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The Long View

Possession is nine-tenths of the law

On November 30, 1972, delegates signed what we now know as the 1973 Constitution. It was two months into martial law. Speaker Cornelio Villareal and two congressmen showed up at the Constitutional Convention, along with Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza. Both delegates and members of Congress (which was in recess and not due to reconvene until January 1973) had a vested interest in the outcome.

Ferdinand Marcos made sure to smear his former congressional colleagues by recording in his diary that after martial law was imposed, for example, on November 2, he met with Senate President Gil Puyat, Senate President Pro Tempore Jose Roy, Speaker Villareal, and House Speaker Pro Tempore Jose Aldeguer to obtain their approval for a plebiscite on the new Constitution (and to solicit their “recommendations” as to its contents). Subsequently, these recommendations seemed focused on the four trying to convince him to give them positions in the new Interim National Assembly that would replace Congress. On November 11, 1972, the day he finished the draft of the Constitution (Marcos had been meeting delegates on drafts of the new Constitution on November 9, for example), Marcos recorded that legislators proposed making Vice President Fernando Lopez as president (a ceremonial post); Senate President Puyat as speaker of the National Assembly, and Speaker Villareal as majority floor leader. Marcos rejected their proposal, diplomatically suggesting they could work out these details later on since all of them, from the VP down to all incumbent senators and congressmen, would sit in the Interim National Assembly. They meekly agreed. In truth, Marcos had a wider net to cast: He would dangle to Convention President Diosdado Macapagal the possibility of being (ceremonial) president, while ensuring approval of the Palace-written draft Constitution by stipulating that Con-Con delegates who voted for it would automatically become members of the Interim National Assembly. In the end, he double-crossed legislators and delegates alike by amending the 1973 Constitution in 1976 to eliminate the automatic memberships.

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Marcos’ dilemma was this. Congress was due to reconvene in January 1973. Challenges to martial law might prosper either in the courts (despite his having specifically decreed martial law’s legality off-limits to the courts), or in Congress. He needed a new Constitution before then. The Supreme Court though had received cases against the holding of a plebiscite in mid-December, forcing Marcos to postpone the holding of a plebiscite. He had to recalibrate. Like so much of the New Society, Marcos looked to examples from the Japanese Occupation to use in his authoritarian project, in this instance, the neighborhood associations during the Occupation. So, in December, 1972, Marcos created citizens’ assemblies to solve the problem of his proposed Constitution losing if a proper plebiscite using the secret ballot was held. On Jan. 1, 1973, Marcos announced that these would be the vehicle for approving the new Constitution, which took place from Jan. 10-15 (later in January, 1973, he renamed “citizens’ assemblies” as “barangays.” And in 1974, he decreed the abolition of the “barrio” and its replacement with the “barangay.” By so doing, he cut off the old political machines at the knee, and built his own basic government network beholden to his regime).

In the midst of this reengineering of local governments, Marcos was busy neutralizing the officials who’d gone along with martial law expecting tangible rewards.

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On January 13, 1973, as the citizens’ assemblies were producing their results, Marcos wrote that he told Speaker Villareal and Majority Floor Leader Veloso that he was going ahead with a new Constitution with provisions that “may be different” from that approved by the Con-Con, “with a definite period for an interim government; that we would have to retain powers to prevent a constitutional crisis”—a euphemism for saying all original deals to accommodate them would be temporarily postponed. By Jan. 22, 1973, Congress was padlocked, Marcos having proclaimed the new Constitution in effect. Tense days followed, although by January 27, the majority of justices (Marcos wrote) had dangled approving the new Constitution, but that they “want to be assured of their continuance in office under the new Constitution with new appointments.” By January 29, he seemed satisfied the justices had gotten the message. By March 1973, the Supreme Court obliged, declaring the new Constitution in place. Marcos did not need to proclaim a revolutionary government.

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TAGS: 1973 Constitution, Constitutional Convention, Cornelio Villareal, estelito mendoza, Gil Puyat, Manuel L. Quezon III, Marcos martial law, The Long View
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