  Luigi Barizin in his highly entertaining book, The Italians, explained his society in this manner: Italians, he argued, followed a double standard: extremely honorable in matters internal to the family, and willing to cross any line when it comes to the government which they are convinced is out to get them.

Sounds quite familiar, doesn’t it? Barzini did say that the Jews and the Chinese were quite similar; the writer and diplomat Leon Ma. Guerrero once described our society in a similar way, and for similar reasons. The sociologist Randy David has argued in recent years, that the latest manifestation of this is something he calls a Crisis of Modernity in our country —where old instincts and habits among the political class leads that class to be increasingly incapable of adjusting to the challenges of a society that is outgrowing what I call the “old obediences.”  The institutions that linked together to give cohesion to society —Church, club, and school— are increasingly losing out to new challengers; but the old network built around these institutions stubbornly cling to them, leading to the kind of frustration over social exclusion that drives so many of our best and brightest abroad. Not just as economic refugees, but in a kind of collective protest vote against how things are at home. And so while Lasallians, Ateneans and UPeans  still enjoy the best access to jobs in the public and private sector, those sectors are too small to absorb enough talent, which looks for opportunities elsewhere (this includes the Top Three graduates, by the way, particularly those who may have a degree but lack social or political pull). 

The son or daughter of a kasama, who becomes a seaman, or nurse, or nanny abroad, and who then saves up to buy a small house in the province, enables their family to leapfrog in status from serf to middle class in a generation. Without the acculturation —yes, Church, club, and school— the old middle class took for granted as setting it apart from the hoi polloi and granting it proximity to the so-called leading families. If the family remains teetering on the edge of security, say due to not being frugal, then the old powers-that-be retain a hold over the family of that breadwinner; but if, for example, the breadwinner in turn has children who study in better schools, but who focus on learning simply to be able to line up for a ticket or contract to go abroad, then the only stake at home they will fiercely defend is that most thorough of middle class rights, that of property. But politics? Whether in its crudest form, voting for a patron, or in terms of civic participation in the community? It is irrelevant and possibly downright dangerous and best avoided.

An OFW I once met on a flight home, after eight hours of singing the praises of good government, of a genuine party system, and other blessings of democracy, excused himself from our conversation as we began our descent by pulling out a big wad of cash and flamboyantly counting it out in my presence. “For customs,” he shrugged. We had earnestly discussed the changes the country needed —but for him, some things would never change. One day, someone bolder than I might take a stab on a fascinating book waiting to be written: the Filipinos whose ability made this country too small a pond for them to get big in, but who, upon achieving success abroad, came back: only to become every bit as cynical, venal, and ruthless as the movers and shakers they’d once despised, and despaired of. They had, in a sense already beaten them —so why join them?

Which brings me to the debates on forms of government, the arguments about amending or not amending the constitution, that periodically take up column inches in the papers and from time to time leads to “experts” being trotted out to say nothing about something in front of the cameras. To be sure everyone seems pretty eloquent about what they are against but become vague when asked to put forward what they actually want. You cannot help but think we are well and truly stuck between a rock and a hard place. A Filipino political scientist once expressed his exasperation with our post-EDSA system of government in this manner: “It is,” he said, “set up to guarantee to fail.” When I asked what, then, did he propose as a solution, he put forward a thoroughly middle-class proposal. Take away the vote from the masses! Abolish the presidency or make it a decoration! Shift to the parliamentary form of government where the professionals can elect one of their own to run the nation! 

Oscar Wilde once described an aristocrat in a foxhunt as the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable. You have the unelectable in full pursuit of the unpalatable.

There are many earnest and eloquent advocates of things like the parliamentary system but they tend to ignore the inconvenient question of how do you convince a national electorate to give up the one basic democratic right they understand, which is to periodically cast their vote —freely or for a fee— for the country’s leader? Then they expect congressmen and senators to lead the charge, when legislators themselves derive their position from the same electorate (which doesn’t mean they don’t dream of it: taking a cue from de Gaulle or Barzini, they would probably much prefer not having to deal with a head of state with a mandate independent of theirs). And yet, parliamentarists have at least tried to imagine a status quo different from the one we have at present. It is all very interesting. But it is not, in any real sense, a real public debate.

Writing in his diary on December 23, 1938, former Governor-General Francis Burton Harrison caught his friend Manuel L. Quezon in a moment of reflection. “The people care more for good government than they do for self-government,” Quezon told him, adding that “the fear is that the Head of State may either exceed his powers, or abuse them by improprieties. To keep order is his main purpose.” In the three generations since then, this seems as good a rule of thumb regarding public expectations of our leaders, as any.

In the end, what makes or break any proposal is something not found in any constitution —the constantly shifting sands of public opinion.



Sep 22

Rogue Magazine: Showdown with the Supremes

Rogue cover sept 2014

Rogue | September 2014

Showdown with the Supremes

by Manuel L. Quezon III

 How the President Marcos’ dance with the justices led to the constitutionality of a dictatorship.

A retired general once told me that the coded signal for the implementation of martial law was “happy birthday.” By and large, we’re familiar with the basic plan for its imposition: the amazingly harmless ambush attempt on Juan Ponce Enrile gave a pretext for Marcos to declare martial law. He therefore asserted his constitutional power to declare the existence of a rebellion, then went further and said there was a corresponding need to reform society. That was the gist of Proclamation 1081. What’s often overlooked is that the proclamation of martial law was accompanied by other orders that gave his proclamation teeth. He issued General Order No. 1 (a general order is an instruction to the armed forces by the president in his capacity as commander-in-chief), assuming all the powers of the entire government, and asserting he would direct the operations of the entire government, including all agencies and instrumentalities. He then issued Letter of Instruction to Kit Tatad (Press Secretary) and to Enrile (Secretary of National Defense), authorizing the siezure of and closure of private media. He then issued General Order No. 2-A, ordering Enrile to arrest individuals Marcos deemed enemies of the state and anyone else accused of offenses versus the Penal Code ranging from smuggling, drugs, tax evation, to public morals; and General Order No. 3, retaining all the courts but specifying that all challenges to martial law would be handled by military courts. This was also accompanied by General Order No. 4, imposing a midnight to 4 AM curfew. Finally, there was General Order No. 5, banning all demonstrations. In one fell swoop, in addition to ordering arrests, the closing of media, a stop to international flights and phone calls, and the capture of utilities like Meralco, he’d granted himself lawmaking powers as well as the power to limit the jurisdiction of the courts.


To this day, the exact chronology of the events of September 22-23, 1972 isn’t quite clear. In particular, the actual day and time he signed Proclamation 1081 has proven hard to pin down because Marcos himself was inconsistent about it. Although he made September 21 the official date, at one point (in January, 1973, talking to a conference of historians) he himself said he signed it on September 17. Some close to him assert it was signed at 9 PM on September 22, after the Enrile “ambush”. Other writers state it was signed at 3 AM on September 23. The public got to know about it when Marcos went on the air in the evening of September 23 to explain why most media had been shut down, with friendly stations broadcasting muzak and cartoons all day. In his broadcast, Marcos said he’d signed the proclamation on September 21, but that it had come into effect on the 22nd. The document itself provides a clue: it doesn’t bear the countersignature of either Executive Secretary Alejandro Melchor, or Assistant Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora —both of whom were out of town on September 21-23.


In his diaries, Marcos wrote that September 21 as the day for imposing martial law was decided in a meeting with close advisers on September 13. The date was selected because Congress was due to go on recess on the 21st. The armed forces signed off on September 14. Plans were finalized on September 18. The armed forces submitted a formal study to serve as a basis for it, on September 20. But Congress did not go on recess on the 21st as expected: instead, the recess was expected to begin on the 22nd. Meanwhile, the typing of the various orders was completed at 8 PM on September 21. More than numerology (the usual reason given to explain Marcos’ fetish for the 21st, a date divisible by his lucky number, 7), the need to catch Congress, media and the public off guard, dictated the tempo of events.


Even after Marcos got away with martial law, he remained nervous about the Supreme Court. On September 24, he summoned Justices Claudio Teehangkee, Antonio Barredo, Felix Macasiar and Felix Antonio to a meeting. They insisted he should submit the legality of martial law to the Supreme Court for review. Marcos replied that if necessary, he would proclaim a revolutionary government. You can sense Marcos’ glee in recounting the response of the Justices: “They insisted we retain a color of constitutionality for everything that we do.” That evening, Marcos issued his first Presidential Decree: reorganizing the entire government. The next day, the 25th, Marcos met two more Justices of the Supreme Court: Fred Ruiz Castro and Salvador Esguerra and told them “there must be no conflict between the two separate departments of Justice and Executive for it would be embarrassing to both.” They agreed. By September 25, Marcos could crow in his diary, “It is indeed gratifying that everyone now finds or discovers I am some kind of a hero! There is nothing as successful as success!”


But work remained to be done. Purged of hard-core oppositionists, the Constitutional Convention submitted a draft to Marcos who wanted a new constitution in place before Congress could convene in January 1973. He did this by setting aside plans for a plebiscite (which it seems he was going to lose) and calling for “citizen’s assemblies” instead.  On January 22, the Supreme Court said it was willing to meet Marcos on the matter, though Marcos in his entries on January 23-24, 1973 was worried the Supreme Court might declare the new Constitution invalid. On January 27, he heard the Justices would accept the validity of the new Constitution —and by the way, was there an assurance they would keep their jobs? On the 29th, he met the Justices (minus Chief Justice Roberto Concepcion who was sick), and made his case: Justice Fred Ruiz Castro said, “I get the message, Mr. President.” By March 31, 1973, victory was complete. The Supreme Court said the new Constitution was in full force and effect (heartbroken, Chief Justice Concepcion retired in protest). In September 1974 the Court set aside challenges to the arrests of two years before, saying it was a political question.


Concepcion, who was made a Constitutional Commissioner in 1986, proposed additional powers for the Supreme Court, to limit its ability to repeat the performance of 1973-74 when it ducked under the cover of “political questions.”

The result has been two decades of clashes with presidents and congress: and a new question —are the Supremes now the most powerful branch of government? A possible case of the cure being as ominous as the disease it was meant to cure.



For excerpts and links to the Marcos diaries, visit The Philippine Diary Project:

Sep 05

Charter Change: An Annotated Timeline 1934-2014

…[T]he Constitution is not, and should not be, an idol under strict taboos. It is not, and should not be, a strait-jacket for the growing and developing nation which it was made to serve. The Constitution itself outlines the procedure for its own amendment, and it thus expressly devoted to the principle that it is neither inviolable nor permanent, but a working instrument to secure the general welfare of the people. –Claro M. Recto

I’d like to put forward a survey of past Charter Change efforts as a resource for those engaged in the ongoing debate on Charter Change.

While the story of Charter Change includes three constitutions –the 1935, 1973 and 1987 charters (and excludes the 1943 Constitution under Japanese auspices, which was declared invalid in 1944 as subsequently affirmed by the Supreme Court, which declared the laws enacted during the Japanese Occupation as null and void)– the dynamics involving constitutional amendment-related debates forms one cohesive story. In fact, the ghosts of past amendments, live on, institutionally, to this day:

1. From the 1940 amendments, we have the bicameral composition of the Committee on Appointments (the pound of flesh demanded by the National Assembly in exchange for the restoration of the Senate), a nationally-elected Senate (but weakened, since, by the elimination of bloc voting in the 1950s, briefly restored under Marcos then abandoned again; the present Senate is also elected on the basis of 12 senators per election, instead of 8 senators every election, which has essentially nullified the Senate as a continuing body), and a Commission on Elections.

2. From the 1980s amendments, the restoration of the position of Vice-President and the retirement age of 70 for justices.

Along the way, I’d like to tackle:

1. What makes for a successful Charter Change effort? More Charter Change efforts have succeeded than have failed: 1939, 1940, 1947 all succeeded, and 1967-1971 (to get a convention going) worked; under the dictatorship, the 1976-1986 amendments all succeeded (but these were, of course, undertaken under the gun so to speak); but no effort to amend the 1987 Constitution has succeeded. What all periods of amendment-mania have in common is that they were proposed in the waning years of an incumbent president: however in 1939-40 the incumbent was not only popular, but possible successors were not as popular; in 1971-73 the incumbent, increasingly perceived to be unpopular; in 1997, 1999 and 2005-09, either waning in popularity, or subject to the veto of the Catholic Church and civil society, or manifestly unpopular. So it can be argued that 2014 is unique in that it is the first time since 1939 that amendments have been discussed in the context of a popular (majority positive opinion) president and a question mark as to a successor to keep up reforms.

2. What dooms Charter Change to fail or at least, imperils it? Public opinion plays a central role. Amendments to the 1973 Constitution, from its very “approval” to its subsequent, and repeated, amendments, worked due to force majeure and legal legerdemain (the consensus is that if a proper plebiscite had been conducted in 1973, the 1935 Constitution would have been retained by public demand); 1997-98, 1999-2000, and 2005-2006 also failed due to public protests, defeat in the courts, or both. Most of all: if there is a perception that the amendment will benefit an individual or group that does not enjoy widespread public trust, the exercise will be difficult going.

