By Teodoro M. Locsin
…The old, familiar figures come back as one goes over the record of the convention. Manuel L. Quezon, then senate president, who welcomed the delegates assembled for the first time in the session hall of the House of Representatives and declared the existence of a quorum: One hundred ninety-nine of the 202 elected delegates showed up the first day, some as early as eight o’clock in the morning, although the session was to begin at 10:30. The American governor general, Frank Murphy, who was expected to make a brief speech but stayed away, as a matter of delicadeza: the Filipinos were about to prepare the fundamental law of their future independent state; he did to want anything he might say to influence in the least the deliberations of the body. Manuel A. Roxas, the delegate from Capiz, seconding the nomination of Jose P. Laurel of Batangas by Manuel Cuenco of Cebu as the temporary chairman of the convention, then discharging “the very pleasant duty of presenting…the distinguished jurist, able lawyer and successful statesman who will preside over your convention, the gentleman from Batangas, the Honorable Senator Recto.” Tomas Confesor of Iloilo, raising a tempest in a teapot and being ignored. Gen. Teodoro Sandiko administering the oath of office to Recto as president of the convention. Gregorio Perfecto being ruled out of order by Recto. Ruperto Montinola of Iloilo and Teodoro Sandiko of Bulacan being elected as first and second vice-president, respectively.
Quezon addressed the convention:
“In the name of the Filipino people and the Philippine Legislature, as well as in my own, I bid you welcome and extend to you the warmest congratulations for your election to this august body.”
He was dressed in a white silk suit with a gray necktie and grayish-striped shirt: trim and erect and engaging—a dandy. He enumerated the steps that led to the holding of the convention:
“On March 24,1934, the Congress of the United States approved Public Act No, 127, 73rd Congress, entitled ‘An Act to provide for the independence of the Philippine Islands, to provide for the adoption of a constitution and form of government for the Philippine Islands, and for other purposes.’ As a condition ‘sine qua non’ for the enforcement of this Act, it was provided that it be accepted either by the Philippine Legislature or by a convention called for the purpose of passing upon that question. On May 1, 1934, the Philippine Legislature, at a special session called by His Excellency the Governor-General, accepted the aforesaid Act and ordered the election of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention, and fixed this date, the 30th of July, 1934, as the date for the delegates to convene in this Hall of the House of Representatives.”
The man who seemed mainly composed of fire, charm and political cunning, whose nature and American justice tried to explain by saying that in him there were two elements, the white and the brown, with the white despising the brown and the brown hating the white, who had made himself the leader of a similarly confused people, whom it was impossible—many said of him—not to love, paused. An eyebrow twitched. The half-shrill, compelling voice went on:
“You have met here in pursuance to the call of the Philippine Legislature to organize yourself as a constitutional convention and to frame and adopt the constitution for the Government of the Commonwealth, as well as for the Government of the Philippine Republic, until such constitution is amended or abrogated by the sovereign will of the people of the Philippine Islands. It is my fervent wish and prayer that your task upon prosperity of the Filipino people will greatly depend be crowned with complete success.”…
A mission headed by Quezon and including Recto and Roxas was sent to the United States to secure then President Roosevelt’s approval of the Constitution. The presentation of the draft was made to the American president on March 18. A Quezon joke made the presentation at the time and on the date set possible. Recto thought Roxas had the copy of the Constitution with him when they left for the White House and Roxas thought Quezon had it. “Don’t forget to bring the official copy of the Constitution with you,” President Quezon told Recto jokingly in Quezon’s room in the Shoreham Hotel where the members of the mission had gathered. The official copy was found in the briefcase of Private Secretary Guillermo Cabrera; it would have been left behind but for Quezon’s little joke.
Recto presented the copy to Roosevelt. On March 23, in the presence of Filipino and American officials, President Roosevelt approved the Constitution, congratulated those responsible for it. He called it a “great constitution.” Quezon told the Filipino people about the approval of the law by radiophone, at 1:02 a.m.
“The Constitution is signed!”
That was the signal to start the sirens going. Bells rang, firecrackers exploded, fireworks were lighted. All Manila was awake and cheering.
It was a great and happy day.
It was a great and noble work. The members of the convention had not worked alone, of course. Inspiration, as has been pointed out—from the minds of England, the United States, France. Among the presiding spirits at the convention were those of St. Thomas More, who had envisioned a “Utopia” in which all men would be free and reasonable—this, under the despotism of Henry VIII; the blind Milton, who wrote of earth, heaven and hell, and the reasons for a free press; Thomas Paine, who called it “Common Sense” to be independent and fought for “The Rights of Man” against the “divine right” of kings; Thomas Jefferson.
The Greeks and the Romans were there, and the Jews, the wedding of whose culture with the cultures of Greece and Rome produced the Western World and its concern for the rights of the individual, the soul of man.