In 1991 the government was led by President Corazon C. Aquino, who was head of state, chief executive, and commander in chief of the armed forces. The vice president, who under the Philippine Constitution need not belong to the same party as the president, was Salvador H. Laurel. Aquino did not seek to create a political party to perpetuate her rule, preferring instead to rely on her personal popularity, which initially was strong but diminished throughout her term.
The Philippines has a long history of democratic constitutional development. The Malolos Constitution of 1898-99 reflected the aspirations of educated Filipinos to create a polity as enlightened as any in the world. That first constitution was modeled on those of France, Belgium, and some of the South American republics. Powers were divided, but the legislature was supreme. A bill of rights guaranteed individual liberties. The church was separated from the state, but this provision was included only after a long debate and passed only by a single vote. The Malolos Constitution was in effect only briefly; United States troops soon installed a colonial government, which remained in effect until the establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1935.
The 1935 constitution, drawn up under the terms of the Tydings-McDuffie Act, which created the Philippine Commonwealth, also served as a basis for an independent Philippine government from 1946 until 1973. The framers of the Commonwealth Constitution were not completely free to choose any type of government they wanted, since their work had to be approved by United States president Franklin D. Roosevelt, but as many were legal scholars familiar with American constitutional law, they produced a document strongly modeled on the United States Constitution. In fact, the 1935 constitution differed from the United States document in only two important respects: Government was unitary rather than federal, local governments being subject to general supervision by the president, and the president could declare an emergency and temporarily exercise near-dictatorial power. This latter provision was used by Marcos after September 1972, when he declared martial law.
The 1935 constitution seemed to serve the nation well. It gave the Philippines twenty-six years of stable, constitutional government during a period when a number of other Asian states were succumbing to military dictatorship or communist revolution. By the late 1960s, however, many Filipinos came to believe that the constitution only provided a democratic political cloak for a profoundly oligarchic society. A constitutional convention was called to rewrite the basic law of the land.
The delegates selected to rewrite the constitution hoped to retain its democratic essence while deleting parts deemed to be unsuitable relics of the colonial past. They hoped to produce a genuinely Filipino document. But before their work could be completed, Marcos declared martial law and manipulated the constitutional convention to serve his purposes. The 1973 constitution was a deviation from the Philippines' commitment to democratic ideals. Marcos abolished Congress and ruled by presidential decree from September 1972 until 1978, when a parliamentary government with a legislature called the National Assembly replaced the presidential system. But Marcos exercised all the powers of president under the old system plus the powers of prime minister under the new system. When Marcos was driven from office in 1986, the 1973 constitution also was jettisoned.
After Aquino came to power, on March 25, 1986, she issued Presidential Proclamation No. 3, which promulgated an interim "Freedom Constitution" that gave Aquino sweeping powers theoretically even greater than those Marcos had enjoyed, although she promised to use her emergency powers only to restore democracy, not to perpetuate herself in power. She claimed that she needed a free hand to restore democracy, revive the economy, gain control of the military, and repatriate some of the national wealth that Marcos and his partners had purloined. Minister of Justice Neptali Gonzales described the Freedom Constitution as "civilian in character, revolutionary in origin, democratic in essence, and transitory in character." The Freedom Constitution was to remain in effect until a new legislature was convened and a constitutional convention could write a new, democratic constitution to be ratified by national plebiscite. The process took sixteen months.
Although many Filipinos thought delegates to the Constitutional Commission should be elected, Aquino appointed them, saying that the Philippines could not afford the time or expense of an election. On May 25, 1986, she selected forty-four names from hundreds suggested by her cabinet and the public. She appointed respected, prominent citizens and, to be on the safe side, prohibited them from running for office for one year after the constitution's ratification. Delegates had the same profile as those who had drawn up the constitutions of 1898 and 1935: they were wealthy and well educated. They represented a range of political stances: some were leftists and some were ardent nationalists, but moderate conservatives held a majority. There were thirty lawyers, including two former Supreme Court justices. A nun, a priest, and a bishop represented the interests of the Catholic Church. Eight commissioners had also served in the aborted constitutional convention of 1972. Five seats on the fifty-member commission were reserved for Marcos supporters, defined as members of Marcos's New Society Movement, and were filled by former Minister of Labor Blas Ople and four associates. One seat was reserved for the Iglesia ni Kristo (Church of Christ), which, however, declined to participate. One of Aquino's appointees, leftist movie producer Lino Brocka, resigned, so the final number of commissioners was forty-eight.
The commission divided itself into fourteen committees and began work amidst great public interest, which, however, soon waned. Long, legalistic hearings were sometimes poorly attended. Aquino is known to have intervened to influence only one decision of the commission. She voiced her support of a loophole in the constitution's antinuclear weapons provision that allowed the president to declare that nuclear weapons, if present on United States bases, were "in the national interest."