3. In the past, leaders and parties proposed amendments. The present Constitution made an innovation, giving the electorate powers of initiative and referendum, including directly proposing amendments (but not revisions) of the Constitution: however the law to enable this was originally declared defective, and subsequent efforts have proven problematic. Consider these summaries of public opinion as reflected in past surveys:

Pulse Asia Survey: Q. Whether or not it is right to change the constitution now / Whether in favor or not in favor of changing the constitution now?

Screen shot 2014-08-27 at 6.45.10 PM

 Source: Charter change surveys from consolidated by PCDSPO.

SWS Survey: Q. Are there constitutional provisions which need to be changed now?

Screen shot 2014-08-27 at 6.48.30 PM

Source: Charter change surveys from consolidated by PCDSPO.

*See other Public Opinion charts by SWS and Pulse Asia on Charter Change in Annex A at the end of the timeline.

These surveys tell us that public opinion shifts over time; that, depending on the question, public opinion can be, at times, fairly evenly divided on specific questions. But the biggest problem of all, however, as Fr. Bernas put it in 2011, is “structural”:

Next month the Constitution will complete its 24th year. Through all these years it has remained untouched. It has lasted unchanged longer than either the 1935 Constitution or the 1973 Constitution. The 1935 Constitution underwent change almost immediately after its birth, first, by giving suffrage to women, and a little later by moving from a unicameral National Assembly to a bicameral Congress. As to the 1973 Constitution, it was not what the Constitutional Convention of 1971-1972 had intended and, during its brief lifetime, it underwent several major changes. If the 1987 Constitution has resisted change to this date, it is not because it is a perfect Constitution nor is it for want of attempts to change it. Almost every year attempts at constitutional change have been made. None has succeeded. In my view, one major obstacle to attempts to revise the 1987 Constitution is structural. It has a built-in unintended obstacle to change. And I do not know how this can be overcome this year. In many respects the 1987 Constitution consists of significant borrowings from the 1935 Constitution. Unfortunately, however, the provision on the amendatory process is a carbon copy of the provision in the 1973 Constitution. Year after year since 1987 this has been the major obstacle to change. Why so? The text says: “Any amendment to, or revision of, this Constitution may be proposed by: (1) The Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members; or (2) a constitutional convention. . . . The Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of all its Members, call a constitutional convention, or by a majority vote of all its Members, submit to the electorate the question of calling such a convention.” The provision is one formulated for a unicameral legislative body but it is now meant to work for a bicameral Congress. This was not a tactical product designed by an evil genius. It is merely the result of oversight. But the oversight has spawned major problems. First, must Senate and House come together in joint session before they can do anything that can lead to charter change? The 1935 Constitution was very clear on this question: Congress could not begin to work on constitutional change unless they first came together in joint session. The 1987 Constitution is non-committal. Second, since the text of the Constitution is not clear about requiring a joint session, can Congress work on constitutional change analogously to the way it works on ordinary legislation, that is where they are and as they are? I have always maintained that Congress can, but this is by no means a settled matter. There are those who believe that the importance of Charter change demands a joint session. Third, should Congress decide to come together in joint session, must Senate and House vote separately or may they vote jointly? The 1935 Constitution was very clear on the need for separate voting; the present Constitution is silent about this… Howsoever the matter might be settled by agreement of the majority of both houses, someone in the minority will run to the Supreme Court to challenge the decision. What about a constitutional convention? But the business of calling a constitutional convention is fraught with the same problems. Should Congress choose to call a constitutional convention, must the two houses be in joint session? And if in joint session, should they vote separately?

So Fr. Bernas brings up a problem unique to the 1987 Constitution: the wording of the charter makes a consensus on how to go about amending it, problematic –and that includes the innovation of the electorate directly proposing amendments, too. Since 1987, the historical memory of the public and the politicians has become far more limited. At best, that memory goes back only to Marcos, whereas the memory of his generation went back all the way to the Revolution. There was 1896-1946, the period of national identification and creation, anchored on the belief of a strong executive and institutionalizing a strong central government; and 1946-1986, the period of the great divide between liberal democracy and constitutional authoritarianism; and 1986-2006, the rise and fall of people power as a Third Way. These periods have been marked by changing attitudes towards our national leaders and public confidence and trust in them.

As the PCIJ reported in 2006, in 1971 and 2006, New Charters Designed to Keep Embattled Presidents in Power, which makes for a struggle and debate untouched and uninformed by the great debates that took place prior to Marcos: while the debate is overshadowed by three points of view:

a. The view that the Constitution is somehow, not subject to amendment.

b. The view that the Constitution should be amended to restrict the electorate’s ability to choose the head of government (transferring that power to elected members of the legislature instead: parliamentarism: See this paper) On these and related questions, a look at public opinion over time is revealing as well:


Pulse Asia Survey: Q. Whether or not in favor of changing the present system into a parliamentary system?

Screen shot 2014-08-27 at 11.07.43 PM

Source: Charter change surveys from consolidated by PCDSPO.

SWS Survey: Q. Opinion on cha-cha allowing a former President to become prime minister in a parliamentary government.

Screen shot 2014-08-27 at 11.10.03 PM

Source: Charter change surveys from consolidated by PCDSPO.

SWS Survey: Q. Opinion on cha-cha allowing President Arroyo to become prime minister in a parliamentary government.

Screen shot 2014-08-27 at 11.12.34 PM

Source: Charter change surveys from consolidated by PCDSPO

Substituting a strong executive who is directly elected by the entire electorate, with not only a parliamentary system, but a unicameral one, has proven problematic it they would eliminate the electorate’s ability to directly choose the head of government, and replace the system of checks-and-balances between three branches of government and substitute the dominance of the legislature –with the House being the surviving entity.

c. The view that restrictive economic provisions should be amended, while leaving political provisions intact –when generations have been raised to consider the Parity Amendment after World War 2 a travesty.

d. Tied, at times, to b and c, but far less discussed by the public but far more current in academic circles, the exploration of Federalism: See this paper.

Again, here’s a look at public opinion over time:


Pulse Asia Survey: Q. Whether or not in favor of changing the present system into a federal system?

Screen shot 2014-08-27 at 11.16.37 PM

Source: Charter change surveys from consolidated by PCDSPO.

SWS Survey: Q. Opinion on cha-cha on creating regional governments / Would a proposal to create regional governments be good or not good for the country?

Screen shot 2014-08-27 at 11.19.32 PM

Source: Charter change surveys from consolidated by PCDSPO.


For reference: Here is a matrix, for quick reference, of some of the major proposals that have been made over time.

See Matrix of Constitutional Amendments Proposed in Plebiscite, decided on by Supreme Court, and Proposed by Constitutionalists


Here is a comprehensive narrative of the Charter Change through the years. I have included plebiscites, even those, like the one on women’s suffrage, as Fr. Bernas mentioned it, and as an indication of the attitudes and behavior of the public in plebiscites, which forms part of the story of amendments.


Charter Change: A Timeline 1934-2014

July 10, 1934: The Constitutional Convention Begins

The 1934 Constitutional Convention assembled, with its chairman Claro M. Recto, to craft the 1935 Constitution. (See Presidential Museum and Library, Today in History, Tumblr, July 30, 2012). For a backgrounder, see Re-constructing Colonial Philippines: 1900-1910 by Patricio Abinales; Institutionalizing state interventionism, by Manuel L. Quezon III. For an overview of the 1934 Constitutional Convention, see Constitution Day, by Teodoro M. Locsin, February 7, 1953.

May 14, 1935: Ratification of the 1935 Constitution

1,213,046 YES
44,963 NO

Plebiscite on constitutional amendment: 1,213,000 votes / population of 14,731,000. (See The referendum scorecard 1935-1987, June 9, 2009)

1935 Plebiscite

Source: PCDSPO Philippine Electoral Almanac

  This was actually the first nationwide vote the country had, in which the nation voted as such and not just for provincial or regional leaders. I can’t say if there was any change in the four months between the plebiscite on the constitution and the first national presidential elections held that September; but what observers did point out was that only slightly over half of the electorate bothered to vote. Most observers commented that this was because the outcome was practically predetermined. It is remarkable that more people seemed to have participated in the plebiscite on the Constitution than in the presidential election (however,it also seems to have been rainy in many areas during the September election, then as now, possibly lowering turnout). A possible reason for higher turnout was that the plebiscite on the constitution was also, in a sense, a plebiscite on independence (see Why they voted against the constitution, June 1, 1935). Hence the very lopsided result in favor of the new constitution.

November 15, 1935:  Inauguration of the Commonwealth of the Philippines

Manuel L. Quezon took his oath as the first President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines (Official Gazette)

April 30, 1937: Women asked if they wanted suffrage

This was an unusual plebiscite, in that the voting was restricted to women, only, who were asked if they wanted suffrage for themselves. The suffragette movement had been active from the 1920s and particularly in the early 1930s so women’s groups were extremely well organized to get out the vote.

447,725 Affirmative
44,307 Negative

Screen shot 2014-08-15 at 9.25.35 AM

Source: PCDSPO Philippine Electoral Almanac 2013


As the contemporary account Votes for women pointed out, men had required 300,000 affirmative votes for approval. Women handily overcame that hurdle.

1937: The Start of Amendments Discussions

Jose E. Romero, Majority Leader of the National Assembly, in his memoirs recalled:

Midway in his term of office [1937-38], the inevitable speculation as to President Quezon’s successor and the beginning of the stirrings of the potential candidates began. Of course everybody realized that President Quezon would determine the choice of his successor. Vice-President Osmeña was a logical choice. President Quezon had given him some encouragement, but he also encouraged Mr. Roxas and, it seems, Speaker Yulo. At one time he even considered the possibility of a compromise candidate, and I remember his mentioning Teofilo Sison, who was then Secretary of the Interior and who had done a good job in that important position and also as Governor of the big province of Pangasinan. Mr. Osmeña who as I said was the most logical successor, had often been unfortunate politically. On the one hand, his ambition was opposed by the leaders of the National Assembly, Speaker Jose Yulo and Floor Leader Quintin Paredes. The peculiar situation had arisen that while all the different factions were reunited under the leadership of President Quezon, the cleavage between the former Quezon followers and the followers of Osmeña and Roxas had persisted. There still was rivalry and mutual suspicion between the ANTIs, who had followed President Quezon in the fight on the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Independence Act, and the PROs, who had followed the leadership of Osmeña and Roxas. Now on top of the opposition of the ANTIs, Mr. Osmeña had to reckon with the opposition of his erstwhile ally, Mr. Roxas. When Mr. Osmeña would press his claim on President Quezon, the latter would tell him that he would have to have an agreement with Mr. Roxas. Mr. Osmeña would tell President Quezon that Mr. Roxas had assured him that he had no ambition for the position himself, but Mr. Quezon would smilingly tell him that he should get an iron-clad assurance from Roxas because the latter had given him to understand otherwise. It was quite obvious to me that President Quezon was playing one against the other as the threat of disruption of the United Nacionalista Party would inevitably give rise to a movement to draft President Quezon to prevent such disunity. Either their ambitions had blinded Messrs. Osmeña and Roxas to this strategy or Mr. Roxas actually preferred the reelection of President Quezon to Osmeña’s succession to the office.

May 6, 1939: Surveys enter the scene

In 1939, surveys began to appear on the scene; see Free Press straw vote will feature reelection, May 6, 1939.

The first truly nationwide straw vote on a large scale ever conducted in the Philippines was the Free Press poll on the Hare-Hawes-Cutting law, conducted in February and March of 1933. On that occasion, 10,000 ballots were mailed out and 65 percent of them were returned. Of the votes recorded, 56 percent opposed the Hare-Hawes-Cutting law. The first Free Press straw vote had accurately reflected public opinion.

Then, in August and September of 1937, shortly after President Quezon returned from Washington where he had flirted with the idea of independence in 1939, the Free Press sent out 12,500 ballots asking whether the people favored or opposed shortening the transition period. In this case, 67 percent of the ballots were returned. There was some raising of eyebrows when the final result showed 55 percent opposing and only 45 percent favoring the shortening of the transition period. Yet subsequent events showed that the Free Press poll had once more mirrored public opinion. Today virtually no one favors a shorter transition period, and quicker independence would not be accepted in the Philippines unless it were accompanied by substantial economic concessions.

In July, another article mentioned the results:

“Only a few days ago,” argued Gullas, “a straw vote conducted by the FREE PRESS, a non-partisan and widely read weekly in the Philippines was concluded. The result was against reelection. Of course, it is not an absolute indication of how the public will vote. But it clearly shows which way the wind blows. It is a barometer of the sentiment of the people. Like a finger on the pulse, it counted, as it were, the heartbeats of the nation.”


