The worm within

Inquirer Current

 The worm within

 by Manuel L. Quezon III


This will be my only entry for the rest of this week, as I have to clear the decks and prepare for Asia on the Edge in Singapore this weekend. If you’re there, you may want to attend some of the Thought Leaders activities. The news has now shifted from the killing of impeachment to the Palace game plan on amending the Constitution. After all, it seems RP Elections 2010: The Election Watchblog, might either be an exercise in futility, or a premature one until pending matters are resolved. On November 11, I wrote of the Poisoned fruit of the Constitution. Instead of incrimental, confidence-building reforms, one problem is that officialdom is immediately going whole hog without the public being in the know as to what, exactly, is being proposed -or if there are any limits. But I’d like to put forward a survey of past Charter Change efforts as a guide to ongoing debate on Charter Change and ask, along the way:

1. What makes for a succesful 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; ; 1976-1986 amendents all succeeded; 1987 succeeded. 2. What dooms Charter Change to fail or at least, imperils it? 1973 worked due to force majeure and legal legerdemain; 1997-98, 1999-2000, and 2005-2006 all failed due to public protests, defeat in the courts, or both. In general, what is remarkable is that Constitutional Change is viewed as some sort of magic pill to cure the illnesses of the country. When Adrian Cristobal died, it seemed to me that he and his fellow intellectuals who served Ferdinand Marcos brought forth the only real game in town, other than Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought. And that is, the idea of a New Society, a Bagong Lipunan. Though both are essentially two sides of the same Year Zero coin.  Bagong Pagsilang (Hymn of the New Society) – Bagong Lipunan Choral Ensemble, Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, Felipe Padilla de Leon May bagong silang, May bago nang buhay, Bagong bansa, Bagong galaw, Sa Bagong Lipunan.Magbabago ang lahat, Tungo sa pag-unlad, at ating itanghal, Bagong lipunan! From the Right to the Middle,the -or a- New Society is the dominant perspective to this day: the idea that there is an Old Society and that it is possible -and desirable- to institute a New Society. This goes against traditional notions of nation-building as an evolutionary process goes against traditional notions of nation-building as an evolutionary process.


The President is a product of history, in her case, a thoroughbred history, and the various members of the ruling coalition partake, too, of that thoroughbred history, with its own dynamics. let’s look back at why the populace is often so hostile to any proposals to amend the Constitution. You can see contemporary attitudes reflected in Daily Musings and A Simple Life. From the very start, our efforts to establish and live under constitutional government have been constrained by events. Let me suggest is that the reason is the public generally takes a reverential attitude towards the law, while the political class, because of its colonial experience, takes a more fluid, tactical approach while maintaining an outward reverence that’s necessary both to keep in step with public expectations, and because that reverence is required to maintain public order and security. Yet there are times when the public is confronted by what it perceives to be a divergence in its attitudes between the public itself and its leaders.

When the Revolution began, it was under the auspices of a secret society, the Katipunan; dissatisfaction on the part of established provincial leaders, used to a more orderly and legalistic manner of doing things, led to the elimination of that secret society and its replacement with a series of nominal republics until the Revolution could be resumed against Spain; but attempts at establishing a fully-functioning state with a true national reach was aborted, in turn, by conflict with the United States. Under American rule, Filipino leaders, more often than not, also called to the bar, had to walk a kind of tightrope: by training and instinct they were oriented towards the law; by avocation and even ambition, they were tasked with undermining that law, or diverting it to ends not intended by the colonial ruling power. Yet the ultimate means to replace one regime with another -armed force- was not an option for a generation and a people who’d lived through the defeat and trauma of the Filipino-American War. So they did it by fundamentally playing within the rules but pushing the envelope as much as they could. In 1923, Manuel Roxas was quoted by Time Magazine as saying,

We have encroached upon the rights of the Governor General because in that guise liberties are won.

