A betrayal of hope and possibilities

 A betrayal of hope and possibilities

It was the reunion of the 40 surviving members of the 1971 Constitutional Convention (ConCon) at the Manila Hotel on March 19. Originally, there were 320 of them. Fifty years after crafting the third Philippine Constitution (PhilCon), the delegates chose to write and launch their book, A Legacy of Hopes and Possibilities. In their late 70s and 80s, this book could very well be their swansong.

But both the 1971 ConCon framers and their output, the 1973 PhilCon, are in many ways different from their predecessors.

The first Philippine Constitution of 1899, also known as the Malolos Constitution, was cast to flesh out the Filipinos’ aspiration to be independent from Spain. It was necessary to guide the First Philippine Republic. Drafted by a committee, it was subsequently ratified by delegates both elected and appointed by President Emilio Aguinaldo during the Malolos Congress.

With a fundamental law of the land that created the three branches of government, and a defined territory under the authority of a government supported by a revolutionary army, the First Republic of the Philippines was born.

It did not last long.

Spain lost the war with the US and ceded the Philippines to Washington following the December 1898 Treaty of Paris. The Filipinos, having declared independence six months earlier, refused to recognize the US, which, in turn, also rejected the revolutionaries’ independent posture. War was inevitable and the US suppressed protracted Filipino resistance.

The second PhilCon that was ratified in 1935 was formulated in a period of relative peace to prepare the Philippines for self-rule. An Insular Government had been installed a few years after the US-Philippine war ended, and Filipinos were gradually given more access to the three branches of government. This was effectively appeasement to buy peace.

It was the Tydings-McDuffie Act or the Philippine Independence Act of the US Congress that established the process to take place after a 10-year transition period. With 202 elected delegates, the 1934 ConCon drafted a constitu-tion that established a political system similar to that of the United States. In 1946, the Philippines became an independent republic.

As clarified by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr., the main speaker at the book launching, there was “a short-lived pseudo-Constitution” during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in 1942-45. For legitima-cy, a constitution could be good optics for a puppet government.

From 1946 through the 1960s, at least two presidents, Diosdado Macapagal and Ferdinand Marcos, expressed the need to amend the 1935 Constitution and strip it off what Delegate Pablo Trillana III called “vestiges of its colonial past.” Congress subsequently enacted RA 6132 calling for the conduct of the 1971 Constitutional Convention which, to Trillana, involved a reframing of the Constitution “at the cusp of two eternities — the vanished past and the uncertain future.”

The 1973 Constitution was different from both the Malolos Constitution and the 1935 Constitution. There was no more revolution to adjust to, or the need to demonstrate our capacity for self-rule. There was a complete blank sheet to chart our destiny as Asia’s first Republic.

In many ways, the 1973 Constitution was indeed the product of independent minds. Its preamble emphasized that Filipinos were sovereign and independent, and their desire for a government that upheld the blessings of democracy with justice, peace, liberty and equality. It expanded the Philippine territory beyond what Spain ceded to the United States, to include the whole archipelago including the waters around, between, and connecting the islands irrespective of their size, that constituted the internal waters of the country. As BizNewsAsia’s Antonio Lopez commented, the 1973 Constitution antedated the 2009 nine-dash line submission by China to the United Nations of its territorial map.

The 1973 Constitution defined for the first time who are natural born Filipinos. Unlike its predecessor, it also provided for the Duties and Obligations of Citizens. Delegate Richard Gordon, the youngest at 25 then, quoted the specific article in the book, that required the citizens to be loyal to the Republic, exercise their rights responsibly, engage in gainful employment and exercise their right of suffrage. The 1987 Constitution deleted this portion.

Accountability was introduced for the first time in the 1973 Constitution. Anti-graft concerns led the ConCon delegates to create the Tanodbayan and the Sandiganbayan to ensure corrupt practices are dealt with expedi-tiously.

Many other features distinguished the 1973 Constitution.