May 13, 1939

An Open letter to President Quezon, by Arturo Tolentino, was published by the Philippine Free Press, expressing that amidst clamor of the public to push for constitutional amendments for Quezon’s reelection (and with the president’s silence on the matter), the president should stand by the constitution and “let new blood and new brains take on the responsibility of guiding the ship state.” On the same day the Free Press editorial asserts the campaign for re-election has begun.

May 15, 1939: President Quezon calls for Constitutional Amendments

President Quezon spoke to the National Assembly and called for Constitutional Amendments calling for the revival of the bicameral legislature with each senator being elected by national suffrage. The amendments would also permit his reelection. Jose E. Romero describes the speech of President Quezon, pointing out that the main issue of the time was to maintain the status quo; but that political objective had to be couched in terms more appealing to the public than merely preserving party dominance:

So it was that the movement was started to draft President Quezon. One day, he appeared before the National Assembly together with the members of his Cabinet. He told the members of the Assembly that he could no longer ignore the movement to amend the Constitution to permit his reelection; that what he was particularly interested in among the proposed amendments was the one reestablishing the bicameral system of legislature; that as to the proposed amendment to permit his reelection, he would only consent to this provided that at the same time a provision was adopted limiting the term of office of the President to not more than eight years, following the example of George Washington.

Yet there remained the problem of how to maintain that status quo, without provoking a new split in the ruling party:

As soon as President Quezon left the session hall of the National Assembly, the Assemblymen held a caucus to discuss the proposed amendments, and if a vote had been taken that same evening the proposal would have been rejected. I called the attention of my colleagues to the fact that the President had just told us that he would be receptive to the amendment permitting his reelection with the proviso he stipulated and for us, immediately after his speech, to reject the proposed amendments might be taken as a slap in the face. I suggested that we take a little time to consider this very serious matter and go about it in the most tactful manner. I was promptly seconded by Assemblyman Pedro Sabido, and the meeting was adjourned. This gave the proponents of the amendment time to do some arm-twisting, and by the time the matter was taken up again, the majority had shifted in favor of the proposed amendments. Regarding this arm-twisting, Assemblyman Tomas Oppus, the Chairman of the Committee on Appropriations and one of the wittiest Assemblymen, described the situation in his inimitable way in a story he told his colleagues. He and his colleagues had asked the directorate of the Party if they could vote freely on the amendments since this was a matter of conscience, involving as it did the fundamental law of the country. The party leaders replied that the party had taken a stand on this question and that while they were free to vote in accordance with their own conscience, the party would take a dim view of their reliability as party men. The situation, said Oppus, was like that of a little boy who asked his uncle if he could go to the show. The uncle said he could do so but that when he came back, he would get a whipping. “That,” said the little boy, “means I cannot go to the show.”


Study Group Formed

Romero then describes how the leader concerned, Quezon, set about finding out how public opinion -and his allies- would react to his extension in office; arm-twisting in such a case, wasn’t enough; conviction, not compulsion, was essential if public opinion was to be won:

Still, the President was bothered by what history might say of his part in the approval of the amendment to permit his own reelection. He organized a group of nine men that he considered his close friends who could wisely advise him as to whether the amendment to permit his reelection should be presented. I can easily remember those who composed this group because there were four Joses in it –Jose Yulo, Jose Abad Santos, Jose Laurel, and Jose Romero. There were two Manuels –Manuel Roxas and Manuel Briones (three, if President Quezon, who was always present in spirit, was to be counted as member of this group) and there were Claro Recto, Quintin Paredes, and Pedro Sabido. We were made to promise not even to mention the existence of this group. We even agreed not to arrive together at the place selected for our meetings, which was the office of the Chairman of the Board of the PNB, the Chairman then being Secretary Abad Santos. At one of these meetings, Dr. Laurel said that if he had his way, he would not touch a comma of the Constitution. Eventually, however, Dr. Laurel and the rest of us would line up behind the proposed amendments. After thorough deliberation, we took a vote. The vote was four in favor and five against. Those who voted in favor were Abad Santos, Yulo, Paredes, and Roxas. Those who voted against were Recto, Laurel, Briones, Sabido, and I. I really thought that with President Quezon already bothered by compunctions as to the move he was about to take, this majority opinion against the proposal expressed by men whose loyalty and wisdom he reposed confidence and whom he had called on to give their honest opinion, would deter him from proceeding with the proposal. In any event it did not turn out that way. In later deliberations of the party caucus, the proposed amendments were approved.

Lobbying for amendments

Romero then recounts how lobbying was done, one-on-one:

I hid myself off to Malacañan and was immediately taken to his office. “Romero,” he said as soon as I was seated, “I wish I had died before this question of my reelection arose.” I was shocked. I told him I saw no reason why he should be so concerned with the problem, that the great majority of the people were behind him, and that they would accept whatever decision he made. As I have said, I knew that he had been bothered about the moral issue involved and about his image in the future being tarnished with the same brush of ambition that characterized most of the presidents and dictators of the banana republics. But I did not imagine that this would worry him so much that he preferred to have died before he could face such a problem… He said that now he was doubtful whether he should encourage the movement for his reelection… I asked him if he would take it as a lack of of affection and loyalty towards him if we started an opposition to the proposal. He said that we could go ahead and spearhead such an opposition. He suggested, however, that the term of office of the next President should be reduced to four years without re-election…


June 24, 1939

The Second Open Letter to President Quezon, by Arturo Tolentino was released by the Philippine Free Press, as the writer’s response to President Quezon’s affirmation of the push for constitutional amendments to extend his term. Tolentino warns the president that allowing the president reelection is a precedent for dictatorship and “that it will be easier in the future to amend the Constitution again to suit some future President who may want to entirely eliminate the limit on the number of re-elections, and thus perpetuate himself in power.”

July 7, 1939: Ruling Nacionalista Party approves amendments

The Nacionalista Convention met and adopted the following two amendments: (a) Reduction of the presidential tenure to four years, applicable to Quezon, with one re-election, (2) changing of congress from unicameral to bicameral legislature. This is inspired by the two-term tradition of the American presidency. See United behind Quezon, July 15, 1939 for the maneuvering from 1935-1939; essentially practically the whole prewar period was used up by the debates on the issues of presidential re-election and the restoration of the Senate (unicameralism had won in the Constitutional Convention, not because the majority of delegates actually preferred it, but because opinion between the bicameralists was divided on the question of a Senate elected at large or according to senatorial districts); it took another year after that, for the actual campaign to overcome public resistance to the proposed amendments.

“AYE!” With a tired roar that echoed hollowly in the dark bowl of the Rizal basketball stadium in Manila, one night last week, the Nationalist party convention approved the proposal to amend the Constitution, so as to allow the reelection of the President.

“Nay!” A half-hearted and scattered cry in opposition went up, after hours of resounding but futile debate.

An undisputed majority sent up an “Aye!” again, the following morning, approving another amendment, to revive the old senate.

The “Nay!” was even weaker.

For three days and nights last week, the party which rules the country met in the stifling shadow of a gathering typhoon to deliver itself of a series of historical mandates to its members in Malacañan, in the Assembly, in the cabinet, in every important office of the government. The mandates, expressed in resolutions, were to:

1. Change the Presidential term from one six-year period, to two four-year periods;

2. Revive the old bicameral legislature;

3. Create an administrative body to take charge of all elections;

4. Revise local governments to make them more, responsible and efficient (presumably, along the lines of the Quezon plan for appointive mayors and governors);

5. Readjust the three-year terms of assemblymen, provincial and municipal officials, so as to make them fit the new four-year presidential term;

6. Reaffirm loyalty to the coalition platform, including independence in 1946;

7. Request President Quezon to call a special session of the Assembly;

8. Ratify Presidential and Assembly action on the JPCPA report;

9. Congratulate President Quezon for his social justice program, and to request him to remain in office (that is, take advantage of the reelection amendment);

10. Congratulate Party President Yulo for his handling of the convention;

11. Increase the representation of governors in the Nationalist executive commission, from five to 12, thus putting them on a par with the Assemblymen.

The whole menu being called, by Speaker Yulo, a series of “Conservative Reforms,” which were opposed by one Assemblyman as going against public opinion (see Free Press straw vote will feature reelection, May 6, 1939. according to the October 1939 article above, public opinion, as expressed in the poll, opposed re-election).

National Assembly tackles amendments

Jose E. Romero:

As I was entering the session hall of the National Assembly a few hours later, I was met at the aisle by Speaker Yulo, who asked me what it was that I had told President Quezon which made him change his mind. I narrated the whole story, but the Speaker was adamant, and he said he would proceed with the campaign for the approval of the amendments irrespective of President Quezon’s desires. I told him that the process of amending was not easy as we needed only a few votes to defeat the proposed amendments. At that time we were adhering strictly to the interpretation that questions had to be approved by three-fourths of all the members of the National Assembly, and not only of those present. There were many vacancies at that time in the National Assembly, mostly due to the appointments in the Executive Department, and a mere twenty votes either voting against or abstaining from voting or absenting themselves would defeat the proposed amendments. I told the Speaker that I had the President’s permission to oppose the amendments and I thought I had the votes to succeed in our opposition.

I began getting the signature of those opposing the amendments. Many assemblymen were wary about signing although, at heart, they were opposed because of their regard for, or more candidly, fear of President Quezon. I assured them I had the President’s permission and they signed on condition that they were assured that the President really had no objection to our move. Predictably, the Assemblymen from Cebu and from Capiz were among the first to sign. Thereafter, others followed and I thought I had the required number of votes to defeat the amendments. The leadership of the house, seeing we were making headway, appealed to President Quezon to ask us to withdraw our opposition. This came about one night, at a gathering at Manila Hotel when everybody who was anybody in politics was in attendance. I was surprised and flattered when, leaving all the other political moguls, the President took me by the arm to a corner. He began by asking me if my political antagonists in my province were still bothering me. I told him they were still preparing the ground against me in the next election. He told me I had nothing to worry about for, if need be, he would go and campaign for me. Then finally, as if incidentally, he said that as regards the matter of the amendments, the leadership of the Assembly had committed themselves too deeply, that their prestige was involved, that that he was therefore requesting me to withdraw my opposition to them.

As I have already said, the opponents signed the agreement on condition that really President Quezon was not interested one way or another in the approval of the amendments and so, naturally, when I told them about the final word of the President, the whole movement collapsed…


September 15, 1939: Constitutional Amendments approved

By a vote of 81 to 6, the National Assembly dominated by the Nacionalistas approved the constitutional amendments concerning the restoration of the Senate, a two-term presidency, and the creation of a Commission on Elections.

September 16, 1939: President Quezon commends the National Assembly

President Quezon commended the National Assembly on having approved the proposed constitutional amendments with a statement to the press.

September 19, 1939: Plebiscite for Commonwealth constitutional amendments approved

Commonwealth Act No. 492 set October 24, 1939 as the date of the plebiscite on proposed amendments to the Constitution, was approved by the National Assembly.

October 24, 1939: Plebiscite on Economic Adjustment

Aside from the ongoing debate on amendments to the Constitution, another issue intervened at this point: the approval, or rejection, by plebiscite, of a proposed Ordinance to be appended to the Constitution, concerning economic adjustments. On March 18, 1937, as later reported in the State of the Nation Address for 1937, the Philippine and American governments had decided,

Arrangements are being made for the appointment shortly of a joint preparatory committee of American and Philippine experts. The committee is to study trade relations between the United States and the Philippines and to recommend a program for the adjustment of Philippine national economy. This announcement followed conferences between President Quezon of the Philippine Commonwealth and the Inter-Departmental Committee on Philippine Affairs, which is acting on behalf of President Roosevelt in the preliminary discussions. Assistant Secretary of State Francis B. Sayre is Chairman of this Committee.   Inasmuch as the Independence Act provides that complete political independence of the Philippines shall become effective on July 4, 1946, and inasmuch as President Quezon has suggested that the date of independence might be advanced to 1938 or 1939, it was agreed that the joint committee of experts would be expected in making its recommendations to consider the bearing which an advancement in the date of independence would have on facilitating or retarding the execution of a program of economic adjustment in the Philippines. It was further agreed that the preferential trade relations between the United States and the Philippines are to be terminated at the earliest practicable date consistent with affording the Philippines a reasonable opportunity to adjust their national economy. Thereafter, it is contemplated that trade relations between the two countries will be regulated in accordance with a reciprocal trade agreement on a non-preferential basis.

