The big loss during martial law
Each time we observe the proclamation of martial law on Sept. 21, 1972, we focus on the human rights violations and the billions the Marcoses stole from the public treasury. We overlook the destruction by Marcos of our nascent institutions.
Prof. Samuel Huntington, the guru of political development, has stressed that what separates First World from Third World countries is the existence of institutions that bind a nation together. There are myriad institutions in developed countries, and very few in developing countries. In most less developed countries (LDCs), the only institutions are the military and the religious sector.
The difficult task for LDCs is the peaceful transfer of power from one group to another. We have this system in place, until Marcos declared martial law. The orderly transition in our country was facilitated by a working two-party system. This institution had served as a filter to limit the number of presidential aspirants, so that all our presidents had mandates from the majority of our voters.
Under our present system, all our presidents win office by a mere plurality of votes cast and, therefore, have no popular mandate.
In addition, the two-party system also has screened candidates for the Senate so that, under the old Senate, only those with impeccable credentials were given a chance to run for senator. The celebrities who become senators under our present system, and who then finish their terms without doing any work, had no place under the old two-party system.
Our independent judiciary, capped by a respected Supreme Court, was dismantled when Marcos intimidated the justices into validating the 1973 Constitution with the infamous Amendment No. 6, which gave Marcos dictatorial powers. And, of course, we had an apolitical Armed Forces then, but it became the prop of the regime until it was, ironically, overthrown by the defection of the Enrile-Ramos faction in the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution.
The most important institution of a nation is, of course, its constitution. The United States has had just one constitution from its establishment in 1776. The same is true with Canada, with the British North America Act of 1867 as its only constitution.
But from Mexico all the way south to Argentina, the story is different. Those in power usually tinker with the constitution to perpetuate their rule. Thus, constitutions in Latin America are regarded in the same manner as ordinary laws; they never become institutions.
We are in the same boat as our Latino cousins. President Manuel Quezon had the 1935 Constitution amended so that, instead of the president being limited to a single six-year term, he was given a four-year term with a chance for reelection. This was a bad precedent that mimicked the track taken by our Latino cousins.
Be that as it may, we overcame the Quezon manipulation and had managed to establish nascent institutions essential for nation-building, until Marcos destroyed them when he declared martial law. After Marcos’ downfall, what we needed most were leaders who would point us in the right direction to rebuild those critical institutions.
This has not happened, as we’ve seen attempts to shift to the parliamentary system, and now to a federal form of government, but with the hidden agenda by the proponents to perpetuate themselves in power.
What we need from here on is a president who will lead the nation in establishing institutions vital for nation-building, and we have to look to a post-Duterte presidency to lead us in this journey.
Mr. Duterte is not an institution-builder. His actions and pronouncements that regard with disdain key provisions of our Constitution shows that it is not in his agenda to lead us in this endeavor.
We also need a new constitution. Our present Constitution has flaws, including a multiparty system with no runoff election. This results in electing leaders without a popular mandate. Our Latino cousins emphasize that a “segunda vuelta” election also deters cheating, as a dirty candidate must have to cheat twice to get elected.
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Hermenegildo C. Cruz served as ambassador to Chile and Bolivia from 1989 to 1993.
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