This admission that they were out to subvert the powers of the American governor-general was nothing unique or surprising for it was the bedrock of other independence efforts, such as the Congress Party’s independence agitation in India. Your allegiance to the law and logic of an alien power extends only to such allegiance being convenient to your ultimate cause, independence from that alien power. Of course, the perspective of a lawyer, however incendiary his rhetoric may be, is different from that of the ideologue, the bobm-throwing revolutionary; in that sense the Nacionalista Party’s leaders in the Philippines were closer in attitude to temperament, tactics and objectives to Mohammed Ali Jinnah than they were, say, to Gandhi (Gandhi would only become relevant to a later generation, as Ninoy Aquino’s embracing of Gandhian tactics during martial law demonstrated). See Stanley Wolpert’s summary of Jinnah’s life and ideas. Yet as American historian Joseph Ellis recently pointed out in his book Founding Brothers, the problem of any generation self-consciously embarked on establishing a new nation, is how to dismantle the old system on one hand, while establishing firm foundations for a new state. The danger of any revolution, whether violent or peaceful, is that it plants the seeds for an endless cycle of revolution and rebuilding. In the 1935 Constitutional Convention, as Teodoro M. Locsin recounted (quoting another writer),

Among the delegates there were, as one writer pointed out, “blue-blooded nobles from the Moroland, trained intellectuals from world-famous colleges and universities, religious leaders and moral crusaders, political moguls and parliamentary luminaries, eminent educators and outstanding jurists, revolutionary generals and World War veterans, business entrepreneurs and banking magnates, opulent hacenderos and small planters, noted writers and famous orators, wealthy landowners and indigent professionals, and former school teachers and actual university professors.”


Yet nearly all had memories of the Revolution of 1896 and the Republic of 1898, of the Filipino-American War that followed. How, then, to establish a government that would endure?

See Constitution Day, February 7, 1953.


The debate over amending the 1935 Constitution took place over five years, practically from the ratification of the charter until amendments were finally accomplished and ratified in 1940. During that period, three main points emerged and it’s interesting that the three main points -the issues- have remained consistent over time. It’s important to note, and this is often overlooked, that before World War II, two main branches, or approaches, to constitutional amendments emerged. The first was economic, the second, political and structural. With regards to the economic provisions of the Charter: For a kind of prologue, refer to Some free trade nonsense, April 3, 1909. See Committee Thrashing Out Details of Independence, December 24, 1932 and ; howthe Philippine economic lobby operated under Joaquin Elizalde in the late 30s; how this framework evolved: and my own article,Institutionalizing state interventionism. See Primer on the plebiscite, October 21, 1939. which provides a rundown on the economic questions put before the people. With regards to the politico-structural debate, they centered, in turn, on two debates:

1. The term of the chief executive: 2. Unicameralism vs. Bicameralism: Economic provisions proved less contentious, before the War, than political provisions. The first glimmerings of public opinion by means of polling began could be seen in the national debate over term limits and the restoration of the senate. So then the issues having been joined, the question was how would the administration accomplish its objective of amending the Constitution? One of the most interesting political autobiographies I’ve read is Jose E. Romero’s Not So Long Ago, now sadly out of print. In Chapter 11 of his book, he recounts the circumstances surrounding the amendments of 1940. His recollections provide an insight into how such proposals arise, and the rollercoaster ride such proposals go through before they reach fruition. He begins by pointing to the problem faced by the Nacionalistas, who had established, for the first time, in 1938, a complete and total dominance of the legislature. And their natural worries that by 1941, that party dominance and unity might be fractured by fighting over the successor of the incumbent:

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.

The solution, as Romero pointed out above, 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.”

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.

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

I hied 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 reelection…

Everyone having been consulted and heard, the time then came for the enforcement of party discipline:

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…

These extracts indicate the dynamics at work both among legislators and between legislators and the chief executive; in three generations, the dynamics have hardly changed. The issue of party solidarity having been resolved, what was taking place in private could now unfold in public. See United behind Quezon, July 15, 1939 which identified the way the various proposals evolved into a menu of proposed changes:

“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). A year later, in 1940, the amendments had been boiled down to four:

1. Changing the President’s term from six years, no re-election, to four years, with one relection, 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 “indispensible” 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.”

