Home » Articles » Emergency powers: May 28, 1949

Emergency powers: May 28, 1949


May 28, 1949

President Quirino Holds On To Them, Citing A National Emergency, But The Only emergency, His Critics Say, Is His Reelection

By Teodoro M. Locsin
Staff Member

On August 19, 1939, the National Assembly (not yet the Congress of the Philippines) declared the existence of a state of emergency.

“The existence of war in many parts of the world has created national emergency which makes it necessary to invest the President with extraordinary powers in order to safeguard the integrity of the Philippines and to insure the tranquillity of its inhabitants, by suppressing espionage and other subversive activities, by preventing or relieving unemployment, and by insuring to the people adequate shelter and clothing and sufficient food supply.”

That was Commonwealth Act No. 600.

On June 6, 1941, Act No. 620, amending Act No. 600 was passed, to make a more detailed and specific grant of extraordinary powers to the President.

On December 16, 1941, after the outbreak of the Pacific War, the National Congress, meeting in the air-raid shelter in the basement of the legislative building, passed Commonwealth Act No. 671:

“The existence of war between the United States and other countries of Europe and Asia which involves the Philippines, makes it necessary to invest the President with extraordinary powers in order to meet the resulting emergency.”

The act justified the grant of extraordinary powers by describing the state of emergency as a “TOTAL” one.

“This act shall take effect upon its approval and the rules and regulations promulgated hereunder shall be in force and effect until the Congress of the Philippines shall otherwise provide.”

The Japanese invasion of the Philippines, it was seen, might make it impossible for 96 congressmen and 24 senators, scattered all over the islands, to meet in session. Hence the delegation of legislative powers to the President. Somebody must pass the necessary laws, issue the necessary orders, should Congress be unable to meet.

Acts No. 600 and 620 provided that the rules and regulations adopted by the President under his emergency powers “shall have the force and effect of law until the date of adjournment of the next regular session of the first Congress of the Philippines, unless sooner amended or repealed.”

Act No. 671 was silent on this point, merely saying that the President is authorized to exercise powers during the existence of the total emergency. It did provide that the President shall “as soon as practicable upon the convening of the Congress of the Philippines report thereto all the rules and regulations promulgated by him under the powers herein granted.”

It is clear that the act either limits the delegation of the legislative powers to the President to the next session of the legislative body, or else the act provides for an unlimited delegation of authority by the legislature to the executive—in violation of the Constitution of the Philippines.

The Constitution provides, “in Article VI, Section 1:

“The Legislative power shall be vested in a Congress of the Philippines which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.”

Section 26 of the same article provides:

“In the time of war or other national emergency, the Congress may by law authorize the President, for a limited period and subject to such restrictions as it may prescribe, to promulgate rules and regulations to carry out a declared national policy.”

If the delegation of legislative powers to the President is unlimited, it is unconstitutional. The Constitution provides for the separation of powers among the judicial, the legislative and the executive branch of the government as a check against abuses and as a preventive to tyranny.

“Extraordinary conditions do not create or enlarge constitutional power, and cannot justify governmental action outside the sphere of constitutional authority.”

If Act No. 671 may be interpreted as limiting the delegation of legislative powers to the President to the next session of the legislature, then the emergency powers of the President have long lapsed. If Act No. 671 provides for no such limitation, then the grant of powers was unconstitutional. Either way, the President may not claim or exercise emergency powers without violating the Constitution he is sworn to uphold.

The President’s apologists argue that the war is not yet officially over the preposition that no peace treaty with Japan has as yet been signed. They make this claim in the face of the fact that Japan surrendered to the Allies almost four years ago. Reparations from the Japanese have even been ordered stopped.

The real reason for the President’s anxiety to retain his emergency powers, his critics point out, is his uncontrollable desire for reelection. When Senator Ramon Diokno proposed in the Senate the revocation of the emergency powers of the President, President Quirino made it known, according to Diokno, that he would not oppose the revocation if it be made effective after election.

The Diokno bill was approved by the Senate without amendment, but killed in the House upon order, says Diokno, of President Quirino to kill the measures unless amended to take effect as he desired.

Under the present dispensation, there exist simultaneously two congresses in the Philippines. One, the Congress of the Philippines, composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives, as provided for by the Constitution, and the other, a super congress, the President.

Twice at least, the President, claiming extraordinary powers, has opposed the will of Congress and passed a law of his own. When Congress passed a law on house rentals, the late President Roxas found it not to his liking, vetoed it—then issued Executive Order No. 62 on house rentals. The President, in other words, disregarded an act of Congress and passed his own.

When Congress refused to pass an export control bill despite the Presidential message as to its urgency, President Quirino issued an executive order on export control.

We have here a dictatorship of the executive over the legislature. Quirinistas claim, in justification of Quirino’s retention of powers he is not entitled to under the Constitution, that the Philippines is still suffering from the effects of the war. Anti-Quirinistas say, on the other hand, that perhaps the Philippines is only suffering from the administration of Quirino.

If the President is to blame for this gross and culpable subversion of the Constitution, the ultimate blame rests on Congress. In the desire to play politics, the Congress of the Philippines, in a session well described as shameless, surrendered its powers to the executive, abdicated its authority, and buried Philippine democracy six feet under the earth.


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