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The Politicalization of the Constitutional Convention
By Edward R. Kiunisala
January 22, 1972–MANY considered it the “last hope” of the impoverished masses—the “magic key” to peace and progress. In an atmosphere of deepening national crisis, it would be called upon to rewrite the fundamental law of the land and provide the blueprint for a better, more meaningful life for the Filipino people. The faith of nearly 40 million Filipinos was pinned on the Constitutional Convention.
The delegates to the Convention were to be men of honor, courage, dedication, wisdom and vision. Certainly, men of less stern stuff have no place in such a body, charged as it is with the sacred duty of charting the national destiny. When the time came to choose them, some 10 million electors voted in a remarkably free and fair election.
A good number of “independent” candidates were elected, including priests, journalists, technocrats, professors, economists, political scientists, youth activists, labor leaders and retired high government officials. It was a “promising start” for the Constitutional Convention, said one political observer. Although many party-backed candidates won, it was believed that these delegates would assert their independence upon assumption of their exalted office.
But, alas, as the opening date of the Convention drew closer, more and more delegates were invited or crawled to Malacañang. The public did not know what transpired there, but could guess. The Malacañang meeting marked the politicalization, that is, the tutaization, of delegates. Reports spread that President Marcos wanted the Constitutional Convention to extend his term by two more years or, failing that, to change the form of government from presidential to parliamentary to enable him to become the first Prime Minister.
True or not, Marcos became the first big issue in the Convention. Many independent delegates denounced Malacañang for interfering with the work of the Convention. The denunciation rose to fever pitch some three days before the start of the Convention, prompting Marcos to change his mind about addressing the opening rites of the Convention.
When, in a pre-Convention pow-wow, the majority of the delegates opted to invite Marcos to be the guest speaker at the Convention’s opening ceremonies, the move angered, if not scandalized, many independent-minded delegates. Seventeen of them staged a walk-out on the opening day of the Convention. It was just as well for on that day, the politicians stole the show. At the rostrum was Marcos, flanked by Senate President Gil J. Puyat and Speaker Cornelio Villareal, a guest, acted as if he were the host. He controlled the proceedings as if the charter body were the House of Representatives.
That “circus” led to yet another circus when the Convention tackled the problem of leadership. Five delegates sought the Convention presidency, namely, former Presidents Diosdado Macapagal and Carlos P. Garcia, former Sen. Raul Manglapus, former Supreme Court Justice Jesus Barrera and Teopisto Guingona, Jr. Macapagal was allegedly Marcos’s pet—and, indeed, at the outset, he appeared to act like one. But he was later to be disappointed by Malacañang. About 48 hours before the election, some delegates who were committed to back Macapagal sought release from their commitment, according to a Laguna delegate, Manuel Concordia, a supporter of Macapagal. Concordia specifically referred to four delegates who, according to him, “reminded me of a condition to their pledge, that is, it could be withdrawn when ‘orders from above’ are received.”
“Apparently such orders ‘from above’ have been received. I could not, in conscience, hold them to their commitment.”
Later, Macapagal himself categorically stated the Marcos was supporting Garcia—a charge which, if true, substantiated the suspicion about the tutaization of the Convention. Said Macapagal:
“It is not definite and conclusive that President Garcia is the candidate of President Marcos for president of the Convention. This proves that there was no deal between Mr. Marcos and me or warrants the deduction that I must have refused to agree to the deal desired by President Marcos, that is why he decided to support President Garcia as Convention president.”
And what is this “deal” that Macapagal referred to?
“The previously reported deal was for me to work for the parliamentary system so that Mr. Marcos could be Prime Minister for life, whereas the new subject is about the extension of the presidential term. I am incapable of entering into a deal on the contents of the Constitution since that would be a disgraceful act which I will never countenance.”
On the eve of the Convention, Macapagal filed a resolution banning former Presidents and their close relatives, including Marcos and Imelda, from running for the presidency. Many considered it a gimmick for Macapagal to attract independent voters; in the past he had been evasive on such a question, saying that “a candidate for president of the Convention should not take sides on the contents of the Constitution since the primary duty of the Convention president is to impartially reconcile divisive conflicts of views among the delegates and coordinate the activities of the Convention.”