In the end, a report was completed, although the proposal to advance the date of Philippine independence to 1938 or 1939 did not prosper. This is perhaps the least well-known of all our constitutional plebiscites. See Philippines: Brain, March 27, 1937 for a backgrounder of the economic issues threshed out between 1937-39:

The Independence Act was supported in Congress by two groups, one inspired by international altruism, the other inspired by national selfishness. Those inspired by selfishness were Congressmen, mostly from sugar-producing States, who wanted to put the Philippines outside the U. S. tariff barrier so as to get rid of business competitors. Into the law they wrote provisions which would institute a series of export taxes on Philippine goods shipped to the U. S. – the equivalent of a U. S. tariff – beginning at 5% in 1940 and mounting 5% a year. Since the U. S. is the Philippines’ best market and the Philippines’ chief export, sugar, goes almost entirely to the U. S., the Independence Act, as Señor Quezon well knows, is the next thing to sure ruin for the economy of the Islands. But independence means to the Philippines much what isolation means to the U. S. So three years ago when independence was offered, it was politically impossible …to refuse. Now his job as President of the Commonwealth is to fix it so that Filipinos can eat the cake of independence and at the same time keep the cake of free trade with the U. S. Last week it looked as if he might gain his ambiguous end when, after several days’ conferences, he agreed with the Committee in Washington to create a joint committee of experts: 1) to study and recommend a program “for the adjustment of the Philippine national recovery,” 2) to consider the economic merits of advancing the date of complete Philippine independence from 1946 to 1938 or 1939.


See Primer on the plebiscite, October 21, 1939 for a summary of the plebiscite issue itself.

The Ordinance to be appended to the 1935 Constitution, proposed by Resolution no. 39, was ratified, with 1,393,453 voting for and 49,633 against duty-free quotas on Philippine products for the remainder of the Commonwealth. (See The referendum scorecard 1935-1987, June 9, 2009)  



49,633 Negative

Hayden, note 53 pp. 869-870, summarizes the whole thing as Amendments to the Tydings-McDuffie Act by Public Act No. 300, 76th Congress, August 7, 1939; Amendments to “Ordinance Appended to the Constitution of the Philippines,” proposed by Resolution No. 39, adopted September 15, 1939, ratified October 24, 1939. Per Resolution 53, Second National Assembly, Third Special Session, November 3, 1939. More people participated in this plebiscite than in the May 1935 one; to be expected, since the population and electorate had been growing; but the number also surpassed the much more controversial plebiscite held the next year; one reason I can think of, is that the 1939 plebiscite, concerning economic questions, was viewed as significant because a necessary part of putting the country on a stable economic footing for independence; so, essentially, a second referendum on the question of independence. On the other hand, the figures registered in opposition to the propositions were much larger in 1940, pointing to the ferocity of public debate.

Screen shot 2014-08-18 at 5.33.41 PM

Source: PCDSPO Philippine Electoral Almanac

January 22, 1940: State of the Nation Address on proposed amendments:

On September 15, 1939, the National Assembly adopted a resolution proposing important amendments to the Constitution. I refer to the amendments es­tablishing a bicameral legislature, changing the tenure of office of the President and the Vice-President, creating an independent Commission on Elections, and fixing a compensation for Senators and Representatives higher than that now received by the members of the National Assembly. By Commonwealth Act No. 492, it is provided that these amendments shall he submitted to the people for their ratification at the next general election for local officials. After hearing the views of provincial and municipal officials and the members of the Council of State, as well as other persons who have no partisan interest, I deem it my duty to recommend that the law be amended so as to authorize the holding of a plebiscite on these amendments on a date different from that fixed for the election of provincial and municipal officials. While this may entail more expenses for the Government, I believe that the change is imperative from the stand­point of public interest.

The proposed constitutional amendments are in effect a revision of the present Constitution, and the resolution proposing the same clearly contemplates that they should be submitted to the people in an integrated form. The amendments so affect the entire document and in this sense are so interrelated as to preclude any manner of having them voted upon separately or severally.

The importance of these amendments requires that they be submitted to the people for ratification or re­jection squarely and without the introduction of extraneous and irrelevant issues, and this would be impossible if the plebiscite were held on the same date as that set for the next regular election of local officers. The proposed amendments affect only the national Government and should be acted upon by the voters independently of local political interests or considerations.


April 1940: National Assembly approval of constitutional amendments

The most far-reaching amendments to date were approved by the National Assembly in April of that year [1940] and accepted in a plebiscite in June: it cut the term of the president from 6 years to four, but allowed reelection for another 4; it restored the Senate; and it established the Commission on Elections. (See Plebiscitary Democracy)

June 18, 1940: Presidential re-election; Senate elected at large; creation of COMELEC

(See The referendum scorecard 1935-1987, June 9, 2009)

Hayden, Note 58 p. 870 gives an insight into the mechanics of the plebiscite:

Commonwealth Act No. 517, April 25, 1940. Proposed amendments published in English and Spanish in three consecutive issues of The Official Gazette, at least twenty days prior to the election; and copies of the amendments in these languages and principal native languages posted and made available for examination in the voting places.

Note 60 provides the official returns of the election of June 18, 1940, on the constitutional amendments proposed (Plebiscite votes 1,135,000 / population of 16,356,000.):


Screen shot 2014-08-15 at 9.27.10 AM

Source: PCDSPO Philippine Electoral Almanac

The first elections under the amended 1935 Constitution were held in November, 1941, but before the new Congress could convene, World War II broke out. The turnout in that election was lower than for the plebiscite in 1940. As for the plebiscite itself, there was marginally more enthusiasm for the restoration of the Senate, but this time, on a nationally-elected basis than for allowing presidential re-election; the most opposition was registered on the question of a Commission on Elections. The conventional wisdom today is that popular interest and enthusiasm for constitutional questions and thus, participation in plebiscites, is historically low. I can only assume this conventional wisdom emerged during the martial law “plebiscites” but this assertion certainly didn’t hold true for the first plebiscites. In fact, the opposite is true: public participation was higher for constitutional plebiscites.


1. Changing the President’s term from six years, no re-election, to four years, with one re-election, with a special election in 1941 qualifying the incumbent to a two-year extension to make for eight years; furthermore, the change in the President’s term was reflected in the proposed lower house, making the terms of representatives and local officials 4 years instead of three years, while senators would be elected for 6 year terms.

The argument of the “indispensable” man was put forward by Quezon himself, as a signal to his partymates that their forty year old one-party dominance (in the 1938 mid term election, for the first time, not a single opposition Assemblyman had been elected) might be imperiled on the eve of independence:

“The only thing that I am afraid of,” he confessed, “is that after I leave the presidency the country may be divided, not along political lines, but on the choice of my successor. The country is not prepared for a great division among our people.”

— Question 1: Presidential and Vice-Presidential terms (from six years, no re-election, to four years with one re-election)

1,072,039 FOR



2. Restoring the Senate but on a purely national basis; unicameralism had only won out in the 1935 Constitutional Convention because the bicameralists were divided on whether the Senate should be elected according to districts, as was the case under the Jones Law, or nationally. (One compromise no one has noticed is that the restoration of the Senate came at a price: the Congress of the Commonwealth and the Republic would both have a Commission on Appointments composed of congressmen and senators, in equal measure, a deviation from the Jones Law and American practice that puts the vetting of executive appointments strictly in the hands of the Senate. Further research, I think, might reveal that this was a very clever move to make assemblymen agree to diluting the powers of their chamber, while ensuring that no Senate President would be able to wield the powers Quezon had so effectively wielded in fighting the American governors-general by threatening to reject the confirmation of appointments. The always-pliable House would at least be able to obstruct any senatorial inclinations to put a squeeze on appointments: thus, while future Senate Presidents would always look back to the 1916-1935 Senate as a blueprint for their presidential ambitions, in truth, the 1940 setup makes using the Senate Presidency as more than a rhetorical podium a structural impossibility)

— Question 2: Re-establishment of a bicameral legislature of the Philippines

1,043,712 FOR
275,184 AGAINST


3. Establishing a Commission on Elections: combined with bloc voting, this made for the kind of equity of the incumbent that remains a reality in other Southeast Asian countries; removing bloc voting in the early 1950s, however, began a quarter century of erosion that led to the parties being unable to stand up to Marcos in 1972; and the multiparty system, in turn, has entrenched executive influence on national elections but in terms of a single person and not a ruling party, which reconfigures with every new presidency. — Question 3: Commission on Elections (creation of)

1,017,696 FOR
287,923 AGAINST


4. (Actually accomplished, separately, in 1939) approving the amendment of the Tydings-McDuffie Act to establish preferential trade relations with the United States up to the 1960s.

The amendments were approved in a national plebiscite. See Prelude to Dictatorship? Monday, Sep. 02, 1940for Time‘s account of the campaign for amendments in the context of the Far Eastern situation, and Bedroom Campaign: Monday, Nov. 24, 1941 (where block-voting was first practiced) for an account of the amendments finally operating for the first time: and the establishment of what, if the war hadn’t intervened, would have been a political system very familiar to the Malaysians and Singaporeans today (hence my belief that the Philippine experience since World War II has been a tug-of-war between our political class, whose instincts and preferences aren’t far removed from their peers in Malaysia and Singapore or even Japan, and the public, increasingly Western or at least broadly populist in its political actions and orientations; hence the constant frustration of the political class, which has failed to return to the comfortably setup envisioned before the War but came quite close to it in under martial law).

January 31, 1941: State of the Nation Address acknowledges National Assembly about to pass into history due to Constitutional amendments:

You have initiated amendments to our Constitution designed to strengthen the foundation of our democratic institutions and to insure their stability and permanence. And because of such a splendid record the members of the National Assembly have merited the lasting gratitude of our people.

As this body is about to pass into history by reason of the recent amendments to the Constitution creating a new bicameral legislature to be known as the Congress of the Philippines, I desire to express my deep gratification at the manner in which the members of this Assembly have dealt with the many important public questions requiring their attention.

The Constitution of 1935 was amended, dividing the National Assembly into two separate houses. The Senate of the Philippines and the House of Representatives were reestablished, with a Senate President and a Speaker of the House leading their respective chambers. The elections for members of these newly created chambers were held.. However, the onset of World War II prevented the elected members from assuming their posts and the legislature of the Commonwealth of the Philippines was dissolved upon the exile of the government of the Philippines. (Official Gazette

May 25, 1946: 2nd Commonwealth Congress Convened

The second Congress of the Commonwealth convened on May 25, 1946. It would only last until July 4, 1946, with the inauguration of the Third Republic of the Philippines with Manuel Roxas as President. (Official Gazette)


July 4, 1946: 1st Congress of the Third Republic was formed

Upon the inauguration of the Third Republic, the Second Congress of the Commonwealth was transformed into the first Congress of the Republic of the Philippines, also made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. (Official Gazette)

Bell Trade Act and Parity Rights Issue

In October 1945, Congressman Jasper Bell of Missouri introduced the Bell Trade Act in the U.S. Congress that would grant free trade between the Philippines and the United States until 1954, after which traded goods will be taxed 5% tariff increase every year until the full 100% was reached in 1974. One of the conditions included in the Bell Trade Act was parity rights for Americans. This meant that Americans would have the same access to the country’s natural resources as Filipino citizens do. Since the parity clause was unconstitutional, the Philippine constitution had to be amended. Pressure was upon the Congress to amend the Constitution because the Tydings Rehabilitation Act, which would have provided $620,000,000 as war reparation to the country, was connected to any trade relations agreement. Should the Philippines and the US not agree to a trade agreement, the Philippines would not have received more than $500.

September 18, 1946: President Roxas gets legislative approval on Parity Rights

President Manuel Roxas was able to get a legislative approval for the Parity clause, through a resolution granting United States Citizens right to the disposition and utilization of Philippine natural resources or the Parity Rights. The plebiscite happened on March 11, 1947. (See Chris Pforr, Americans in the Philippines: An illustrated history, December 2010)

March 11, 1947: The Parity Amendment in the Constitution

The plebiscite held granted United States citizens the right to the utilization of Philippine natural resources or the Parity Rights. This plebiscite was the first after World War II, and the first under the two-party system, and the only plebiscite conducted as a stand-alone vote (the 1967 plebiscite was an additional question attached to the ballot during a regular election). Public participation, particularly in comparison to the pre-war plebiscites, was very low, although the public debate was ferocious and government had to use every means at its disposal to get what it wanted. On the proposed Parity Amendment to the Constitution:

432,933 FOR
115,853 AGAINST

Screen shot 2014-08-15 at 9.29.03 AM

Source: PCDSPO Philippine Electoral Almanac

See Report on the Plebiscite, April 5, 1947. The drama was much more evident before the plebiscite, as the Roxas administration had difficulty maneuvering it through Congress. See Two Freedoms, March 24, 1947:

In spite of the untactful use of the word “exploitation,” the Philippines voted in a plebiscite last week (March 11) to amend the Constitution as Washington wanted. The vote was light (about 1,000,000 out of a registered vote of 3,000,000). With returns still limping in from outlying islands, the vote was about 5-to-1 in favor of the amendment. Even in Manila, center of Philippine economic nationalism, the amendment carried nearly 3-to-1. The only excitement occurred when Philippine President Manuel Roxas got a close shave from a Manila barber, one Julio Guillen y Cuerpo. Barber Guillen pulled a hand grenade from a bag of peanuts, missed Roxas but killed a bystander. Roxas had just finished a speech favoring U.S. parity in corporate control.

