Is there, in fact, a Fifth Philippine Republic?


In its “Ten Facts about President Aquino,” an illustrated information sheet distributed to help mark his birthday last Friday, Malacañang emblazoned Facts No. 11 and 12 under an image of the President: that he was the 15th President of the Philippines, and the fifth President of the Fifth Republic.

Is he? The usual list of the country’s presidents begins with Emilio Aguinaldo, who proclaimed Philippine independence on June 12, 1898. (The same day, incidentally, when Apolinario Mabini came to work for Aguinaldo; Mabini did not approve of the proclamation he had no part in writing.) We then skip an entire generation, and resume our count in 1935, when Manuel Quezon becomes the first president of the Commonwealth. In 1943, when the Philippines is under Japanese occupation, Quezon is reduced to leading a government-in-exile in Washington, DC; and Jose Laurel becomes president of a parallel republic. On Quezon’s death in 1944, Sergio Osmeña assumes the presidency; in May 1946, he loses the presidential election to Manuel Roxas.

Roxas retains the presidency when the Commonwealth is dissolved and a prostrate Philippines is granted independence on July 4, 1946; he is followed in office by Elpidio Quirino, Ramon Magsaysay, Carlos Garcia, Diosdado Macapagal and Ferdinand Marcos.

After Marcos is driven from power, Corazon Aquino becomes the first of the post-Edsa presidents; she is followed in office by her chosen successor Fidel Ramos, and then by Joseph Estrada, Gloria Arroyo and, finally, her own son, Benigno Aquino III.

That makes 15 presidents—and for many of us the list is an emblem of continuity, even though the nature of the office and its powers varied greatly in history. Aguinaldo during the Philippine Revolution, Quezon during the Commonwealth era and Laurel during the Japanese occupation were bound by vastly different responsibilities; perhaps they had less in common than we think?

Much as I admire Laurel’s personal character, and continue to think that he was a true statesman, a subtle thinker and the best writer ever to sit in the Supreme Court, I think he should be stricken off the list of presidents; the so-called Second Republic was an aberration in our history. I think it is also possible to make the case that Andres Bonifacio, having established the Katipunan as a multiregional government, should be considered the first Philippine president—but that is another matter, for another day.

Today’s puzzle is the idea (sanctified by Wikipedia!) that we live under the Fifth Republic.

Counting Mr. Aquino as the fifth president of the Fifth Republic means the list starts with his mother, who convened a Constitutional Commission in 1986 and inaugurated a new Constitution in 1987. The Malolos Constitution of 1899 is commonly thought of as inaugurating the First Republic. (To be sure, Aguinaldo had already assumed power as president of a revolutionary government; in fact, it was precisely because he was the revolutionary president that he could serve as martial guarantor of Malolos.)

Were the other Republics created by new constitutions, too? The obscure 1943 Charter created the Second or “Puppet” Republic, and Marcos’ Fourth Republic, inaugurated in 1981, may be said to flow from the by then much-amended 1973 Constitution. But the Third Republic, which began on July 4, 1946, offers an important exception; it continued to function under the 1935 Constitution.

In Malacañang’s interpretation, the Fifth Republic is the new one that succeeded the revolutionary interregnum between February 1986 and February 1987. The problem is: Both the Senate and the House of Representatives tally the numbers differently.

The Congress that will be elected in the May 13 elections will be the 16th; but that is counted not from 1987 but from 1946, when the Third Republic commenced. The laws enacted by Congress now number over 10,000 (the controversial Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 is RA 10354); again, the count goes past 1987 and all the way back to 1946.

Is this simply a case of ideological impulse frustrated by insufficient follow-through (“a revolution deserves a new republic”), or yet another characteristic instance of historical muddling through (“a revolution and a restoration”)?

Since the 1987 Constitution does not in fact stipulate the creation of a Fifth Republic, the conduct of the lawmaking bodies may give us the answer. While a marked difference separates Commonwealth legislation (Commonwealth Acts) from laws created by the Third Republic (Republic Acts) and legislation manufactured under Marcos’ incipient Fourth Republic (Batas Pambansa), none at all exists between the laws of the Third Republic and those of the Fifth.

Perhaps there, really, is no Fifth?

* * *

To my column defending a problematic news report on Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, reader Hermilando Aberia responded with a short, memorable rejoinder. “Of course, John. How can one expect you to say otherwise? Kind protects kind.” I wish to thank Mr. Aberia for using his real name; very few of the many commenters in the Inquirer’s opinion pages online bother with this elementary courtesy. I appreciate the gesture.

Secondly, I wish to ask him to reconsider his view that “of course,” it is a law of nature that “kind protects kind.”

As far as the facts of my writing are concerned, it is incorrect. In my occasional media criticism, I have occasionally been very critical of media indeed. But as far as the theory itself is concerned, it is not only wrong; it is based on an impoverished view of human nature. If “kind protects kind,” no one can rise above class or education or the limits of experience to criticize, much less to dialogue.

* * *


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