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) 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. 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.

a dangerous president

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 (hency 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). What the ideological and political development of the Commonwealth would have been if uninterrupted by the War, is perhaps best explored by the French historian William Gueraiche, reflecting the most recent scholarship on the subject.


But the War took place, proving that the best laid plans of mice and men can be derailed.The country had been poised, more or less, to make a smooth transition to independence prior to the War; but in a matter of a few months, the country was devastated and its infrastructure wrecked. The generation that reached adulthood during the Spanish era passed from the scene. The first generation that reached maturity under the Americans were now at the helm.


With independence finally taking place under Roxas, and with the issues of the president’s term and the legislature’s composition having been settled in 1940, the question of economic provisions once more emerged, this time on the basis of the destruction of the economy and infrastructure. 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.


Death had prevented Roxas from seeking a second term and possibly, uniting the Liberals and Nacionalistas and restoring the one party system carefully built up prior to the War. Roxas’s death put the presidency in the hands of Elpidio Quirino who became the first president to face an impeachment effort and who was unable to unify his own party, much less consolidate power to the extent he could envision a restoration of the prewar, one party system. But his defeat at the hands of a charismatic protege -Ramon Magsaysay- meant that the old instincts to unify under one party government could reassert themselves. Magsaysay himself had reached maturity in the prewar years, was an admirer of, and consciously modeled himself in terms of how he wielded executive powers, on Quezon (this is often overlooked by those attempting to describe his government). See The “dictatorship” of Ramon Magsaysay, October 15, 1955. Ramon Magsaysay was poised to run for re-election in 1957 as the combined candidate of the LP and NP; his reelection, had it taken place, would then have confronted the country with a question set aside only by Quezon’s death in 1944 and Roxas’s in 1948: what then, after the President’s successful re-election? An amendment to allow a third term?


Of course Magsaysay died in 1957 and with his passing, instead of what seemed an inevitable return to the prewar single-party system, the country lurched, instead, and it seems to me, quite accidentally, in the direction of a multiparty system; Carlos P. Garcia was elected as the first plurality, and not majority, president in the country’s history. Garcia remains under-appreciated, or more accurately, under-studied, in terms of his institutional and political influence on the development of the presidency. He wrestled with questions that have become par for the course for post-Edsa presidents: how do you govern without a majority mandate? How do you wage a campaign if you lack charisma and popularity? This man beside Magsaysay, Ferdinand E. Marcos, would set out to accomplish what was probable under his predecessors but which fate had intervened to foil. Marcos was ten years younger than Magsaysay, so less thoroughly steeped in the unselfconscious pro-Americanism of Magsaysay’s generation; was more ambivalent about democracy perhaps and definitely, Marcos was fundamentally different from Magsaysay in that FM was steeped in the fraternity power-culture of the prewar University of the Philippines, and had an entirely different and again, ambivalent experience during the War years.


Of Marcos what has insufficiently been written about, is how he grew up in the closing years of the American colonial period, but at a time when leaders were attempting to lay out the premise for a political development that consciously deviated from the American experience. Quezon had begun the building of an Army as the “backbone of the nation,” had proposed “partyless democracy,” had put forward the need for a national ideology, which Jose P. Laurel, one of those who’d been drafted to come up with those ideas, during the Japanese Occupation actually tried to undertake. Thus werethe intellectual foundations laid for what Marcos would later describe “Constitutional Authoritarianism”. In Laurel’s 1943 Inaugural Address, there are three passages of particular relevance. First,

In the ultimate analysis, all government is physical power and that government is doomed which is impotent to suppress anarchy and terrorism. The Constitution vests in the President’s full authority to exercise the coercive powers of the State for its preservation. In order to make those powers effective, my administration shall be committed to the training, equipment and support of an enlarged Constabulary force strong enough to cope with any untoward situation which might arise. Certainly, everything must be done to forestall the indignity and humiliation of being obliged to invoke outside intervention to quell purely internal disturbances.