Parity extends to 1974. To nail down freedom from fear, the Philippines three days later signed an agreement giving the U.S. military and naval bases until 2046.

See Economic Relations with the United States:

The most controversial provision of the Bell Act was the “parity” clause that granted United States citizens equal economic rights with Filipinos, for example, in the exploitation of natural resources. If parity privileges of individuals or corporations were infringed upon, the president of the United States had the authority to revoke any aspect of the trade agreement. Payment of war damages amounting to US$620 million, as stipulated in the Philippine Rehabilitation Act of 1946, was made contingent on Philippine acceptance of the parity clause.

The Bell Act was approved by the Philippine legislature on July 2, two days before independence. The parity clause, however, required an amendment relating to the 1935 constitution’s thirteenth article, which reserved the exploitation of natural resources for Filipinos. This amendment could be obtained only with the approval of three-quarters of the members of the House and Senate and a plebiscite. The denial of seats in the House to six members of the leftist Democratic Alliance and three Nacionalistas on grounds of fraud and violent campaign tactics during the April 1946 election enabled Roxas to gain legislative approval on September 18. The definition of three-quarters became an issue because three-quarters of the sitting members, not the full House and Senate, had approved the amendment, but the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the administration’s interpretation.

In March 1947, a plebiscite on the amendment was held; only 40 percent of the electorate participated, but the majority of those approved the amendment.

What is significant in the 1947 Parity Amendment campaign were two things:

1. The first time an assassination attempt was made on a President (a crazed barber, as it turned out, not a full-scale plot; but a close call nonetheless for Roxas at Plaza Miranda).

2. The removal of enough opposition congressmen and senators (on charges of fraud and terrorism) in order to obtain the votes required to propose the amendment to the people.

See Time’s Two Freedoms, Monday, Mar. 24, 1947 for a contemporary overall report and Report on the Plebiscite, April 5, 1947 for a report from the critics of the plebiscite.

1949: After controversial elections, some legislators propose return to single 6-year term for the presidency.

1950: Claro M. Recto warned that the martial law provisions of the 1935 Constitution could easily be abused by a president without scruples.

Claro M. Recto warned of the dangers of martial law, when he opposed President Elpidio Quirino’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in Central Luzon on October 20, 1950. Quirino would try other ways to exercise emergency powers, but didn’t try martial law. (See Nuts and Bolts of Martial Law and Concerning Martial Law)

1958: Recto proposes amendment to strengthen Separation of Church and State

Claro M. Recto suggested, in an article in The Lawyers Journal (1958) that a Constitutional amendment be passed to further clarify the definition of the separation of Church and State in the Constitution. (See Filipinos and Freemasonry)


December 30, 1965: Ferdinand E. Marcos is elected as President in his first term. He is only the second president to be elected to a second term –and the first elected to a full second term (Quezon, after the 1930 amendments, was elected to a partial second term because of the eight-year maximum rule).


March 16, 1967: Senate and the House of Representatives passed a Joint Resolution that proposed constitutional amendments.

November 14, 1967: Increasing representatives; Members of Congress to sit in Convention

Subsequently, the Congress passed Republic Act No. 4913, providing that the amendments to the Constitution proposed be submitted at the general elections to be held on November 14, 1967.

The referendum was on the amendment to Article VI, Section 5 and 16 of the 1935 Constitution. The proposed plebiscite was apparently challenged in the Supreme Court; it declined to intervene. The plebiscite is under-reported but was a highly significant one, in that it was the first and only time, plebiscite questions resulted in a rejection by the electorate.

Question One: Increasing number of congressmen from 120 to 180

18% FOR

Question Two: Allowing members of Congress to serve in the coming Constitutional Convention without forfeiting their seats.

16.5% FOR

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Source: PCDSPO Philippine Electoral Almanac

Details are slim, so all I can  reproduce are the overall percentages. All I’ve found is a footnote in Liang, citing Nick Joaquin, March 16, 1968:

“Of the 65 provinces, 62 rejected both issues; of the 50 chartered cities, 44 voted ‘no’ as against 2 voted ‘yes’.”

The immediate outcome of the rejection of Congress’ proposals was Republic Act No. 6132, prohibiting any political party and public officer from being represented in the Constitutional Convention, which was adopted in reaction to public opinion. See my April 27, 2009 column The elimination of public opinion for Raul Manglapus’ summary of events and the political implications of the plebiscite defeat:

According to Manglapus, politicians began to consider abolishing the [president’s] four-year term (with one possible re-election for another term) in 1949, because of the controversial elections of that year. By the 1960s, legislators were also keenly interested in two other Constitution-related proposals: first, that the membership of the House should be increased; and second, for elections to be synchronized to save time and money.

In 1967, fulfilling the provisions of the 1935 Constitution, Congress began sitting in joint session to consider these proposals, but no consensus could be reached on restoring a single six-year presidential term and on synchronized elections; there was agreement, though, to increase the number of representatives.

At which point, according to Manglapus, “someone said, ‘Since we cannot agree and we cannot keep on meeting in joint sessions because the public will demand that we cease this futile exercise, let us call a Convention.’”

But, Manglapus added, “the intention of course was that the Congressmen and the Senators were to control the Convention. And therefore when somebody said, ‘Let us call a Convention, anyway we can all be members of that Convention and we can control it,’ some other members of the House said ‘We cannot because we are inhibited by the present Constitution.’”

Clever colleagues proposed a solution: ‘All we have to do is amend the present Constitution at the same time that we pass the increase of seats in the House. We will say ‘However, a senator or congressman may be a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.’”

The problem was that any amendment had to be submitted to the people; Manglapus related that public opinion was disgusted with such a self-serving proposal, the result being “84 percent of them said ‘no.’ And the next morning the Senators and Congressmen woke up to find they had created a frankenstein monster. They had called a Constitutional Convention and they were not going to control it. And so they began to make noises that there was no need for the Convention, that [it] would be expensive; and cheaper and more convenient for the Senators and Congressmen to resume their work as a constituent assembly.”

Public opinion forced Congress to pass a Constitutional Convention Act, according to Manglapus, and deprived the political professionals of the fruits of victory twice over.

As I pointed out, as things turned out, robbing the political class of control over the 1971 Convention may have predisposed it to accepting Marcos’ solution: to force the Convention to accept his own draft, while ensuring general compliance by offering delegates seats in a new parliament on condition they approved Marcos’ draft.

June 1,1971: Constitutional Convention called to order

After fits and starts (and one wonders, since the Constitutional Convention law was passed in 1967, whether with the encouragement based on foresight, of Marcos, preparing for his second term), a Constitutional Convention was called, with several main proposals to consider: 1. Unitary versus Federal 2. Presidential versus Parliamentary

3. Unicameral versus Bicameral

See The Constitution speaks, February 12, 1972.

1972:  Controversies rock the Constitutional Convention.

Marcos’s political problem was that his 1969 term expired on December 30, 1973; and that, ideally, the extinction of the 1935 Constitution should be accomplished by means of the process set out in it. He seems to have been concerned that the Supreme Court might become the focus of resistance to his plans, as cases challenging martial law began to clog the court’s docket. An additional problem arose, when some senators tried to organize a ruckus in Congress, in time for the 1973 Regular Session scheduled to begin on January 22, 1973.

See The politicalization of the Constitutional Convention, January 22, 1972; Constitutional Convention Or Malacañang Kennel? Editorial for January 22, 1972; Constitutional Convention: Nakakahiya! February 26, 1972;

September 23, 1972: President Ferdinand E. Marcos declared Martial Law through Proclamation 1081, s. 1972.

As the Martial Law was implemented, the Constitutional Convention had approved a draft acceptable to President Marcos (in late 1972) and presented it to him, formally, on December 1, 1972; he’d accordingly issued a proclamation calling for a plebiscite to ratify or reject the new Constitution.

It seems that Marcos got wind of the possibility public opinion had swung against ratification. So if he held a plebiscite, he might lose; and win or lose, Congress or at least the Senate if not the House, seemed hell-bent on challenging martial law when it resumed session on January 22; that challenge, among other things, might stiffen the spine of the Supreme Court. So something had to be done before January 22.

 This concern is reflected in his December 23, 1972 announcement postponing the plebiscite; statements in December 29 in the state-controlled media warning of a “constitutional crisis” if senators insisted on convening in January, 1973; then, his decree creating Barangay Assemblies on January 5; then, having created a new mechanism, his January 7 order stating that the plebiscite originally scheduled for January 15 might be held on February 19 or March 15 as alternate dates; in other words, he postponed the only option, a plebiscite, to create two tracks, the barangay or citizens’ assembly and plebiscite paths.

Prior to martial law, Marcos had been admiringly described by his critics as engaging in Ju-Jitsu, and he handled the possibility that Congress would convene, under the provisions of the 1935 Constitution, and the difficulty represented by a plebiscite in the old manner leading to the rejection of the new constitution, by scrapping the rules.

September 24, 1972: President Marcos issued Presidential Decree No.1 adopting the Integrated Reorganization Plan. Thousands of employees mostly from BIR and Customs were dismissed from government service.

Marcos as a political strategist and tactician can be seen in his own diary entries, showing how in 1972, on September 24 (the day after he proclaimed martial law) he bluntly warned the Supreme Court that any effort to question his proclamation might provoke him into proclaiming a revolutionary government, which would mean shutting down the Supreme Court; September 26 (or three days after he proclaimed martial law) he was still telling subordinates that Congress and the Constitutional Convention would be untouched;

December 1, 1972: the Constitutional Convention presented a draft to President Marcos, which he found acceptable. He accordingly issued a proclamation calling for a plebiscite to ratify the new Constitution.


December 23, 1972: President Marcos announced the  postponement of the plebiscite.

January 7, 1973: Marcos postpones plebiscite

January 7, 1973: Marcos postpones plebiscite

President Marcos once again gave an announcement that the January 15 plebiscite was to be moved to either February 19 or March 15.

As for the Marcos “plebiscites” from 1973 to 1984, they were conducted in a manner entirely different from the 1935-1967 plebiscites and that held in 1987. So they are not part of a piece. What Marcos was trying to capitalize on was the familiarity of the public with referenda as a democratic process.

January 10-15, 1973: “Citizen’s Assemblies” on proposed Constitution

Marcos lowered the voting age from 18 to 15 and illiterates were allowed to vote. From January 10 to 15, a series of “citizens’ assemblies” were held, in lieu of a plebiscite in the manner specified by the 1935 Constitution. The “results” of the January 10-15, 1973 were:

— Question One: Whether to adopt the proposed (1973) Constitution:

14,976,561 (90.67%) Yes
743,869 (9.33%) No


— Question Two: Whether the public still wanted a plebiscite to be called to ratify the Constitution:

1,421,616 (9.04%) Yes
14,298,814 (90.96%) No


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With total valid votes at 15,720,430 (compare this figure with the 1967 plebiscite and 1969 presidential election figures; the Supreme Court itself, in its decision on the “ratification” of the 1973 Constitution, mentioned “the total number of registered voters 21 years of age or over in the entire Philippines, available in January 1973, was less than 12 million”: this suggests the boost in voting numbers provided by relaxing voting requirements such as age or literacy; except that Marcos, as a shrewd and self-confident strategist, didn’t rely on subordinates to scrounge around for a “will I win by 1 million” margin, but rather, created an infinitely safer margin for himself of nearly 3 million votes!).

January 13, 1973:  Marcos marshalls support among allies for his own draft of the proposed new constitution was what was going to be “ratified”.

(See The referendum scorecard 1935-1987, June 9, 2009)

January 17, 1973: Congress is padlocked. 

Two days later, President Marcos certified that the new constitution had been ratified. And then, he padlocked Congress, which he argued, was now defunct. All that was left was for the Supreme Court to declare the process valid. (See The referendum scorecard 1935-1987, June 9, 2009) This, the Supreme Court did in Javellana v. Executive Secretaryon March 31, 1973. Chief Justice Concepcion wrote the decision, stated his objections, and retired ahead of schedule in muted protest. For contemporary coverage, see Smiling no more, January 22, 1973.

January 23, 1973: Marcos once again reviewed the option of simply proclaiming a revolutionary government. 

January 24, 1973: Marcos reviewed the option of citizen’s assemblies instead of a secret ballot in a plebiscite.

January 27, 1973: Marcos saw plebiscites as a way to legitimize his rule.