Anyway, Macapagal lost and Garcia won. The Marcosian strategy appeared to be to divert attention and confuse until the “moment of truth” came. At first Macapagal seemed to be his man—but it was Garcia who won. It was a judo tactic—feign distraction, then attack. Up to now, many delegates still become red in the face when reminded of that election.
Was there really a deal? Were there “orders from above?” Those were the questions. Now, the question is: Does Marcos really favor the parliamentary form of government over the presidential? If he does, is it because Marcos wants to be “Prime Minister for life?” Only Marcos and certain delegates are in a position to answer this. But the verifiable fact is that, after the last election, delegates who were staunchly for the presidential type now advocate parliamentary form of government.
Have “orders from above” been issued?
Curiously enough, the pattern of events during the fight for the Convention presidency is being repeated in the battle between the “parliamentarists” and the “presidentialists.” Before the issue on the form of government came to a head in the Convention, many delegates had reportedly been seen in conference with Marcos. Sometime later, the committee on legislative powers surprisingly changed its stand and voted for the adoption of the parliamentary form of government.
The committee on executive powers, too, which originally favored the retention of the presidential type, as of this writing, is veering towards the adoption of the parliamentary form. Even the Rama-Liwag resolution seeking to ban President Marcos and the First Lady from running for the presidency or premiership seems destined to lose in the committee on transitory provisions.
Worse, talk of presidential favors being granted to some delegates is now widespread. Whether true or not, this talk seems to gather credibility in the face of reports that Lualhati, a government cottage in Baguio City, was occupied by a delegate during the Christmas vacation. The Baguio case certainly leaves a bad taste in the mouth, especially in the context of what Macapagal had earlier referred to as a “reported deal” which would pave the way for Marcos to become the first Prime Minister of this country.
Editorialized the Manila Chronicle:
“Incidents like the Lualhati case have generated suspicions whenever there are sudden changes of hearts especially when the new Convention decision would favor the President. It is in this light that the public has viewed the change in the committee votes—from the presidential to the parliamentary form of government—with valid misgivings though hoping that the modification was impelled by desires for constructive reforms and not an abdication of conviction for political accommodation.”
Close on the heels of the Lualhati case came the recent change of delegate Jorge Kintanar of Cebu to the effect that 10 delegates recently went to Malacañang and were each given “10,000 reasons” to shift from the presidential to the parliamentary system. Some Convention delegates understood Fr. Kintanar’s statement to mean that some delegates had been bribed P10,000 by Malacañang in consideration for their support of the parliamentary system.
Last week, some 20 delegates demanded the investigation of the Kintanar charge, challenging the priest-delegate to name names. Fr. Kintanar promptly accepted the challenge and promised to name names in a proper committee hearing. The investigation of the Kintanar charge may yet lead to the investigation of still another rumor that certain delegates are on the regular payroll of Malacañang.
Said Delegate Antonio Alano of Batangas:
“While I do not believe that any delegate would succumb to any outside pressure in deciding what form of government our country should adopt, it is proper that we should look into the matter of alleged lobby.”
Delegates Anacleto Badoy, Jr., and Aquilino Pimentel, Jr., urged Convention President Macapagal to convoke the committee on privilege to look into the serious charge of bribery. If the Kintanar charge is found to be true, said the two, the Convention should impose “appropriate sanctions.” And Delegate Bren Z. Guiao sought the release of the list of names of delegates who went to Malacañang on January 6 “to clear the names of those delegates who have nothing to do with the so-called Malacañang lobby.”
The persistent talk of Malacañang’s intervention in the conduct of the charter body has to be thoroughly investigated if the Convention is to win the support of the people. Such talk started when delegates started trooping to Malacañang even before the charter body was convened. It gained momentum when Macapagal categorically charged that Marcos had backed Garcia, followed later by the withdrawal of Delegate Felixberto Serrano from the contest for the position of President Pro Tempore of the Convention.
Said Serrano then:
“My heart bleeds to announce to you today that agreeably with my personal knowledge of the events that have transpired in the last few days, the will of this Convention will be subverted by outside political control beyond the power of well-intended and well-meaning delegates to resist and material enough to determine the final outcome of the election.
“I am prepared to announce to you that Speaker Cornelio Villareal of the House of Representatives is the instrumentality of this over-powering, subversive force in our Convention intended to override its free will and better judgment.”