Without political consolidation, we cannot hope to accomplish the desired integration of our political, economic, and social life. The abolition of political parties is a desirable feature of the military regime which we must conserve especially during the formative period oj our Republic. Political parties have divided us in the past and we should avoid the recurrence of our sad experience. We must eradicate the baneful influence of factional strife and strike at the very roots of partisan spirit. I shall stand for no political party while I hold the rudder of the ship of State. We must serve, only one master-our country; we must follow one voice-the voice of the people. We must have only one party, the people’s party, a party that would stand for peace, for reconstruction, for sound national economy, for social reform, for the elevation of the masses, for the creation of a new world order.

And finally,

I consider as rallying centers of our national unity: the Flag, the Constitution, the National Anthem, and the President of the Republic. The Flag, because it symbolizes the sacrifices of our heroes and synthesizes our common imperishable tradition. The Constitution, because it expresses our collective and sovereign will and embodies the sum of our political philosophy and experience. The National Anthem, because it epitomizes the trials and tribulations, and crystallizes the longings and aspirations of our race, The President, because he is the chosen leader of our people, the directing and coordinating center of our government, and the visible personification of the State. Four-square on these rallying points, the dynamic instinct of racial solidarity latent in the heart of each and every Filipino must be aroused from its lethargy and inflamed with the passions of faith in our common destiny as a people.

Notice the legislature doesn’t even enter into the picture. A formal legislature in this context is less important than instituting mechanisms for consultation with the national-provincial leadership. Still, it’s important to note that both main influences on Marcos’ political development: the intellectual underpinnings provided by Laurel, the up-close understanding he gained of executive-legislative and executive-public dynamics he obtained by being the son of an assemblyman, and an up-and-coming leader himself, the institutional weaknesses of institutions such as the courts, all molded Marcos in a direction the Germans might call Führerprinzip but with Filipino characteristics. In that periodic consultations, if only to give the appearance of importance for subalterns and to save face all around, take place, preferably discreetly behind closed doors, so that a united front of authority can be maintained in public. There had been questions concerning the political structure established under the 1935 Constitution, and through a combination of populist-democratic rhetoric and weak executive leadership, the concentration of powers in the hand of the presidency was reduced. Briefly, the main reductions were as follows:

1. Making mayors elected and no longer appointed by presidents (hence, the first elected mayor of Manila, Arsenio Lacson, would prove a thorn in the side of Elpidio Quirino and all his successors). 2. The elimination of bloc voting, reducing party influence in the election of senators, and ushering in the era of media popularity as an antidote to political machinery; ironically, even as the elimination of bloc voting weakened party influence, it made presidents even more important to candidates on all levels, for Palace, instead of Party, support. 3. The gradual limitation of the President’s powers to juggle funds. This wasn’t helped by fate intervening to knock out presidents poised to achieve second terms (Roxas, Magsaysay) which would then have led to the still-unresolved issue of presidential term limits having to be faced. In 1969, Marcos finally achieved what had last been achieved in 1941, and that was, reelection to the presidency. Marcos, however, was saddled by sagging unpopularity and the rise of something last seen when Marcos himself was a young man -a nascent youth movement. Except this time, the youth were far less polite and infinitely more radical, than Marcos et al. had been when they were young. 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 Though it seems economic issues were not at the forefront of people’s minds. The results of the Convention would, of course, have an impact on Marcos’ political future. Leadership in the Convention would become the means by which the agenda of the Convention might be determined. Blogger-lawyer Kataspulong, in recounting the fight between Carlos P. Garcia and Diosdado Macapagal for the presidency of the 1971 Constitutional Convention, points out the powers of an incumbent president in pursuing his own desired political outcome by aiding and abetting the ambitions of others:

It was a fight between him [Macapagal] and his 1961 routed political rival, Carlos P. Garcia. But Garcia was a dyed-in-the-wool Nacionalista, the party that adopted FM in 1965. Garcia looked at it as his last hurrah against his conquistador, the Liberal DM. Perhaps Marcos could not get over the promise made by his party mate DM in 1961 that he would not seek reelection and that Marcos was it. In not so many words, the Boholano made it all known to the Ilocano that he wanted a last bout with the Pampango. How Garcia remonstrated with Marcos was in a manner only understood by weathered politicians. Maybe it was in Garcia’s voice or body gestures that sent Marcos in stitches. The showdown went on, and Garcia proved to be the better man. Marcos, like a statesman, disowned any hand in the selection. In just a few days, Garcia died in what was alleged to be a heart attack. His relatives swore that in his death bed, they saw the faint smile of the man Serging Osmena christened, El Negro. Again, the convention sought about looking for a new leader. But after Garcia there was Raul Manglapus, Teofisto Guingona and other dark horses that proved intractable. Macapagal, it was bruited about, again repaired to the Palace and sought the benediction from the tenant. The meeting was swift and soon after, the charter caucus sworn in DM as its new president.



So the 1973 Constitution, passed by the Convention convened in 1971, ended up passed in a manner similar to the way Congress passed the Parity Amendment (Parity, too, scheduled to expire in 1974, provided an impetus for foreign investors to welcome martial law, which might maintain parity by other means, though many had already sold out, hence the transfer of control of such hithertofore American companies like PLDT and Meralco to Filipino hands in the late 1960s as the Parity clock counted down to the zero hour): by means of removing the critics from the scene. And by other means, as well: when Marcos managed to maneuver the defeat of the “ban Marcos resolution,” he then maneuvered a sweetener to ensure a healthy majority for approval: dangling seats in the proposed National Assembly for Convention Delegates who approved the draft Charter. With this incentive, the niceties of parliamentary procedure could be dispensed with, further fortifying the administration’s advantage since the opposition within the Convention had been reduced by means of arrests and some of its leading members being in exile, as Delegate Augusto Caesar Espiritu recounted in his diary on the day the Convention approved what had become a document essentially written by Marcos himself:

Teroy Laurel made a brilliant defense of his proposed amendments to the draft. We should not limit membership to the National Assembly to the delegates who would opt to serve, as was provided for in the draft, because this was really making the thing a mockery; it was humiliating. It would seem from the amount of applause he received and the raising of hands that followed, that the amendment was carried. Indeed, it was announced by Abe Sarmiento, who was then presiding, that the motion was carried. But then Fidel Purisima demanded voting by tellers. This changed the situation. Many delegates would not express their true wishes because the walls of the session have many eyes: the dissenters would be watched by Big Brother! In the voting by tellers, the result was 128 to 123 -or something like that- in favor of retaining the original draft provision which states that members of the 1971 Constitutional Convention who opt to serve in the Interim Assembly by voting affirmatively would be the only ones who would be members of the National Assembly. This is c;early immoral, unfair and unjust -but the proponents have made up their minds Yesterday, I casually told Ramon Encarnacion that perhaps the President would be a little more reasonable than his own lieutenants in the session hall. I overheard Bebet Duavit was willing to give 72 hours to those who were not present during the voting to signify their intention of voting affirmitavely. I, therefore, went to Duavit in order to persuade him to lengthen this to, say, two weeks, to enable those who are abroad to come back and give their decision. But Duavit said this was impossible. As it was, he was only trying to get them to agree on this 72 hours’ grace, but not as an amendment to the provision. It is going to be some kind of suspension of rules before actual voting on the amendment. Later, I rose, anyway, to introduce an amendment to extend the time for those who are absent to be able to vote. Before I could complete my first few sentences, however, the floor leader, Munding Cea, cut me off, and on the same theme, said it would be completely unfair and unjust to preclude our colleagues who are not present from voting… To our great chagrin, Toto de la Cruz, chairman of the Committee on Rules, stood to oppose this. How could anyone in conscience oppose something like this? Where is our sense of fairness? But then, a people secure in their numbers and certain of their purpose can too easily forget that democracy requires tolerance! Arturo Pacificador would not brook any moderation. Evidently following a “script”, he announced that those absent would be given 72 hours, provided they personally cast their votes in an open session. When some amendments were proposed, such as to allow voting by cablegrams and tegerams or letters, Pacificador, his porcupine hair blasphemously pointing heavenwards, arrogantly gesticulated. “If this is under question, I better withdraw my motion,” he haughtily trumpeted… So we had to vote…. The tension in the air was very heavy during the voting. The roll call took place. There were 14 “No” votes… Afterwards, the dominant group made a motion to have our vote considered, for all purposes, as the same vote for the second and third readings. It seems no quarter are to be given. Like a no-prisoners taken stance in war. In other words, the majority would take what it can -everything- now; why wait? It was indecent, of course. But decency could not wait any longer. Immediate voting was done -and it passed almost unanimously. In one stroke, so to speak, we actually voted on second and third readings on the provision in question -and that means then that the provision is finished -passed! What is done is done. We have failed our people… We were elected to be members of the Convention, not to be assemblymen. The grant of extraordinary powers and the ratification of all actions of the President does not seem to bother the delegates too much. The fact that ours is now a rubber stamp Convention and that the Assembly would be a rubber stamp Aseembly does not really matter. What is ultimately important to them, it would seem, is that we are going to be members of the Assembly -so the next area of concern is what salaries we are going to have.