Marcos expressed satisfaction with how everyone has fallen in line, and contemptuously noting the Justices of the Supreme Court seemed inclined to fall in line too, as long as he reassured them they could keep their jobs. And so, once success had been achieved, how the plebiscite route became his favored option for validating his rule; see May 5 and July 5-6. And his self-satisfaction a year after proclaiming martial law, see September 22. For my purposes, it’s not relevant to rehash the Marcos plebiscites which you can find in Wikipedia. In 1981, a Time Magazine report, Blighted win reported the indifference and civic disobedience to voting having been made mandatory:

In their strenuous efforts to ensure heavy voter participation and thereby give the regime a popular mandate, the Marcos forces had warned Filipinos that if they flouted the electoral law – as nearly 4 million voters did in a national plebiscite last April – they faced up to six months’ imprisonment. A week before the election, the warnings were reinforced by television films of two men who had been jailed for failing to vote in April. First Lady Imelda Marcos tried to lure Filipinos to the polls by hinting that amnesty might be granted to April boycotters if they voted this time. In the campaign’s closing days, President Marcos even invoked possible religious sanctions, citing a 1948 statement by Pope Pius XII that it was “a grave sin, a mortal offense” not to vote. That provoked a sharp rejoinder from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines that Marcos had taken the Pontiffs remarks out of context.


October 16-17,1976: Plebiscite on Martial Law

A plebiscite was held in order to determine if people were amenable to  amendments to the 1973 Constitution.

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Source: PCDSPO Philippine Electoral Almanac

June 12, 1978: Marcos restores Legislature

After having amended the 1973 constitution in 1976 to guarantee himself legislative powers even if a parliament convened, Ferdinand Marcos finally restored the legislature. It’s interesting to consider what the process of constitutional amendments was like, when the Batasang Pambansa was eventually established. (See The Worm Within)

1980: Proposed amendment on immunity from suit

One of Marcos’ lieutenants, Assemblyman Rodolfo Albano Jr. of Isabela province proposed a constitutional amendment. The amendment would turn the immunity from suit enjoyed by a president during his term of office, into a permanent protection. That is, immunity from suit for life. Assemblyman Arturo Tolentino rose in parliament to oppose the amendment (Tolentino also wrote one of the most interesting autobiographies ever penned by a Filipino politician, titling his book Voice of Dissent).

In a move reminiscent of Quezon’s informal committee to study his re-election, Parliament set up a committee composed of Justice Minister Ricardo Puno, Solicitor-General Estelito Mendoza, Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Minister Leonardo Perez (Marcos’s adviser on political affairs) and Assemblymen Emmanuel Pelaez, Juan Liwag, and Tolentino. Tolentino convinced the committee to refuse to tackle the proposal. It was sent to President Marcos and discussed in a meeting.

Tolentino recounts that in the meeting, Marcos was furious. He asked, “Where is it? Where is that provision? What will the military think of me if I will have only my own immunity as president and during my tenure?” He looked at the report and angrily repeated, “What will the military think of me when I will continue to be immune from suit as president but those who are under me and who followed my orders in times of crisis and in an hour of need will not have any immunity?”

Marcos’ table-thumping met with silence. So he went further: “This is the time for us to determine who are with me and who are not with me; and for those who are not with me, the door is open. You can join people who are like you. You have no place here.”An Assemblyman immediately chimed in suggesting not only that the proposal for lifetime immunity for the President be presented to Parliament, but immunity should be lifetime as well for other officials. Tolentino recounts, “in the face of presidential ire, nobody objected; I did not object.”

The proposed amendment was debated in parliament and Tolentino devoted six pages of his memoirs to a transcript of the debate. He claimed he was able to”water down” the amendment through a typically lawyerly definition of terms:

The extended immunity after tenure would not prevent a court from acquiring jurisdiction over the person of the ex-president who had become a private citizen, and as such subject to the judicial process. But the court would have no jurisdiction over the subject matter of the suit if it is a lawful official act… and so the case would be dismissed. The ex-president would not really be immune from suit but cannot be held liable because what is charged is an “official act”.

In other words, no president would be exempt from being charged in court; but because every official act’s presumed legal, and thus every official act is lawful, the courts would have had to automatically dismiss any charges against any former president.

(See The worm within, Nov 25, 2008)


April 7, 1981: Plebiscite

The government held yet another a plebiscite. It won, just as it would win when Marcos engineered more constitutional amendments, including yet another typically tricky one: since he was getting older, and sicker, even his party wanted a constitutional successor. So Marcos said yes. (See Plebiscitary Democracy)

January 27, 1984: Plebiscite held on various amendments

 A plebiscite was held in order to get the approval of the people on various proposed amendments to the constitution.

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Source: PCDSPO Philippine Electoral Almanac

March 25, 1986: Provisional constitution adopted

President Corazon Aquino declared in Proc. No. 3 “declaring a national policy to implement reforms mandated by the people protecting their basic rights, adopting a provisional constitution and providing for an orderly transition to a government under a new Constitution. After the EDSA revolution, there was a debate as to which policy to pursue concerning the 1973 Constitution as amended: 1. Restore the 1935 Constitution, on the grounds that the 1973 Constitution had never been validly ratified. 2. Retain the 1973 Constitution. 3. Proclaim a Revolutionary Government, govern under a temporary constitution, while paving the way for an appointed commission to write a new constitution. For details on the debate, see my series, Wedded to an Old Charter (December 18, 2008), Accommodating new forces( December 22, 2008), and ‘35, ‘73 or a new start? (December 24, 2008). See Cory’s Proclamation No. 3, by Napoleon G. Rama in the Free Press, April 19, 1986.

April 23, 1986: Through  Proc. No. 9 , Pres. Aquino created a Constitutional Commission to replace the 1973 Constitution.

Read Farewell, My Lovely, July 26, 1986

February 2, 1987: Ratification of the 1987 Constitution

The results were as follows:

17,059,495 (76.37%) YES
5,058,714 (26.65%) NO


The plebiscite ratified the 1987 Constitution. Under the charter, Aquino served as President until mid-1992.

(See The worm within, Nov 25, 2008)

  Screen shot 2014-08-15 at 10.00.05 AM

Source: PCDSPO Philippine Electoral Almanac


On February 16, 1987 Time reported the plebiscite as follows in The Philippines:

By the time it had ended, the largest electoral turnout in Philippine history had resoundingly endorsed the new constitution by a vote of more than 3 to 1. When the plebiscite results were proclaimed Saturday, they showed the document had been approved by some 16.6 million votes, with about 5.2 million opposed, for a winning margin of 76%. The outcome was a personal triumph for President Corazon Aquino, who had turned the plebiscite into a nationwide referendum on her government. “We have surprised the world again,” said the President. “The tremendous vote of confidence of Feb. 2 reaffirms the now unquestionable legitimacy and democratic power of our government.”

Aquino’s overwhelming victory was all the more remarkable because it followed several weeks of political unrest. On Jan. 22 a violent clash between soldiers and pro-land-reform demonstrators left at least a dozen dead. A week later, a tense three-day coup attempt ended when rebel soldiers surrendered. The President’s margin of victory forced even her most bitter opponents to concede that it represented the popular will. “We accept the verdict of the Filipino people,” said former Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, who led the rightist opposition under the banner of the Nationalista Party. He added, “We did our share in making democracy work by taking the other side of the issue.” Declared Jose Castro, a leader of the leftist Bayan Party: “We will abide with the masses’ decision.”

From my December 24, 2008 article: In David Wurfel’s estimation, “The basic law is probably close to what it would have been had the Constitutional Convention of 1971 been able to complete its work without the imposition of authoritarian rule.” In a way, things had come full circle. The unfinished task of the old Con-Con was completed. The idealism of some members of the Con-Con, which had provided some hope to an apparently disintegrating society and its government, found fulfillment, after a long interlude of repression. At the same time, some of the painful lessons and progressive insights gained under a dictatorship had borne fruit. But since then, the defects of that Constitution have become manifest; and among the defects are the thorny issues surrounding just how proposing amendments should come about. In July 1987, Congress is reestablished.

1992: SWS Survey on Charter Change

In the 1992 SWS survey, 40% agree that the Constitutional provisions should be changed at that time.


1993: Constituent Assembly of Congress convened

The House of Representatives passed Resolution 24 convening a Constituent Assembly of Congress to propose amendments to the Constitution, to undertake “structural and social action designed to propel the Philippines to a (newly industrialized country) status before the turn of the century in addition to a possible shift from presidential to parliamentary government.” The move did not push through, but it did not die as well. The move was tried again in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Congress.

August 1995: Shift towards Parliamentary Government

The House Committee on Constitutional Amendments began public hearings on constitutional change and shifting to a parliamentary government.


September 1995: Parliamentary Constitution leaked

The Manila Times published a leaked draft parliamentary constitution, apparently prepared by the National Security Council, which was headed by Jose Almonte) 

March 19, 1997: Supreme Court rules in Santiago v. Comelec

See G.R. No. 127325, March 19, 1997:

Under Section 2 of Article XVII of the Constitution and Section 5(b) of R.A. No. 6735, a petition for initiative on the Constitution must be signed by at least 12% of the total number of registered voters of which every legislative district is represented by at least 3% of the registered voters therein. The Delfin Petition does not contain signatures of the required number of voters. Delfin himself admits that he has not yet gathered signatures and that the purpose of his petition is primarily to obtain assistance in his drive to gather signatures. Without the required signatures, the petition cannot be deemed validly initiated…

The foregoing considered, further discussion on the issue of whether the proposal to lift the term limits of elective national and local officials is an amendment to, and not a revision of, the Constitution is rendered unnecessary, if not academic.


September 23, 1997: SC dismissed signature campaign

The Supreme Court dismissed the People’s Initiative for Reform, Modernization and Action (PIRMA)’s  petition which sought to amend the Constitution through a signature campaign. (PIRMA vs. COMELEC, 1997)


September 27, 1997: Rally held against charter change

Former President Cory Aquino and Jaime Cardinal Sin spearheaded an anti-charter change rally with the support of Catholic bishops at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila. (GMA News: Past major rallies vs. charter change, February 29, 2008)

March and June 1999: SWS survey on charter change

In the March 1999 survey by SWS, 23% agree that the provisions in the Constitution should be changed now.

August 1999:  Estrada proposes CONCORD

President Joseph Ejercito Estrada proposes the Constitutional Correction for Development (CONCORD), to amend economic provisions of the Constitution in order to lift prohibiting provisions on foreign ownership of land and stake in any local industry. 

August 20, 1999: 2nd rally against cha-cha

Former President Cory Aquino and Cardinal Sin led another anti-charter change rally this time at Ayala Avenue, Makati against President Estrada’s version of charter change, the Constitutional Correction for Development (CONCORD). (Past major rallies vs. charter change, GMANews TV, February 29, 2008)

June 10, 2001: Carpio proposes three amendments Antonio Carpio (now Associate Justice) op-ed proposing three “necessary” amendments to the Constitution:

The first necessary and urgent change is amending the fixed and permanent definition of the national territory in our Constitution. The Constitution defines the national territory to include all lands and waters over which the Philippines has historic or legal title. This includes Sabah and the Kalayaan Island Group. No president can conclude a peace settlement with Malaysia over the Sabah issue without violating the Constitution… The only solution is to amend the Constitution to insert the proviso “unless otherwise provided by law” as a qualification to the current definition of the national territory in the Constitution. This way, the President can by law be authorized to settle the Sabah dispute, the Congress can enact the national baselines law and the DFA can argue more seriously the Sipadan case before the ICJ. Most importantly, we can prepare a stronger case for the big battle of them all: the future arbitration of the Spratlys dispute before the ICJ. The second most important amendment to the present Constitution is the “regionalization” of the Senate. Visayas and Mindanao have always been under-represented in the Senate, and the incoming Senate, with 19 senators from Luzon, is no exception. If senators are elected by region and not nationwide, there will be an equitable representation of all regions, including the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, in the upper chamber of Congress… The third most important amendment to the Constitution is the return of the country to a true democracy by instituting the rule of the majority. The present Constitution provides for a multi-party system but inexplicably fails to require a run-off in presidential elections if no candidate wins a majority of the votes cast. A run-off is an essential element of a multi-party system and ensures that the president enjoys the mandate of the majority.

In July 2001, Jose de Venecia, former House Speaker, assigned priority status to amending the 1987 Constitution through a constituent assembly in Congress. He chose Antonio Eduardo Nachura, representing the Second District of Western Samar, to lead the Committee on Constitutional Amendments. 

2002-2005: Pulse Asia and SWS Surveys on Charter Change

In the November 2002 survey by SWS, only 21% agree that there are Constitutional provisions that are needed to be changed at that time. In the 2003 survey by Pulse Asia, 77% of Filipinos have little or no knowledge of Constitution. Of the 23% of Filipinos who have at least a sufficient knowledge of the charter, only 4 out of 10 (39%) support moves for amendments during that time, while another 39% oppose but are open to amendments some time in the future. According to SWS in June, only 20% think that there are Constitutional provisions that need to be changed.

In the March 2005 Pulse Asia survey, 29% agreed that the Constitution should be amended.
In May of the same year, the SWS survey showed that 30% of Filipinos agreed that there are Constitutional provisions that should be changed now.