Villareal immediately denied everything. What then, made Serrano’s heart bleed? At any rate, it was an open secret that on the eve of the Convention election a top tuta of Marcos entertained delegates in a hotel suite. The Marcos dog gave to the delegates from “1,000 to 10,000 reasons” in consideration of their canine support for Marcos’s candidates for Convention posts, went reports.
No one in the Convention, except Serrano, whose charges were vague and general, demanded an investigation. But it’s different this time. Fr. Kintanar is reportedly ready to “tell all.” But in all these charges, starting with those of Macapagal to those of Serrano and now those of Kintanar, the common denominator is the alleged move of Malacañang to control the Convention.
If the charges are true, why does Malacañang want to control the Convention? The answer depends on the truthfulness or otherwise of what Macapagal earlier said concerning the “previously reported deal” which “was for me to work for the parliamentary system so that Mr. Marcos could be Prime Minister for life….”
Although Macapagal’s statement was intended to prove that no such deal was consummated between him and Marcos, it did not say, however, whether or not Marcos presented Macapagal with such a deal. In fact, Macapagal said that Garcia being conclusively “the candidate of President Marcos” proved that there was no deal between him and Marcos or that he must have “refused to agree to the deal desired by President Marcos.” That is why, went on Macapagal, Marcos decided to “support President Garcia as Convention president.”
If it is true that Marcos did not support Macapagal because the latter would not agree to the Marcos deal, which was for Macapagal to work for the parliamentary form of government, then Marcos must have been, from the very beginning, against the presidential system. The vociferous advocacy for the retention of the presidential system by some of his allegedly close supporters in the Convention must have been only a ruse to confuse the “presidentialists.”
Or perhaps, Marcos, sensing that the prevalent sentiment of the Convention was for the retention of the presidential system, agreed to go along with the idea on the assumption that the First Lady, if she ran for the presidency, would win. But the results of the last national elections must have jolted Marcos. He must have realized then that he could not make it any more to Malacañang, directly or indirectly through the First Lady. But if he cannot stay on Malacañang as President under the presidential system, he may still go back there as Prime Minister under a parliamentary system.
If these assumptions are correct, then the sudden change of heart of many delegates vis-à-vis their stand on which form of government the Constitution is to adopt is no mystery. They would simply be heeding their master’s voice.
Certainly, the issue on which form of government this country is to adopt should be decided on merit, not on personal considerations. But the fact that, after extensive deliberations on the subject, two key committees in the Convention had earlier decided to retain the presidential system shows that the present form of government is still workable, that there is no necessity to junk it. That some delegates during the present system to be bad, prompting them to reverse themselves and come out for the parliamentary one, is certainly mysterious. What’s the reason or reasons for the sudden change of mind?
That “mystery” is reason enough to look into the personal consideration in the deliberation on the form of government. The question of whether or not Marcos wants the Convention to adopt the parliamentary form should not be ignored. This issue strikes at the fundamental principle of an independent Convention freely exercising its disinterested judgment. If the will of Marcos is to prevail in the Convention, then we should not have held a Convention at all. We should have simply allowed Marcos to rewrite the Constitution by himself. It would be faster and cheaper that way.
But let it not be forgotten that the new charter will be adopted only after the people have ratified it in a national referendum. If the new Constitution is tainted with the corrupt influence of Malacañang, the people are likely judging from the results of the last elections, to junk it. The Convention will have wasted its efforts and time, not to mention the people’s money, drafting a Marcos Constitution. And the people would lose all hope for a better tomorrow.
Said the Free Press in its editorial of June 19, 1971:
“The challenge to the Constitutional Convention is to rise above the level of the professional politicians, which should not be too difficult since nothing can be lower than that, but if professional politicians were to run, directly or indirectly, the Convention, then, as water seeks its own level, the Constitutional Convention will fall to the level of the lowest form of political life in this country.”
If the Convention finally decides to adopt the parliamentary system to favor Marcos, the referendum will turn into a political election. The pro-Marcos forces will certainly campaign in favor of the new charter while the anti-Marcos faction will campaign against it. The charter body will have achieved one thing: divide the country, instead of uniting it. It would have rendered a monstrous disservice to the nation and its place in history would be a shameful one.