will there b martial law

Marcos therefore accomplished reestablishing what had been in place in 1941, what might have been restored sooner in 1949 or 1957, yet did so by means that hadn’t been contemplated in the more obedient days of the 40s or 50s. You actually never fully restore what once was; people and institutions are never static, even if harking back to old forms, they are somehow altered by what took place in the past. Instead of cajoling the public and Congress he did it by means of a “Revolution from the Center” -a coup d’etat- and establishing his “Constitutional Authoritarianism.” In 1978, 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 Batasan Pambansa was eventually established. In 1980, one of his 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. There 1973 Charter was the most heavily amended charter, the Wikipedia entry on this will have to suffice:

The 1973 Constitution, promulgated after Marcos’ declaration of martial law, introduced a parliamentary-style government. Legislative power was vested in a National Assembly whose members were elected for six-year terms. The President was elected as the symbolic head of state from the Members of the National Assembly for a six-year term and could be re-elected to an unlimited number of terms. Upon election, the President ceased to be a member of the National Assembly. During his term, the President was not allowed to be a member of a political party or hold any other office. Executive power was exercised by the Prime Minister who was also elected from the Members of the National Assembly. The Prime Minister was the head of government and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces… The 1973 Constitution was amended in 1976 to allow the incumbent president to hold the position of prime minister and president simultaneously and to exercise legislative powers as well… A minor amendment in 1980 changed the retiring age of judges from 65 to 70 years of age. Amendments were done again in 1981 which established a semi-parliamentary or (semi-presidential) form of government with a president elected by direct vote of the people. Additionally, executive power was transferred back to the President (who was now the Chief Executive) and the position of Prime Minister was reduced to a minor position. Additionally, the 1981 amendments created an Executive Committee… The last amendments in 1984 abolished the Executive Committee and restored the position of Vice-President (which did not exist in the original, unamended 1973 Constitution).


What is noteworthy that in the time of Marcos, the ghosts of history haunted all those involved, since many of them had received their political baptism of fire in the heated debates over the 1940 amendments (Marcos, Tolentino, Speaker Yñiguez, had all been prominent members of Young Philippines, opposing the 1940 amendments). Since 1987, the historical memory of the public and the politicians has become far more limited. The ghosts of past amendments, however, live on, institutionally:

1. From the 1940 amendments, the bicameral composition of the Committee on Appointments, a nationally-elected Senate (but weakened by the elimination of bloc voting, briefly restored under Marcos then abandoned again), a Commission on Elections. 2. From the 1980s amendments, the position of Vice-President and the retirement age of 70 for justices. 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; 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. 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: which accounts for the essential sterility of the debate today. Paul Hutchcroft is an advocate of incremental reform, and lists several he thinks might be less contentious than going into the presidential-parliamentary or unitary-federal debate. Among them: senators elected by districts; reforms to the COMELEC; abolishing Party-List representatives but coming up with better ways to elect members of the lower house.