September 1, 2003: Jose Almonte admits he was behind PIRMA

In an interview by Newsbreak, Jose Almonte admits to being the one behind PIRMA. “I was the one behind it. I take full responsibility. But I would like to clarify certain points. It was not Charter change: it was an implementation of the people power provision of the Constitution, that the people can take the initiative to amend the Constitution. This was what we wanted: for the people to initiate and approve a resolution that any president of the Republic who. in their perception and their opinion, has done very well, be made an exemption to the term limits. He should be allowed to run again.” “Those who were against it were the ones who would be affected, and they were those who would like to become president in 1998.”

Asked about PIRMA was to prevent an Estrada Presidency – “That is correct. In my view, he would reverse all the reforms that the Ramos government had done. We knew that only the incumbent. President Ramos, could beat Estrada in the election. In short: if we have to defeat Estrada in an election, then we have to allow Ramos to run again. I have nothing personal against Estrada. Whoever was the strongest potential candidate at the time was immaterial. The original intention of Pirma was for a good president to be allowed to run again.” (Newsbreak Archives, Jose Almonte: The Original intention of PIRMA was for a good president to run again).

August 19, 2005: GMA forms Consultative Commission

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed Executive Order 453, Creating a consultative commission to propose the revision of the 1987 constitution in consultation with various sectors of society. A year later, the Consultative Commission pushed for the amendment of constitution to parliamentary-federal government. (See Jose Abueva’s “Some Advantages of Federalism and Parliamentary Government for the Philippines”)


October 2005: Pulse Asia Survey on Charter Change

In October, 36% agreed that the Constitution should be amended. At the same time, 26% are in favor or changing the present presidential system into a parliamentary system of government.

November 6, 2005: Matrix of various proposals for Constitutional amendments

Prepared by PCIJ and published online as Proposals for charter change: A comparison of the Abueva, House, and Coalition for Charter Change proposals.

December 15, 2005: Consultative Commission on Charter Change finishes report

After three months of work, the Consultative Commission on Charter Change proposes the postponement of elections until 2010. A parliamentary government is proposed, and gradual Federalism as well as the liberalization of economic provisions of the Constitution. See sidebar of this article for the records of the deliberations of the Commission.


November 6, 2005: House to begin debate on Constitutional Amendments

As reported by PCIJ.

2006: Congress proposes People’s Initiative

House of Representatives presents matrix of proposed amendments to the Constitution: the amendments propose a unicameral, parliamentary, People’s Initiative proposed as means to accomplish Constitutional amendments. Supreme Court struck down people’s initiative as a means for amendments. 

February 15, 2006: Makati Business Club proposes the following amendments to the Constitution:


(1) The President’s and Vice President’s term be limited to four years, with one re-election allowed as in the past. (2) The President and Vice President should come from the same party. (3) Revert to the two party system and pass measures that will penalize turncoatism. (4) If a multiparty system is maintained, then a run-off election for President and Vice President must be provided when none of the candidates achieve a clear majority.(5) The provisions or restrictions on economic activities should be removed from the Constitution and made a matter of law that Congress can amend, revise or repeal as the need arises to meet changing conditions and global competition.

Sergio Osmeña III commissions survey to take snapshot of public opinion on Constitutional amendments. The results take anti-Charter Change advocates by surprise.

March, April and July 2006: Pulse Asia Survey on Charter Change

In the March 2006 Pulse Asia survey, more Filipinos were in favor of amending the Constitution as compared to the previous year. 43% agreed that the Constitution should be amended. 33% are in favor or changing the present presidential system into a parliamentary system of government.
Meanwhile, in April, 44% agreed that the Constitution should be amended. In July, less Filipinos were in favor of the Constitutional amendments. Only 40% agreed that the Constitution should be amended.
According to the SWS survey in June, 27% will vote for a new Constitution that President GMA wants.


July 29, 2006: See Explainer: The difference between parliamentary and presidential government.


August 2, 2006: See Explainer: Parliamentary and Unicameral Resources.


August 6, 2006: See Explainer: The difference between presidential and parliamentary government.


September and November 2006: SWS and Pulse Asia Survey on Charter Change

According to the SWS survey in September, 29% will vote for a new Constitution that President GMA wants.

In Pulse Asia’s November 2006 survey, 39% are in favor of changing the Constitution. In the same month, SWS found out that only 28% will vote for a new Constitution that President GMA wants.

Senate Economic Planning Office publishes Electoral System, Parties and Bureaucracy: The Missing Links in the Charter Change Debate

October 25, 2006: Supreme Court rules in Lambino v. Comelec.

See Lambino v. COMELEC, G.R. No. 174153, October 25, 2006.

There can be no mistake about it. The framers of the Constitution intended, and wrote, a clear distinction between “amendment” and “revision” of the Constitution. The framers intended, and wrote, that only Congress or a constitutional convention may propose revisions to the Constitution. The framers intended, and wrote, that a people’s initiative may propose only amendments to the Constitution. Where the intent and language of the Constitution clearly withhold from the people the power to propose revisions to the Constitution, the people cannot propose revisions even as they are empowered to propose amendments.

December 5-7, 2006: Congress proposes move to parliament, postponement of elections and term extension

The month began with the House of Representatives vowing it would finally propose amendments to the Philippine Constitution. It would do so with or without the participation of the Senate. To facilitate the process, it amended its own rules to dispense with a previous (and long-standing) requirement that constitutional proposals undergo the same process as legislative measures. In a marathon session that went on from Dec. 5 to 6, the House majority forced through the change. The next day, the House proceeded to attempt to propose a resolution which would transform itself into a Constituent Assembly; this would be made possible by a House Resolution stating the intent of the House. This was passed early in the morning of Dec. 7. But the bruising dusk to dawn sessions of the past days antagonized the public to an extent that surprised the House leadership and even the president. The reason people were antagonized was in the nature of the House proposals. First, to postpone elections from May 2007 to November of next year; second, to immediately transform the Congress into a Parliament if the proposals were approved in a plebiscite; third, to lift term limits (congressmen are presently limited to three, three-year terms) and lengthen terms from 3 to 5 years. They would do so, even in the face of Senate opposition, and provoke a constitutional crisis if necessary. The Catholic hierarchy said it would call the people to a rally on Dec. 15. Word got around that other influential groups would join the Catholics; the president got nervous, and told the House leadership she would disown them if they didn’t drop their plans.

December 9, 2006: Congress challenges Senate to call for Constitutional Convention

The Speaker of the House held a press conference saying he was bowing to public pressure, but -in his own words — then tried to “turn the tables” on the Senate by challenging it to call for a Constitutional Convention. The Speaker gave an ultimatum: The Senate had three days to respond or the House would continue with its plans. This further galvanized public opposition and the intention of the various churches and civic groups to rally.

It was at that point that the president began more public maneuverings even as some pretty frantic plans were launched to blunt the effect of a rally. First, the national gambling authority, the Philippine Amusements and Games Corporation, hired the location where the rally was supposed to take place. The rally organizers were forced to announce a postponement from Friday the 15h to Sunday the 17th. Then, on the 15th, the president made the announcement quoted above.

December 14, 2006: GMA sets aside charter change.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said this: “It is time to gather together all the energies of our people for the continuing work ahead… Philippine democracy will always find the proper time and opportunity for Charter reform at a time when the people deem it ripe and needful, and in the manner they deem proper. The nation must consolidate now and I call upon all our institutions and sectors to stand as one for the country’s future.”

December 19, 2006: GMA challenges national leaders to take up charter change.

President Arroyo said this: “There are three realities we face as a nation: One, that the people accept the need for Charter change to overhaul the system; two, that there is a need for a unified national consensus on the means and timetable; and three, that this is a platform commitment of the administration that will be pursued with urgency and fervor…This is a matter of paramount national interest and our leaders must all rise to the challenge.”

May 7, 2008: Proposal on unitary to federal government

Rep. Monico O. Puentevella Tuesday filed House Concurrent Resolution 15 which supported the initiative of Senate Minority Floor Leader Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr., author of Joint Resolution 10 that has been backed by 16 senators  to move to change the form of government to federal from unitary. SeeHouse resolution supports change in form of government See Explainer: Charter Change script on what makes for a successful charter change

October 2008: SWS Survey on Charter Change

In the October 2008 SWS survey, 15% are in favor of amending the Constitution to allow President Arroyo extend her term.

November 10, 2008: Fr. Bernas on amendments on choosing supreme court and other appellate justices

Serious talk about constitutional amendment after the 2010 elections is growing in strength. If we should have an amendatory process, I am certain that one of the provisions which will be subjected to examination is the manner of choosing Supreme Court justices and other appellate justices. Until this happens, we have to make the present system work.

(Inquirer Opinion, Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J)

December 1, 2008

PCIJ summary of pro- and anti-amendments bills.

February 2009: Pulse Asia and SWS Survey on Charter Change

In the February 2009 survey by Pulse Asia, 33% are in favor of changing the Constitution. According to SWS, 15% are in favor of amending the Constitution to allow President Arroyo extend her term.

April 22, 2009:  Rep. Luis Villafuerte sponsors resolution calling upon the House of Representatives to “convene for the purpose of considering proposals to amend or revise the constitution, upon a vote of three fourths of all the members of Congress

See House Resolution 1109 sponsored by Rep. Luis Villafuerte.

See op-ed by Joel Rocamora on impossibility of ruling coalition’s math at the time.

June 2009: SWS Survey on Charter Change

In the June 2009 SWS survey, 12% are in favor of amending the Constitution to allow President Arroyo extend her term.

June 4, 2009: Locsin statement on House unilaterally convening a Constituent Assembly.

From his statement:

I submit that the Supreme Court and the country as a whole will ignore us — and then laugh at us all the way to the ignominious end of the 14th Congress. We shall be ignored as surely as we shall be laughed at.

For this is a resolution calling upon the members of Congress but naming only the members of the House to convene constituently for no stated purpose. And yet the Constitution specifies that Congress may convene as a constituent assembly only for the purpose of considering — considering — not introducing let alone just awaiting — proposals to amend or revise the Constitution upon a vote of 3/4th of all the members of Congress.

This resolution puts the cart before the horse because, there being no amendments to consider, there is no purpose to convene Congress as a constituent assembly. It is a blatant lie that this resolution reflected upon its introduction to the floor of the House a consensus of the House of a need to amend the Constitution because, aside from the Speaker of the House who filed his amendment to the economic provisions as a regular bill, no one has expressed any desire to change the Constitution or expressly specified in what particular respect.


July 3, 2009: One Voice full-page ad opposing House Resolution 1109 which proposed strategy of House of Representatives convening a Constituent Assembly in Congress.


August 3, 2009: Jesuit priest Joaquin Bernas proposed replacing the JBC with old system of Commission on Appointments approving judicial nominations

Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J.  proposed to amend provisions in the Constitution, particularly the process of appointing justices of the Supreme Court, appointed by the president from the list prepared by the Judicial and Bar Council (see Inquirer: Appointing a Supreme Court justice).

See also Inquirer: Saludo blows out


June 14, 2012: Fr. Bernas on restoring a 1935 constitutional provision on appointments to the judiciary

Fr. Bernas has argued for a return to the 1935 system that requires appointees to pass through the CA, at least for candidates to the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. He agrees with the late former senator and fellow ConCom member Francisco Rodrigo who favored the CA choosing pre-martial justices. Bernas recalls how Rodrigo “valiantly” fought, but failed, to restore the 1935 constitutional provision.

From President Quezon on to Osmeña, Roxas, Quirino, Magsaysay, Garcia, Macapagal and even Marcos before he declared martial law, the appointments to the Judiciary, especially to the Supreme Court and to the Court of Appeals, were high-class, so much so that we had the highest, the utmost respect for the Judiciary,” Rodrigo had said. “Before the declaration of martial law, we regarded the Supreme Court, up to the Concepcion Court, with awe and respect. And so why should we change this now, merely because of what happened during martial law?

(See ABS-CBN News, For better judiciary, reforms in appointment process needed)

June 25, 2013: Fr. Bernas on giving back to the Commission on Appointments the power to confirm appointments to the Supreme Court

I keep referring to things prior to martial law because I believe that the completely discretionary power of the president under martial law to appoint members of the judiciary was what destroyed the Philippine judicial system. We have not yet recovered from that debacle, and I am not sure which direction the present administration is going. What then?
One thought I have is that we should give back to the Commission on Appointments the power to confirm appointments to the Supreme Court. Go back, in other words, to the 1935 system. But, yes, only for Supreme Court justices. Let the JBC continue to handle appointments to lower levels. Of course, on the evidence of how the impeachment of Renato Corona was conducted by the House of Representatives and the Senate, one cannot claim that a Commission on Appointments would work perfectly. But a fully transparent process of the commission will help temper the allure of political temptations. Regrettably, however, a return to the old system can only happen after a constitutional amendment, which may not be near in coming.

July 9, 2013: House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. filed a concurrent resolution proposing amendments to the 1987 Constitution regarding economic provisions on foreign capital investments in the country.

