Cory’s Proclamation No. 3
By Napoleon G. Rama
April 19, 1986–OF a sudden a word used by the Corazon Aquino crowd, “revolutionary,” was verboten. Unmentionable. This was when the Aquino Cabinet was mulling over the definition of her kind of government and was scheduling the announcement of Proclamation No. 3, the President’s most important law so far.
There were nearly 2,000 words in Proclamation No. 3, declaring the status and nature of the Aquino regime. Nowhere could one find the world “revolutionary”. And this is a government, all evidence would declare, born out of a revolution. The favored words in the Proclamation were the less muscular “provisional”, and “transition” and “temporary.”
Was the “tough” lady bending over backwards to accommodate her critics? Earlier, the Minister of Justice Neptali Gonzales had dropped the broad hint that she favored the “revolutionary government” idea. What a howl went up from the Batasan Pambansa, both from the KBL and UNIDO MPs to whom “revolutionary” meant “dictatorial”. Of them the one person whose views counted most with the President was MP Cecilia Muñoz Palma, her confidante and closest adviser up to some weeks ago. She gave it straight to the President. To declare her government “revolutionary” and abolish the Batasan Pambansa was to behave no better than Dictator Marcos, Palma said.
It’s not hard to understand the Batasan members’ opposition. The Batasan is a very good-paying job, counting the allowances and the pork barrel doles. Add to this, political power, the name of the game in politics. Being in the Batasan is the best insurance against prosecution or persecution. Without the parliamentary armor, they would be naked to legal or extra-legal process by the dedicated fiscals or foes in the new regime. Palma, though, had honest if shakey reasons for her views.
But to those in favor of a revolutionary government, the issue was simple. It was a revolution that midwifed the present regime. The people’s mandate is thorough change as soon as possible. It cannot be achieve without dismantling the entire Marcos dictatorial government and removing his warlords and lieutenants who had given him aid and comfort and long tenure. People will not understand if the Marcos setup and men were retained in positions of authority. The solution was to cut clean from the old regime, start afresh without any ties to the old evil. The formula is as simple as cutting the Gordian knot.
But how would the other nations receive the revolutionary government to which most nations are normally allergic?
To the new President the dilemma was a formidable one. But it didn’t faze her. The problem uncovers a new side to Corazon Aquino—the ability to walk the tight rope, avoid confrontations through the use of diplomatic semantics, a necessary art for a national leader. She was able to concede to the critics minor points while holding on to the vital ones.
Instead of defining her form of government, she defined the Constitution that would be the basis of that government. And she had a noncontroversial label for it, the “Freedom Constitution,” which was to be drafted by honorable men to be appointed by her. She gave herself a deadline of from 30 to 50 days to name them.
Instead of identifying her mandate as coming from the people staging a revolution, she described her source of authority as “the direct mandate of the people as manifested by their extraordinary action”. It wasn’t a revolutionary regime but a transition regime based on a provisional constitution leading to a democratic government.
Of course, she didn’t write Proclamation No. 3. But the verifiable fact is that several conflicting memoranda and drafts were submitted to her. Even her own cabinet was split on the subject. It was she who made the decision and picked the final draft. Choosing the option and making the decision is what matters in the governing of a country. It was the best draft and the best decision under the difficult circumstances.
Like many proclamations born out of compromise, Proclamation No. 3 is not without its flaws. But first note the careful, felicitous wording of Proclamation No. 3—
“DECLARING A NATIONAL POLICY TO IMPLEMENT THE REFORMS MANDATED BY THE PEOPLE, PROTECTING THEIR BASIC RIGHTS, ADOPTING A PROVISIONAL CONSTITUTION, AND PROVIDING FOR AN ORDERLY TRANSITION TO A GOVERNMENT UNDER A NEW CONSTITUTION.
It is very hard to quarrel with that kind of policy statement. The WHEREASES were equally non-controversial and factual:
“WHEREAS, the new government was installed through a direct exercise of the power of the Filipino people assisted by units of the New Armed Forces of the Philippines; WHEREAS, the heroic action of the people was done in defiance of the provisions of the 1973 Constitution, as amended; WHEREAS, the direct mandate of the people as manifested by their extraordinary action demands the complete reorganization of the government, restoration of democracy, protection of basic rights, rebuilding of confidence in the entire government system, eradication of graft and corruption, restoration of peace and order, maintenance of the supremacy of the civilian authority over the military; WHEREAS, to adequately respond to the mandate of the people and to achieve a transition to a government under a New Constitution in the shortest time possible and WHEREAS, during the period of transition to a New Constitution it must be guaranteed that the government will respect basic human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
The significant stress is that the authority of the President emanated from the people as manifested by their extraordinary action. The main objective is to implement the people’s will to restore democracy and basic rights and remove the evils of the old regime through a New Constitution to be drafted in the shortest possible time. And there is a stern reminder to the New Armed Forces that under our system civilian authority enjoys supremacy over the military, and before they get ideas, it was the people that installed the new regime and their role was to assist the people in supporting it.
Except for the fumble in the penultimate WHEREAS because of the absence of a verb, hence, producing an incomplete sentence, the premises are sound and persuasive.