The commissioners quickly abandoned the parliamentary government that Marcos had fancied, and arguments for a unicameral legislature also were given short shrift. Most delegates favored a return to something very much like the 1935 constitution, with numerous symbolic clauses to appease "cause- oriented" groups. The most controversial proposals were those pertaining to the Philippine claim to Sabah, presidential emergency powers, land reform, the rights of labor, the role of foreign investment, and United States military base rights. Special attention focused on proposals to declare Philippine territory a nuclear-free zone.
Aquino had asked the Constitutional Commission to complete its work within ninety days, by September 2, 1986. Lengthy public hearings (some in the provinces) and contentious floor debates, however, caused this deadline to be missed. The final version of the Constitution, similar to a "draft proposal" drawn up in June by the University of the Philippines Law School, was presented to Aquino on October 15. The commission had approved it by a vote of forty-four to two.
The constitution, one of the longest in the world, establishes three separate branches of government called departments: executive, legislative, and judicial. A number of independent commissions are mandated: the Commission on Elections and the Commission on Audit are continued from the old constitution, and two others, the Commission on Human Rights and the Commission on Good Government, were formed in reaction to Marcos's abuses. The Commission on Good Government is charged with the task of repossessing ill-gotten wealth acquired during the Marcos regime.
Some ambitious Filipino politicians hoped that the new Constitution would invalidate the 1986 presidential election and require that a new election be held. Their hopes were dashed by the "transitory provisions" in Article 17 of the new constitution that confirmed Aquino in office until June 30, 1992. Other officials first elected under the new constitution also were to serve until 1992.
Article 3, the bill of rights, contains the same rights found in the United States Constitution (often in identical wording), as well as some additional rights. The exclusionary rule, for example, prohibits illegally gathered evidence from being used at a trial. Other rights include a freedom-of-information clause, the right to form unions, and the requirement that suspects be informed of their right to remain silent.
The church and state are separated, but Catholic influence can be seen in parts of the Constitution. An article on the family downplays birth control; another clause directs the state to protect the life of the unborn beginning with conception; and still another clause abolishes the death penalty. Church-owned land also is tax-exempt.
The explosive issue of agrarian reform is treated gingerly. The state is explicitly directed to undertake the redistribution of land to those who till it, but "just compensation" must be paid to present owners, and Congress (expected to be dominated by landowners) is given the power to prescribe limits on the amount of land that can be retained. To resolve the controversial issue of United States military bases, the Constitution requires that any future agreement must be in the form of a treaty that is ratified by two-thirds of the Senate and, if the Congress requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast in a national referendum.
Many provisions lend a progressive spirit to the Constitution, but these provisions are symbolic declarations of the framers' hopes and are unenforceable. For example, the state is to make decent housing available to underprivileged citizens. Priority is to be given to the sick, elderly, disabled, women, and children. Wealth and political power are to be diffused for the common good. The state shall maintain honesty and integrity in the public service. To be implemented, all of these declarations of intent required legislation.
Aquino scheduled a plebiscite on the new constitution for February 2, 1987. Ratification of the constitution was supported by a loose coalition of centrist parties and by the Catholic Church. The constitution was opposed by both the Communist Party of the Philippines--Marxist Leninist (referred to as the CPP) and the leftist May First Movement (Kilusang Mayo Uno) for three reasons: It was tepid on land reform, it did not absolutely ban nuclear weapons from Philippine territory, and it offered incentives to foreign investors. But the communists were in disarray after their colossal mistake of boycotting the election that overthrew Marcos, and their objections carried little weight. The constitution faced more serious opposition from the right, led by President Aquino's discontented, now ex-defense minister, Juan Ponce Enrile, who reassembled elements of the old Nacionalista Party to campaign for a no vote to protest what he called the "Aquino dictatorship."
Aquino toured the country campaigning for a yes vote, trading heavily on her enormous personal prestige. The referendum was judged by most observers to turn more on Aquino's popularity than on the actual merits of the Constitution, which few people had read. Her slogan was "Yes to Cory, Yes to Country, Yes to Democracy, and Yes to the Constitution." Aquino also showed that she was familiar with traditional Filipino pork-barrel politics, promising voters in Bicol 1,061 new classrooms "as a sign of my gratitude" if they voted yes.
The plebiscite was fairly conducted and orderly. An overwhelming three-to-one vote approved of the Constitution, confirmed Aquino in office until 1992, and dealt a stunning defeat to her critics. Above all else the victory indicated a vote for stability in the midst of turmoil. There was only one ominous note--a majority of the military voted against the referendum. Aquino proclaimed the new Constitution in effect on February 11, 1987, and made all members of the military swear loyalty to it.
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