See Belmonte makes fresh push for Cha-cha, but Palace questions its urgency

July 16, 2014: Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 2

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV introduced a “concurrent resolution proposing the amendment of section 16, article vii of the 1987 Philippine constitution in order to limit the confirmation process of the commission on appointment for members of the staff of the AFP and service commanders of the army, air force, and navy only. (S. Ct. Reso. No. 2, 2013)

August 7, 2014: Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice proposes term extension for President Aquino and is currently drafting a bill to amend the Constitution.


August 13, 2014: President Aquino’s Interview with TV5

Asked about term extension in an interview, President Benigno S. Aquino III said that he will listen to what his “bosses” [people] want.

PRES. AQUINO: Well, ‘nung pinasukan ko ho ito, ang tanda ko one term of six years. Ngayon, after having said that, siyempre, ang mga boss ko ho kailangan kong pakinggan rin e, at hindi ibig sabihin noon na automatic na hahabol ako na magkaroon pa akong dagdag dito, ano. Pero ang tanong nga doon: Paano ba natin masisigurado na ‘yung mga repormang nagawa natin—at ‘pag nina-natin ko, lahat ho ng—mula ‘yung nagbigay sa akin ‘nung mandato nandiyan nakikidamay sa akin, nasa gobyerno, wala sa gobyerno—na maging permanente na itong pagbabago natin. So pagkokonsulta ho sa mga boss ‘yon. Paano ba ang mas may katiyakan tayo na ‘yung pinaghirapan nating lahat ay talaga namang magkaroon na ng ugat at magkatotoo ng permanenteng pagbabago.

(See full transcript of President Aquino with TV5)

See President Aquino says he is open to Cha-Cha, 2nd term, and a weaker SC


August 26, 2014: Resolution of Both House No. 1

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. authored a House Resolution that proposed amendments on some economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution. He particularly seeks to add the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” in provisions in Articles II, XII & XVI.

See Complete List of House Bills & Resolutions on Charter Change and Constitutional Amendments 


August 27, 2014: President Aquino’s Interview with Bombo Radyo

In a recent interview with Bombo Radyo, President Aquino said that he was open to amending the 1987 Constitution to set limits to the “judicial overreach” but his openness to charter change has nothing to do with seeking a second term of office.

MR. ACOL: Nabanggit niyo na kayo ay tila bukas doon naman sa tinatawag na Charter Change. Pero may pahawatig na sinasabing maramingmay kumontra, may mga kritiko po kayo, meron din namang sumuporta na sinasabing bukas din kayo kung saka-sakali na tinatawag na tatakbo sa 2016 elections kung magkaroon ng Charter Change. Ano pong konteksto talaga nang nabanggit n’yong ito?

PRES. AQUINO: Iyong judicial reach mukhang dapat yata i-review, lagyan ng hangganan.

MR. ACOL: So walang kinalaman ito sa paglalayon na mapalawig daw iyong termino ninyo po beyond 2016?

PRES. AQUINO: Ako ba ang nag-aambisyon na pahabain?

Sinabi ko naman noong una akong tumakbo hindi ako masokista. Pero at the same time, tila—sabi ko nga makikinig ako sa anumang utos ng mga boss natin.

(See full transcript of President Aquino with Bombo Radyo)

September 1, 2014: House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte said that there is no room for political changes in the Constitution in the 16th Congress. However, economic changes can be pursued.

(GMA News: Political cha-cha, walang puwang sa 16th Congress)


October 2014: Pulse Asia Survey on Charter Change

In the most recent Pulse Asia Survey, 62% of Filipinos were opposed to amending the Constitution, while only 20% were willing to amend it.




SWS Survey: Opinion on Cha-cha that will allow President Gloria Arroyo to still be the chief official of the Philippines after June 30, 2010 / Allowing P. Arroyo to become head of government even after 2010?

Screen shot 2014-08-28 at 1.09.05 AM

Source: Charter change surveys from consolidated by PCDSPO.

SWS Survey: Opinion on cha-cha lessening restriction on foreign participation in the economy.

Screen shot 2014-08-28 at 1.11.13 AM

Source: Charter change surveys from consolidated by PCDSPO.

SWS Survey: Would you vote for or against a new constitution that President Gloria Arroyo wants?

Screen shot 2014-08-28 at 1.12.22 AM

Source: Charter change surveys from consolidated by PCDSPO.


Acknowledgments: Francis Kristoffer Pasion Gino Bayot Mica Olaño Celina Cua Sandi Suplido

Aug 11

Rogue Magazine: Crown and Country

rogue cover - aug 2014

Rogue | August 2014

Crown and Country

by Manuel L. Quezon III

 As we say goodbye to our current leaders, we greet their next-in-lines. From Imelda to Bongbong, from JPE to Jackie, can succession plans really go the distance?

AUGUST is a month which reminds us that the problem with revolution (ours began in August, 1896 against Spain), dictatorship (the beginning of the end for Marcos was Ninoy Aquino’s assassination), or unprecedented political leadership (Cory Aquino and Manuel L. Quezon both died on August 1, Quezon and Ramon Magsaysay were born on August 19 and 31 respectively) is, as one lawyer recently told me, “it never has an exit plan.” A revolution, by its very nature, destroys the old and finds it difficult to turn what is new into some- thing permanent: hence a revolution devours its own children. A dictatorship built on the argument that the dictator is the indispensable man considers a succession plan a dangerous sign of weakness—leaving the only possible exit plan, as in a revolutionary situation, a matter of execution or exile.


Marcos had a succession plan, which as one of his advisers put it to me, consisted of a secret decree naming a committee whose members were then expected to fight it out to see who would end up on top. From time to time to stir the pot, Marcos would hint to allies as to who comprised the committee, all the better to see the jockeying unfold. Quezon, Roxas, and Magsaysay all cultivated successors, but only Quezon actually successfully designated his political heir; Roxas and Magsaysay died in their first term, unable to finish their expected tenure and build up a successor. Cory Aquino during her lifetime got some credit for helping elect Ramos, but was more successful in blunting the ambitions of her successors: a reactive veto.


Then there are those who occupy the intersection of politics and commerce: enjoying political as well as business clout. One wonders what Juan Ponce Enrile felt, as his motorcade wound its way to Camp Crame early in July, about his political and commercial aspirations. Surely all the struggle was about a legacy greater than Delimondo canned goods? Looming over Ayala Avenue remains the stump of his unfinished Jaka Center, started 20 years ago as the tallest building in the country. Back then, it was a symbol of the self- made man, built on the former lot of the Elizalde Building, a symbol of the old tycoons giving way to the new. Now, Enrile has no building, and too many copies of his autobiography—filled with self-made pride, and meant to boost the prospects of his son—are gathering dust in the bookstores because the book opened up more questions than it answered. What was meant to be at the very least a political exit plan—his serving out his last years in the senate in the company of his son and heir—has been reduced to the son chatting with ANC as he rode in the convoy to deliver his father to detention.


The exit plans that seem to work are those that involve two things: a conscious decision by the one making the exit to leave the scene, and a plan to make sure the heirs are kept from screwing up.


Frederick Law Olmstead, the landscape designer of Central Park, noticed he was not only going senile but developing dementia. He told his sons to take over and take him out of the business. While Olmstead ended up dying in an insane asylum, the firm he established lasted a hundred years. The best-laid plans can go awry even if they start off well. Henry Ford had established the Ford Motor Company in 1903 and by 1918 (then only aged 55), he handed over the presidency of the company to his son, Edsel. But Edsel Ford died in 1943, and Henry made a comeback—senile, paranoid, and al- together incapable of running his great corporation.


John D. Rockefeller, the oil tycoon, had his son, John D., Jr., enter the Standard Oil Company in 1897. He left the company in 1910 to focus on philanthropy; when the Standard Oil monopoly was broken up, it ironically resulted in ballooning Rockefeller’s fortune—which he then systematically transferred to his son. John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s fortune then passed into trusts controlled by his five sons. But these Rockefellers ended up feuding, in large part due to the political career of Nelson Rockefeller who at one point became an appointed, and not elected, Vice President of the United States: the Senate hearings for his appointment led Nelson Rockefeller to disclose the full extent of the family fortune, which revealed it was no longer as vast as popularly believed, a reduction of family prestige his brothers found unforgiveable. Then the third generation faced a revolt from the fourth generation, which persisted until the 1990s, when the fourth and fifth generation of Rockefellers, plentiful in number, shifted from “wealth preservation” to expanding to new enterprises to keep their individual and family net worth up.


William Randolph Hearst created a trust for his heirs composed of a board of 13: five family members, and the rest executives from his corporations. The trust in turn invests and then makes annual payments to Hearst’s heirs. The trust has been so successful that it has made the transition from the previous to the current century not only intact, but has greatly expanded its value and clout, with 20 percent of ESPN, and the Hearst publications among its crown jewels.


Even a notorious attempt by the ex-wife of John Randolph Hearst Jr. to deprive her husband of his fortune (a long time girlfriend who had married him after he had a stroke allegedly proceeded to transfer his assets to herself), which resulted in a settlement to prevent the case breaking the seal of secrecy on the details of the Hearst Trust imposed after Patty Hearst was kidnapped in 1974 (secrecy was imposed so that other heirs would not become targets), failed to break up the trust.


Unlike the Rockefellers and the Hearsts, other succession plans fail because of the heirs themselves.


Jay Pritzker, founder of the Hyatt hotels fortune, had placed a trio of heirs—including Penny Pritzker, now President Obama’s Secretary of Commerce—in charge of the family trust. Other Pritzker heirs eventually challenged the trio, arguing they were overcompensating themselves at the expense of the other heirs. The result was that Penny Pritzker and the others in charge of the family trust had to basically liquidate the family fortune, and parcel it out among all the heirs— including Penny’s two brothers with whom she stopped being on speaking terms.


The generation of the first Taipans are now in the departure lounge; now part of the establishment, they will face the same succession problems the old mestizo commercial families faced. And what is true for business applies to politics, as well: the current era of reform ends in 2016.


To the delight of those who find it inconvenient, there is the prospect of a return to the old ways after that (enter Madame Marcos, complete with flower tiara, proclaiming the presidentiability of her son); and to those who feel it’s meant something, there is the horrifying prospect of the reforms being rolled back.


At the back of everyone’s mind, then, is this: is there an exit plan two years hence?

Jul 11

Opening Remarks At the Association of Special Libraries of the Philippines: Information Resource Sharing Forum

Opening Remarks

At the Association of Special Libraries of the Philippines: Information Resource Sharing Forum

Presidential Broadcast Studio, Kalayaan Hall, Malacañan, Manila

July 11, 2014

I regret being unable to join you today: at this moment the 2015 budget is being presented to the Cabinet. I would very much have wanted to be with you and beg your understanding.

At a time when the value of knowledge seems severely reduced, because it is freely available online, one can only wonder at the irony we face: the accumulated information and learning of humanity has never been so accessible and yet never has it been in some respects so remote from the public.

The reason for this as endlessly discussed and analyzed is that the colossal scale of information out there, puts discernment and comprehension at a premium; superficiality is accompanied by an insistence on instant gratification. My point in bringing this up is, never has your role been more crucial: now more than ever, you bear on your shoulders the heavy yet rewarding task of not only being custodians but advocates of knowledge and an informed society.

Each of you is tasked with amassing a hoard – of books, documents, of data– so that the public should it feel inclined, can plunder that hoard to its hearts content. You are building up riches of the mind in order to give men and women the intellectual tools with which to build a new world. It is a counterintuitive task in some respects: to build up at great cost in time and money, so that others may take away and build value, not for your institutions but for themselves: though of course in building value for ones self one ideally contributes to the whole.

I hope you will not flag or fail in this mission. After all if resources are required, then together, we can reduce the burden to each other by sharing what each of us has; building on the strengths of our individual collections and enriching each others collections out of a shared commitment to the betterment of humanity.

Today you will be sharing ideas on how to do this better; you will be strengthening the personal bonds that enable each of us to persevere in our sometimes lonely, even thankless tasks. May you remain advocates of a humanistic attitude that cherishes the past –its artifacts and ideas and ideals–while playing a vital role in the building of a more generous, more informed and more humane future.

For anyone who dwells in the great halls of the knowledge community, the job is the reward. All of us are privileged to roam the stacks, fortunate to add to the great body of work begun by Dewey, to be like Linneaus in categorizing the world, each according to the frameworks of our individual disciplines.

On a personal note, let me express my gratitude to each of you for the generosity of spirit and solidarity you exhibit to non-experts like myself, when we have questions or concerns. Each question you answer and with every citation you help us find, you allow us to stand on the shoulders of giants.

I hope that in the remaining two years of the Presidents term, my office and the institutions we work with, will work even closer and achieve what we have set out to do: to enable the Filipino people and the world to access the institutional memory of our Republic.

Thank you.

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