The portion of the Proclamation whose consistency can be called into question by political scientists is Article I which adopts certain provisions of the 1973 Constitution and rejects the rest. There cannot be a selective or partial acceptance of a Constitution. To adopt as valid certain provisions in the Marcos “Constitution” is to admit that the Marcos “Constitution” was validly ratified and still in force—a position contrary to that originally held by the present regime which never recognized the validity of the charter. One who accepts as valid a portion of that “Constitution” is estopped from rejecting or invalidating the other provisions in the same “Constitution.”
After admitting that partial validity and therefore the valid ratification of that “Constitution,” one can no longer ignore, revise or annul any portion of that “Constitution” since one is bound by the terms and procedures prescribed by said “Constitution” by which one may revise or annul any provision in it. The Marcos “Constitution” provides that for any of its provisions to be invalidated, annulled or revised, there must first be a constituent assembly (the Batasan constitution itself as such), or a constitutional convention elected by the people, that would draft the constitutional amendments and submit them to the people for ratification in a plebiscite. Thus, the President having recognized the validity and existence of the Marcos “Constitution,” she cannot now arbitrarily nullify, repeal or revise its provisions without calling for a constituent assembly or a constitutional convention and a plebiscite.
Provisions adopted by the Proclamation are noncontroversial articles on National Territory, Citizenship, Bill of Rights, Duties and Obligations of Citizens, Suffrage, Declaration of Principles, Judiciary, Local Governments, Constitutional Commissions, Accountability of Public Officers, National Patrimony and General Provisions. Rejected by the regime are the articles on Batasan Pambansa (abolishing it), the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, Amendments and the Transitory Provisions.
The criteria for the adoption and the abolition of the provisions of the 1973 Constitution are unassaible, even if the fundamental legal procedure raised earlier remains questionable. The Proclamation went on to implement the objectives set forth in the WHEREASES.
At this writing even a brother-in-law of the President had come out with a front-page attack on the Promulgation, zeroing in on the authority of one person, the President, to make such Proclamation and constitute a constitutional body with “handpicked” palace appointees. “Mrs. Aquino,” Alejandro Lichuaco said, “for all her immense popularity, cannot claim to having been empowered by the people to write a new constitution. Much less can the appointees…” Even Marcos, he argued, did not abolish the Constitutional Convention of 1973, composed of delegates elected by the people. Marcos realized that a Constitutional Convention or body made up of his handpicked men would be ridiculous, Lichuaco added.
Like Palma and the rest, the President’s brother-in-law damns the revolutionary nature of the government, the essence of Proclamation No. 3 for all its cautious language. And this is the core of the issue.
The critics don’t seem to have fully assessed the extraordinary dimensions of the problem confronting the President. Marcos had been entrenched for 20 years. Most of his men in the Batasan, and local governments and bureaucracy had been there for 20 years. The apparatuses of Martial Law had been there for at least 14 years. Over these decades Marcos and Imelda had also set up their own organizations and secret networks outside the government. The “Constitution,” the laws, policies and many offices of government under the Marcos regime had a common purpose: to prop up, strengthen and prolong his dictatorial regime. The plunder of the nation started two decades ago. Never has the world seen greed as devouring as Marcos’s and never has history recorded a loot by anybody so great as his. No surprise the national treasury is empty, the national economy in extremis.
For smaller problems, a revolutionary government or the exercise of unencumbered power by the President had been required. Even the old 1935 Constitution recognized emergency situations and thus provided the President with extraordinary powers. What was contemplated then was mostly natural or short-lived calamities. What we have now is a 20-year old calamity.
The clear mandate of the people was for change, and urgent change. The problem is that under the circumstances you cannot institute change without first dismantling and demolishing the entrenched apparatuses of dictatorship and removing the entrenched accomplices of the dictator. If the President had to follow the normal constitutional and legal procedures contemplated by the law to be followed under normal circumstances, that change may never happen or it may come too late.
The hair-curling problems of the nation calls for quick, firm and tough decisions. And that is exactly what the President has done in decreeing the Proclamation. The wishy-washy decisions and the tedious procedures will not do under the present conditions of the nation. All constitutions in the world recognize extraordinary situations calling for dispensing with the niceties of law.
Besides, the Proclamation provides only a provisional constitution which has to be debated publicly, ratified by the people and if need be, revised and amended by the proper body elected by the people. It’s an emergency constitution. The Proclamation provides for elections for government officials. One emergency situation that cannot be helped is that the government does not have the money to hold elections now.
If it is admitted that President Aquino’s support from the people is “immense”, as seen here and the world over, she can represent better and speak for the people in a representative system of government than the abolished Batasan many of whose members cheated or shot their way into it.
It would be unfair to compare her and her government with Marcos and his regime. First, Marcos in 1972 changed or transformed a democratic government to a dictatorship. Aquino is dismantling a dictatorship in order to install a democracy. Aquino had been fighting for the basic freedoms and human rights. Marcos had been defending and fighting for a despotic government. In equating Marcos with Aquino, the critics subvert their own case.
Bernard Shaw said that those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. Critics are a dime a dozen. To be one all that is needed is delusion of intelligence and wisdom. To make the best of a bad situation, to restore their lost freedom and dignity to the Filipino people and give them hope for the future requires an extraordinary person, and such a person her critics are not. Corazon C. Aquino is.