Another Flashback: How Our 1973 and 1987 Charters Came to Be

by Ed Aurelio Reyes

Kampanya para sa Kmalayan sa Kasaysayan

AFTER THE CONSTITUTION of the Republic of the Philippines was ratified at the Barasoain Church in Malolos, Bulacan, our country has had four more charters, five if we are to include the comprehensive Philippine Law of 1902 passed by the legislature of the invasion and occupation force that flew the star spangled banner.

We had the Constitution of 1935 which was drafted under the leadership of the late nationalist statesman Claro Mayo Rectoand ratified on his birthday (February 8) of that year, the date of which came then to be observed as "Constitution Day." Then came the 1973 Marcos Constitution, the 1986 "Freedom Constitution" and the present 1987 Constitution .

The Marcos Constitution of 1973

There was an ongoing Constitutional Convention elected in 1970 and convened in 1971 when then President Ferdinand Marcos proclaimed martial rule in September 1972. He shifted from using the bribery approach (as in the payola scandal exposed by Delegate Eduardo Quintero) to using the "persuasive" effects of his martial law powers (the antiMarcos delegates were simply jailed) controlling that convention in its homestretch work, and presto! The hitherto anti-Marcos (as in "Ban Marcos") draft charter became an all-Marcos Constitution.

Its ratification was done by the raising of hands in hakot meetings, and its enforcement was based on a legal vicious cycle of legalese, backed up by the sheer force of arms ofthe AFP, that went this way: Proclamation No 1102 (declaring that handraisings amounted to a 99 percent vote of the e]ectorate in favor of ratification) caused the Constitution to be in force, and that document (specifically its Transitory Provisions), in turn, validated all his proclamations (including 1102, of course!) and decrees as part of the law of the land.

Therefore, Marcos' third term, which was to be banned by the 1935 Constitution, was a technically explainable setup formally called martial law, euphemistically labeled "constitutional authoritarianism" or "revolution from the center," which lasted more than a full decade after the 1935 Constitution's 1973 deadline for Marcos to step down.

Cory's Constitution of 1987

President Aquino had the "Freedom Constitution" which was promulgated on the basis of the 1986 "People Power Revolution" and which vested in her revolutionary, even dictatorial powers. But she did not use these powers to start thorough-going social reforms that would have fulfilled her promise and would have validated her claim to be the opposite of her predecessor.

Instead of deve]oping the momentum already achieved by the people's cause-oriented movement which provided the "people-power" defense of the prematurely-discovered Enlile-Ramos coup, and riding upon that momentum to initiate and institutionalize real changes, Aquino gradually moved closer and closer to the defense-military circle that was virtually holding her hostage. With every attempted coup defeated, Cory gave more and more concessions to the defense-military establishment that confused citizens as to whether the coup plots really failed.

President Aquino set in motion a short-cut process of drafting a new Constitution for the country. She was so much in a hurry to attain a normalized government under her administration that she decided to dispense with the "luxury" of allowing the people to elect delegates to a constitutional convention, and even imposed a 90-day time limit for an appointive body to complete its job.

In the summer of 1986, the President declared ''nationalism, integrity, independence and probity." But even as thousands of nominees had to go through the meticulous and computerized process of screening towards final selection, a group of erstwhile Marcos henchmen was given five seats (but one of the appointees demurred), and a seat was reserved for a consistently pro-Marcos religious denomination (which also refused involvement). By this move which was widely viewed as a political maneuver, Aquino clearly threw the matter of criteria out of the window.

The month of January in 1987 witnessed a frenzied campaign for the ratification of the draft charter, and the people were moving in a winding and twisting road to its eventual approval. It began with lack of information. The texts ot the draft in English and especially in the vernacular languages were not immediately available to the majority of the rural folk. But the prevailing mood was to ratify for Cory's sake. For all the shortcomings of her administration, and even the errors of judgment in hewing closely to the US-designed programs implemented by the previous regime, the people perceived the Aquino government a "hands-down" choice against the proponents of returning to open terrorist rule.

But there was a sudden shift shortly after midmonth. On January 19 exploded the Mendiola Massacre. Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas chairman Jaime Tadeo had asked that the Marcos vintage barbed wire barricades be lifted from the Mendiola Bridge to allow the peasant marchers through, and to his surprise the barbed wire was simply replaced with a veritable battalion of firing squads. Pressing their agrarian reform demands too hard for the government's comfort, or overconfident that no Marcos-type massacres would come from Aquino's troops at least in Manila, the 20,000-strong red-flag-waving columns suddenlyfoundthe troops opening fire on them.

Public indignation and disillusionment were strongly threatening the ratification of the draft charter that President Aquino was campaigning very hard for!

However, toward the month's end, the militarist menace on the very survival of the Aquino regime was underscored by a last-minute baffling "coup attempt" where Marcos loyalist soldiers moved to take control of two vital military camps and a television station in the capital region. This development, despite widespread suspicions that the failed coup was scripted by quarters close to Aquino, decisively swayed the undecided voters and many even among the oppositors, and delivered the overwhelming vote for the new Charter.

It was an anti-fascist vote. Ironically, shortly after that ratification, President Aquino "unsheathed the Sword of War" and demanded a "string of victories" from the military and led to a series of massacres in various parts of the country.

Health Alert 137, January 1993

Back to A Sense of History

Back to the History Page