The book dedicated several chapters to show them including the reduction of the voting age from 21 to 18, and in the process, expanding the electorate; adopting both English and Filipino as official national languages; and expansion of provisions on social justice.

On his reflection on the economic provisions of the 1973 Constitution, Delegate Gary Teves admitted that the “slogan ‘Filipino first’ resonated with many delegates and policy makers” then. He cited various conditions that “pointed to the conclusion that we did not have a severe need for foreign investments to supplement our domestic capital.” Thus, the fundamental law of 1973 turned out to be restrictive of foreign investment during this time of globalization and open markets. In hindsight, Teves would like more flexibility given to Congress to adjust economic policies as circumstances change.

Finally, judicial reforms were introduced in the 1973 Constitution including the Supreme Court’s new power to dismiss judges and to make temporary assignments to other stations with their consent, and limiting appoint-ment to the judiciary to natural-born Filipino citizens.

As Delegate Ricardo Quintos, lead convenor of the 1971 ConCon@50 and Legacy Book publisher, so elegantly put it, “the spirit and bloodlines of the Convention must be expressed through the horizons of history.” He re-ferred to the facts of history. The delegates were elected in the cleanest and fairest election in history. They came of their own accord to brainstorm on their vision of the future prior to the Convention. The delegates sustained their work despite the imposition of martial law in September 1972 with all its threats to life and liberty. It has served to provide the basis of many court rulings and the 1987 Constitution. To him, this is the 1971 ConCon’s leg-acy of hope and possibilities.

Unfortunately, such a legacy was sabotaged by President Marcos himself. Delegate Leandro Garcia in the book called it “trickery.” Marcos allowed the ConCon to continue with its work because the “whole structure of the political framework was almost finished.” In fact, two months after martial law was declared, the final draft was already approved by the Convention.

But the so-called Transitory Provisions were inserted. Section 3 of Article 17 provided that “the incumbent president of the Philippines shall initially convene the Interim National Assembly and shall preside over its sessions until the interim speaker shall have been elected.” Marcos was also granted the same powers and prerogatives under the 1935 Constitution as well as those vested in both the president and the prime minister envisioned in the 1973 Constitution until the Interim National Assembly was called.

The Interim National assembly was never convened.

Introducing amendments to the Constitution, Marcos replaced the Interim National Assembly with the Batasang Pambansa and chose its composition from his own cabinet. Despite the activation of the legislature, Marcos contin-ued to exercise the powers of both the president and the prime minister. He called for an election in 1981 after martial law was lifted yet upon winning the election, he continued to rule as president and exercised the powers vested in the prime minister.

According to Gordon in his prologue, “presidential intervention may be assumed in any constitutional exercise and presidential influence can be overwhelming and formidable. It all came to a head when the elderly Delegate Eduardo Quintero … fearlessly exposed that there were special envelopes containing cash given to certain delegates by agents of the Palace, mostly delegates from Leyte.” Gordon himself was threatened with bodily harm. Dele-gate Davide called it the martial law regime of terror and greed.

If the first two sets of framers of PhilCons did their architecture during a war of liberation and a war for self-government, the 1973 ConCon delegates had actually seen the face of terror and greed. It was Marcos’ one-man rule that betrayed their legacy of hope and possibilities.

But they should know that they have a more enduring legacy. Their legacy has lived on in the 1987 Philippine Constitution, and perhaps in future reframing of our Constitution.

In the same reunion and book launch, emceed by Delegate Lilia de Lima and Delegate Jose Leviste, Jr., the 40 surviving delegates decided to leave another legacy. They decided to uphold the governance principles of honesty and integrity, competence and servanthood, in the coming May 2022 election. They endorsed Vice-President Leni Robredo for President.

The book is hardly their swansong.

DIWA C. GUINIGUNDO is the former deputy governor for the Monetary and Economics Sector, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). He served the BSP for 41 years.

In 2001-2003, he was alternate executive director at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, DC.

He is the senior pastor of the Fullness of Christ International Ministries in Mandaluyong.