Bending Constitutions

Manila Bulletin, June 11, 2005 | Go to article overview

Bending Constitutions


(Editors note: The art of skipping constitutional processes has been perfected in RP as noted in this article.)

CONSTITUTIONALISM in Filipinas has a long but sad history when pitted against the basic law of survival raw power. The use of invisible power by a popular or strong leader in the executive department has not been frontally confronted in the judicial and legislative halls in the country.

Skipping clear provisions

Charter bending started with the ratification of the 1973 Martial Law Constitution that was challenged on the ground that the 1935 constitutional mechanism was not used to approve it in a plebiscite or election called for the purpose.

This mechanism, in which qualified voters participated as defined in Article V, was used in 1940 (extending the term of the president, vice-president and creating a Congress composed of the Senate and the House) and in 1947 extending Parity Rights to US citizens.

Record turnout of voters

According to Proclamation No. 1102 dated January 17, 1973, 14,976,561 members of barangays nationwide or the Citizens Assemblies voted to ratify the charter, with 743,869 voting for rejection. The "Yes vote" was more than 95 percent of the barangay members/voters.

(RPs national population in 1973 was about 40 M and the "Yes vote" of 14.7 M was 37.4 percent of the total making the election turnout the highest in the world. It should be recalled that children between 15 and 17 were allowed to vote.)

Chinese language for our pupils

Former Manila Councilor Cesar T. Lucero Jr. proposed the teaching of Chinese in public and private schools to initiate cultural and economic relations with the worlds fastest growing economy and population of 1.36 B.

Lucero said that "historically we have been trading with China since the 14th century or long before Spain occupied Cebu in 1565."

Petitions not given due course

Several petitions challenged the proclamation in the Supreme Court, but six justices voted to dismiss them and only four magistrates believed that the petitions deserved to be given due course and discussed by the full court.

Two amendments to the 1973 Constitution, according to analysts, had violated the very essence of constitutionalism: 1) the president was made regular president and regular prime minister, and 2) the grant of concurrent law-making powers to the president which was exercised after the "lifting" of martial law in 1981.

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