Our only republic | Inquirer Opinion

Our only republic

/ 12:21 AM March 22, 2014

In his column “Newsstand” (Opinion, 2/12/13), John Nery noted that Malacañang referred to President Aquino as “the 15th President of the Philippines, and the fifth President of the Fifth Republic.” Nery questioned the historical and legal accuracy of a “Fifth Philippine Republic.” We are also doing so.

This is my own reckoning of our various political regimes. Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, the leader of the Filipino Revolution against Spain, was acclaimed by his peers as the president of the Republica de Filipinas (1899). However, he was not elected by a national constituency. Some historians and writers call the Republica “The First Philippine Republic,” but this reference is faulty.


Of course, Filipinos are proud of the making of our nation led by our countless heroes and martyrs throughout Spanish colonial rule and thereafter; proud of Jose Rizal as “the father of the Filipino nation,” of Andres Bonifacio as “the father of the Filipino Revolution,” of Aguinaldo’s declaration of Filipino independence on June 12, 1898.

But the Republica de Filipinas was a de facto, not a de jure, republic, because it was not recognized by any sovereign state. In fact it was stillborn. It was formed in March 1899 in Malolos, Bulacan, after Spain ceded Filipinas to the United States on Dec. 10, 1898, under the Treaty of Paris.


When Aguinaldo declared the independence of Filipinas from Spain on June 12, 1898, Admiral Dewey’s fleet was in Manila Bay. US military forces would come to occupy Manila and prevent the surrender of the Spanish forces to the Filipino revolutionaries. And shortly after the Filipino-American War began in April 1899, President Aguinaldo was practically on the run. The US occupation and colonization of Pilipinas had commenced.

But Aguinaldo is acknowledged by some historians as our first president and the president of our “First Republic,” just as they acknowledge Bonifacio as “the father of the Filipino Revolution” for being the first to lead it, in 1896. Some historians regard Bonifacio as the first president of Filipinas when he headed several provinces that he regarded as Ang Katagalogan, in reference to the new nation that would comprise the whole archipelago. As the leader of the Magdiwang faction of the Katipunan, Bonifacio was also among the early victims of violent political factionalism when he was assassinated by Aguinaldo’s Magdalo followers in Cavite.

In 1935 President Manuel L. Quezon was elected president of the Commonwealth of the Philippines that was sponsored by the United States as our autonomous transition government to independence. When Quezon died in exile in the United States in 1944, Vice President Sergio Osmeña became the second president of the Commonwealth.

Under Japanese occupation and sponsorship, Jose P. Laurel led a supposedly independent Republic of the Philippines under a new Constitution (1942-1944). Militarily occupied and ruled by a foreign power, the Japanese-sponsored Philippine Republic was illegitimate. Sometimes called a “puppet republic,” it could not properly be viewed as “the Second Republic of the Philippines.” A republic is a sovereign democratic state that enjoys international recognition.

July 4, 1946

The Republic of the Philippines only came into being when the Philippines regained its independence from America on July 4, 1946. It readily gained international recognition as a new sovereign state and was a founding member of the United Nations. As an assertion of nationalism and “political correctness,” President Diosdado Macapagal changed the date of Philippine independence to June 12, 1898. But this does not alter the historical and legal basis of the establishment of the republic in 1946.

The Philippines as a striving democratic republic was subverted when President Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law in September 1972. By manipulating the 1973 Constitution, he turned the republic into a dictatorship supported by the military and the police, and by his chosen partisans and business cronies. The dictatorship suppressed the mass media and caused the imprisonment, torture, killing, and disappearance of numerous critics and enemies. It spread the communist rebellion nationwide, and the Moro rebellion in Mindanao.


Other consequences of the Marcos regime were his unprecedented plunder and personal enrichment, the politicization of the military and police, the destruction of the economy, and the demoralization of the nation. But resistance to the dictatorship persisted in many forms, passive and active. Eventually, at Edsa the resistance became an irresistible and peaceful “people power” revolt triggered by the fraudulent reelection of Marcos and a military mutiny that would end the dictatorship on Feb. 25, 1986.

With Marcos overthrown and banished to exile in Hawaii, President Corazon Aquino ruled under a transitional “revolutionary government” from February 1986 until a new Constitution was ratified in February 1987. The 1987 Constitution declared that “the Philippines is a democratic and republican State,” but it did not rename it “the Second Republic of the Philippines.”

So, in our view and in fact, we only have one Republic of the Philippines. It began on July 4, 1946.

But 68 years later, our republic is still “a soft state” that shows some signs of “a failing state.” We are still suffering from the debilitating effects of the Marcos dictatorship and we have yet to consolidate our democracy 28 years after our glorious “people power” revolt in 1986.

Transform and reform

To consolidate our democracy, we have to make real and palpable progress toward fulfilling our constitutional vision to “build a just and humane society” and “a democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace.” We should achieve inclusive social, economic, and political development in order to strengthen our democracy and enhance its legitimacy. We need many more transforming leaders and even more empowered citizens who can effectively participate in politics and governance.

Moreover, we have to transform and reform several of our obsolete and dysfunctional political institutions: our elections and political parties, our presidential government and centralized unitary system, our judiciary, constitutional commissions, and bureaucracy, and our military and police. Some of these reforms will require amending our 1987 Constitution.

We have to build redesigned political institutions. We must also modernize our political culture and social institutions, including our schools and universities, business, labor, and religious institutions. As the largest Church, our Catholic Church must be reformed to make it truly conform to our faith and effectively involve the faithful in its mission.

Only in these specific ways can we rebuild our country and prevent a relapse from democracy to authoritarianism, as it happened under Marcos who extended his rule from eight to 20 years.

We have only one Republic of the Philippines for our 100 million Filipinos, and counting. Let us make it a truly “democratic and republican State” where “sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.”

Dr. Jose V. Abueva ([email protected]) is a professor of political science and public administration at the University of the Philippines, of which he was president in 1987-1993.

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TAGS: Commentary, History, John Nery, Jose B. Abueva, opinion, Republic of the Philippines
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