Anniversaries are exercises in memory. We remember the things of the past. Knowing the past, we
make an augury of the future.
Thus, the future is a function of memory. If we remember the mistakes of the past, we don’t repeat
Spanish philosopher and writer George Santayana said it succinctly and sublimely: “Those who
cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
This month of September, the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) marks its 51st
anniversary. It is the only group in this country whose sole mission is to protect and defend the
Constitution. Its members are regularly required to recite an oath to do so.
Just how primordial is this Philconsa mission can be gleaned from the recent stresses and challenges
in the first quarter century of the Constitution’s existence.
The loftiest edifices need the deepest foundation. The Philippines, Asia’s first republic, has lofty
ambitions. They are recited in the Constitution’s preamble. The republic’s foundation is its
Does the charter pass the test of viability, flexibility, brilliance and foresight?
One thing is sure though. The 1987 Constitution is second to none in the world in verbosity. It is
more than 21,000 words.
Under the Constitution, there is supposed to be separation of powers among the three co-equal
branches of government. But a popular and strong-willed President on an ego trip can easily sway the
two other branches.
Military rebellions should have been a thing of the past. But the Armed Forces periodically mount a
coup against their commander-in-chief.
Monopolies are banned, especially in media. But there is no law outlawing monopolies and
combinations in restraint of trade.
Just two families control the telco business. The result: Oppressive prices and colossally bad service.
Just two families control the water business. The result: Perennially rising water rates. Six families
control power generation. Two families control Luzon’s electricity distribution. The result? Well, you
know the conclusion.
This September too, we remember the 40th anniversary of martial law. We also remember the birth
– and the death – of the man who imposed it —Ferdinand E. Marcos. The late strongman was born
on Sept. 11, 1917. He died on Sept. 28, 1989, at age 72, sadly in a foreign land.
We remember Marcos as the President who mangled the 1935 Constitution, supplanting it with one
where he could rule by decree, making him a dictator by constitutional diktat.
The most be-medalled Filipino soldier and a brilliant lawyer, Marcos declared martial law on Sept.
21, 1972 to reform society and save it from communism. He was supposed to give up power on
Dec. 30, 1973, the end of an eight-year presidency. First elected in 1965, the Ilocano was the only
president then to be reelected.
Martial law extended Marcos’s rule for 20 years, or until Feb. 25, 1986 when he was ousted by a
Church-backed civilian-military revolt known as People Power.
Perhaps not surprisingly today, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile thinks martial law was good. “We
had stabilized the country,” he says. The tide of communist insurgency was rising rapidly, especially
in Luzon. In Mindanao, there were stirrings of separatism which erupted into a full-scale war a month
after martial law was declared.
Enrile denies that a fake ambush on him at 8 p.m. on Sept. 22, 1972 helped trigger martial law. “When
I left the Department of National Defense, martial law was already ongoing,” recalls the DND secretary
then. Actually the night before the ambush, Sept. 21, 1972, Marcos had signed the martial law decree.
Enrile and Marcos planned well for martial law, as early as 1969 says the former. Martial rule was
supposed to last only till the end of Marcos’ regular second term in November. It lasted, on paper, until
1981, but Marcos continued to rule by decree until his ouster in 1986.
After Marcos was forced into exile, Cory Aquino declared a Freedom Constitution of 1986, firstly, to stop questions about her
legitimacy as successor (she didn’t win the February 1986 snap election, on record), and secondly, to legitimize the forced takeover
of so-called crony assets. Most of those assets and companies continue to be run by her Presidential Commission on Good
Government (PCGG) to this day. One other effect of the Freedom Constitution, Doy Laurel, Cory’s running mate, lasted only one
day as prime minister and was reduced to being a foreign minister.
With the Freedom Constitution, Cory ruled by decree, becoming a benevolent dictator.
The Freedom Constitution was replaced by the Philippine Constitution of 1987 the draft of which was written by her handpicked
48 men and women who produced the most wordy constitution ever, at over 21,000 words.
Ratified on Feb. 2, 1987, this basic law of the land is the Constitution being protected and defended by the Philconsa.