I myself think either a return to the two-party system, or run-off elections for the presidency if the multiparty system is to be retained, are essential. I’m in favor of bloc voting, too. After 1987, every proposal for Constitutional amendments has foundered on the question of:
1. Fear of presidents perpetuating themselves in power and mistrust of the ruling coalitions of the day as being interested only in their own self-perpetuation, too. 2. Presidents, all of them armed with mere pluralities, lacking the mandate necessary to demonstrate political will; instead, they are hostage to whichever of their coalition supporters are best-funded and best-organized; yet none of these coalition members can sufficiently mobilize to convince the public that they represent anything more than sectoral interests. 3. The lack of any durable party identity to stiffen the resolve of the political class or sufficiently weaken opposition from the public or sectors opposed to any changes (including those who will oppose any and all change). 4. No organized constituency capable of blunting the ferocity of the Left in portraying any change to economic provisions as a sell-out and treason. The latent inclination of the public -specifically, the middle class- to go along with liberalizing economic provisions therefore, hasn’t been tapped.
Fidel V. Ramos came closest, but in the end held off from a full-blown confrontation with his erstwhile allies. Jose Almonte later said he felt FVR had backed off prematurely; but perhaps Ramos himself, a master of minority, factional politics, knew that he lacked time to properly consolidate the coalition he’d built up. Joseph Estrada proposed economic revisions but the divided Edsa forces who’d failed to unite to block his election to the presidency recombined in enough numbers to topple him from the presidency, because of scandals that helped erode Estrada’s formidable popularity. The most recent effort to achieve Constitutional change foundered in 2006 but the lesson from that effort is that the old Edsa coalitions are divided themselves, sapped by old age and diminished standing before the people. And the public itself, its civic sense sapped over the two decades since 1986, has proven difficult to arouse and organize. To answer the questions I proposed in the beginning:
1. Success is achieved by marshaling the support of: a. the political class to undertake changes even if, in the short term, they may seem not entirely beneficial to that class itself. The most effective appeal, to the political class, is a conservative one, that dangles political advantage and stability in the system in equal measure. b. public opinion, if not to the extent of enthusiastic, widespread public support, then at least, without provoking widespread, sustained public opposition. c. Invoking political will, on the part of a presidency armed with popularity or aty 2. The proposals made should be: a. concrete, that is, specific enough to be adequately discussed: or at least give the impression of a sufficient national debate; b. they must offer, in terms of institutions, at least some sort of incremental benefit over what currently exists; in terms of the financial bottom line, of economic gain for Filipinos and not just foreigners, which is why the President’s son really ought to keep in the background:

“…I have to admit I really want some provisions revisited like the economic provisions, especially foreign ownership. If we liberate this barrier of foreign ownership, more investors will come into our country and have more control of our money. That’s what they have been saying. I’m only interested in that specific provision,” Arroyo said.

c. They must not require changes so extreme as to raise the frightening possibility for most ordinary people already comfortable with the present system, that their knowledge and their current place in the current scheme of things might end up rendered obsolete overnight; d. reflect some sort of national consensus. 3. The process should be accompanied by: a. Ample and vigorous debate, as much as possible with the leadership being forthright in taking responsibility for the changes proposed; b. Engage the support of crucial institutions with no particular bloc publicly exercising its veto power (since 1986, the Catholic Church exercises a strong veto power; the Iglesia ni Cristo, a weaker one; informally, the military wields a kind of veto power, too, as does big business) c. Pass legal scrutiny and challenges and avoid confrontation being taken to the streets, or be close enough to an election so that, in case of failure, its proponents then risk some sort of reckoning in the polls. The Inquirer editorial for today, Constitutional menace, suggests the cart has been put before the horse, politically speaking. The story Plan to zap 2010 elections exposed: Resolution for term extension of all elected execs, because indicating subterfuge, only heightens public alarm. You also want to readCongress on the dock in the PCIJ and in New cha-cha move tied to ‘Arroyo Supreme Court’ in Newsbreak (and Three Likely GMA Appointees To SC Listed; Tinga To Be Ombudsman? in At Midfield). Also, Manila Gets Set for the Downturn in Asia Sentinel.


The argument of the “indispensible” 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. … Monday, Sep. 02, 1940 for 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 (hency 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).


Manuel L. Quezon III.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.