A Constitution with handicaps
The 1987 Constitution began with a handicap—no less 87 provisions require enactment of an enabling law. The requirement
of congressional fiat gravely emasculated the Constitution.
One provision that has become a joke is that against political dynasties.
Also, in the 1987 Constitution inserted “love” in its Preamble. I do not know whether this provision has anything to do today,
with the contentious Reproductive Health (RH) bill and the petition of the gay group Ladlad to be recognized as a party-list party.
And if you believe recent rumors, the 12-man senatorial slate of the Liberal Party will be populated by men of unintended sex.
AFP protector of the people
Section 3 of Article II (Declaration of Principles) declares that “Civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military.”
Immediately that sentence is the assertion: “The Armed Forces of the Philippines is the protector of the people and the State. Its
goal is to secure the sovereignty of the State and the integrity of the national territory.”
In recent years, this “protector of the people” provision was used by the military to oust President Joseph Estrada in January
2001, and to stage two major coup attempts against his successor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Judicial power of review
Under Article VIII, the Judicial Department, “Judicial power includes the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual
controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, and to determine whether or not there has
been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the
This provision—on judicial review—is supposed to make the Supreme Court more powerful than the Supreme Court under the
1935 and 1973 Constitution. No longer could it ignore political questions—a lame excuse that enabled Marcos to get away with
his martial law and 14 years of strongman rule. “The Supreme Court recognized the presence of the basis for martial law,” asserts
President Benigno S. Aquino III has proved that a determined president can oust a sitting chief justice for the flimsiest of
reasons – like making errors in one’s statement of assets, liabilities and networth (SALN).
Separation of powers? Duh
Aquino has also proved that the so-called separation of powers among three branches of government stands on shaky
The incumbent President has Congress at his beck and call. He enjoys the cooperation of an apparently captive Senate which
voted 21-2 to remove Chief Justice Renato Corona.
After Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile indicated the administration-backed RH bill wouldn’t pass easily in the upper
chamber, a key Aquino ally, Sen. Antonio Trillanes III, agitated for his removal.
Section 11 of Article XVI limits ownership of mass media to Filipino citizens and companies which are 100% Filipino-owned.
The same section prohibits mass media monopolies.
Just the same, Manuel V. Pangilinan, whose First Pacific Ltd represents Indonesian and Hong Kong interests, owns minority
interest in the Inquirer, Philippine Star, and BusinessWorld and controls Channel 5 and Channel 13 (thru blocktiming). One should
asks MVP what the Constitution means by 100% Filipino ownership in mass media and the prohibition against mass media
Section 26 Article II declares: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political
dynasties as may be defined by law”.
Congress has failed to pass the anti-dynasty law. The result: Just under 100 families control the politics and economy of this
country. Since these families control Congress, how can one expect the legislature to pass a measure that is against their interest?
Another anti-dynasty provision is term limits. Senators are limited to two terms of six years. Congressmen, as well as mayors
and governors, are limited to three terms of three years each. At the end of their terms, these people just exchange places with
Sometimes, elected politicians do not bother to wait for term limits. So in the Senate, you have a brother and a sister and a
mother and son for senators. By 2013, you will have fathers and sons. Fathers will be succeeded by their sons.
When the Philippines had ten million population, it had 24 senators. Today, the country has close to 100 million Filipinos, it still
has 24 senators and all are still elected at large. This anomaly has given rise to a situation recently where one upscale village in
Quezon City (La Vista) had four senators and yet the entire Mindanao island didn’t have a single senator.
Fortunately, that defect has somehow been corrected. Mindanao has two senators and La Vista, it turns out, sits on a major
earthquake fault that can move any minute.
By the way, among all jobs in government, the best one is being a senator.
The Constitution bars the President, Vice President and members of the cabinet from engaging in business or in the
professions. They must divest from their business interests. No such ban on senators.
The result: We have senators who are tycoons, tycoons who are masquerading as senators, and senators whose names are
on marquees of major law firms.
Senators are elected at large. So unlike congressmen, senators don’t need to deal with people in their districts.
The best deal of all: Senators can do anything imaginable and not be held responsible for it.
This is why it is indeed, more fun in the Philippines.