The Senate of the Philippines is the upper chamber of the Congress of the Philippines, the country’s legislature. It exists to create and promote a national perspective on national policy in order to build a prosperous, secure, honest and democratic nation. In the 100 years of its founding, it has been the training ground for national leadership and has served as the ultimate bastion of free debate and oversight of the Republic.
It has therefore become a revered democratic institution that consistently upholds the national interest, protects civil, political and human rights, and promotes transparency and accountability in public service.
With the Senate’s celebration of its centennial anniversary on October 16, 2016, President Benigno S. Aquino III, by virtue of Proclamation No. 1091, s. 2015, has declared October 2015 to October 2016 as the “Centennial Year of the Senate of the Philippines.”
PHILIPPINE COMMISSION, 1899 – 1916
In 1899 during the American occupation of the Philippines, United States President William McKinley appointed a commission led by Dr. Jacob Schurman to study and investigate the conditions in the Philippine Islands. This was known as the first Philippine Commission. It was followed by another investigative commission led by William Howard Taft in 1900, which also had limited legislative and executive powers. From 1901 onwards, the Philippine Commission would be regularized. By virtue of the U.S. Congress’ enactment of the Philippine Organic Act of 1902, the Philippine Legislature was formed, with the Philippine Commission which constituted the upper house, while the newly formed Philippine Assembly would constitute the lower house. As such, the Philippine Commission exercised both executive and legislative powers, with three Filipino delegates, namely Benito Legarda, Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, Jose Luzuriaga. After the establishment of the Philippine Assembly (see below) in 1907, the commission stayed on as the upper house of the legislature until 1916. The Philippine Commission was the first semblance of a Philippine Senate.
PHILIPPINE ASSEMBLY, 1907 – 1916
Electoral representation in the Philippines by Filipinos began when the American insular government allowed partial self-governance by establishing the Philippine Assembly. The assembly, as the lower house, shared legislative power with the Philippine Commission, which remained under American control, as membership in the Philippine Commission was still restricted to appointed American officials. In 1907, still under American rule, the Philippines held its first national elections for the newly created representative body, which had an inaugural membership of 81 Filipinos representing their respective districts. In the succeeding years, the number of districts were increased to 85 in 1910, and 91 in 1912.
RESIDENT COMMISSIONERS, 1907 – 1946
From 1907 to 1946, the Philippine Legislature sent a representative to sit in the U.S. House of Representatives, as Resident Commissioner. Under Spain, the Philippines had also been given limited representation in the Spanish Cortés, and like the resident commissioners, they had the right to speak, but not to vote. On May 15, 1909, Manuel L. Quezon, as assemblyman, was elected Resident Commissioner of the Philippines. While in Washington, D.C., Quezon learned of the political landscape of the United States, mainly, the rise of the Democrats (a political party supportive of Philippine independence). He began befriending some key democrats and drafted a bill, called the Jones Bill, setting on paper the promise of eventual Philippine independence. However, Quezon observed that the U.S. Senate had powers to block legislation, when it simply refused to include the proposed Jones Bill No. 1, on its agenda, until the bill was buried way into recess. Hence, this convinced Quezon early on of the dynamism of a bicameral legislature. He continued to be instrumental in drafting Jones Bill No. 2, which was approved by both chambers of the U.S. Congress. On August 29, 1916, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill into law, with the provision of replacing the Philippine Commission with the Philippine Senate, and the Philippine Assembly with the Philippine House of Representatives.
THE SENATE OF THE PHILIPPINE LEGISLATURE, 1916 – 1935
Upon the enactment of the Jones Law in 1916, positions in the Philippine Senate were opened to Filipinos, with 12 senatorial districts and two senators elected from each. Furthermore, the Jones Law had vested the Senate with duties beyond the purely legislative, such as the power of confirmation over appointees of the American governor general on the executive and the judiciary. The inaugural President of the Senate in 1916 was Manuel L. Quezon, representing the fifth senatorial district. He would hold this position until the establishment of the Commonwealth of the Philippines in 1935. For 19 years prior to the Commonwealth, the Senate presidency was the highest position a Filipino could hold. Thus, immediately after the inauguration, the issue of which chamber should be considered preeminent arose. Quezon, in his inaugural address as Senate President, spoke of the Senate as having a popular character that could claim to represent the “serene, mature and prudent judgment of public opinion.” By 1921, a split between Senate President Manuel Quezon and House Speaker Sergio Osmeña was inevitable. The split also carried over to the Nacionalista Party, between Quezon’s Colectivista and Osmeña’s Unipersonalistas.
The elections of June 1922 thus made clear that the showdown of the two leaders of the Philippine Legislature mirrored the different thrusts of the two chambers. The House, composed of representative districts were focused mainly on regional affairs, and the Senate embodied national opinion. Hence, Osmeña gave up his seat in the House and ran for the Senate in a bid to assume control of the Philippine leadership. He succeeded in gaining a seat as Senator but failed to secure a majority in the Senate. Thus, Quezon’s Colectivista gained control of both the Senate and the House. Eventually the House lost much of the initiative it formerly had in legislative matters and in politics, with some exceptions. The House, for the remainder of the American period retained in large part only a supporting role in the great public affairs of government.
DEBATES ON BICAMERALISM AND UNICAMERALISM
In 1934, the Tydings McDuffie Act (Philippine Independence Act) mandated the election of a Constitutional Convention to draft the constitution of the incoming Commonwealth government. It was presided over by Claro M. Recto with 202 elected Filipino delegates who decided that the constitution to be written would cover not only the transitional Commonwealth, but would apply to the Republic as well.
The greatest fight in the convention was the debate on whether the constitution should provide for a unicameral or bicameral congress. The bicameralists outnumbered the unicameralists in the convention, but they were torn on the method of electing members of the Senate (whether by proportional representation, by province, or by senatorial district. In the end, due to the indecisiveness of the bicameralists, the unicameralists won by a slim vote.
The convention finished its work on February 8, 1935, and it was subsequently ratified by the Filipino people in a plebiscite on May 14, 1935.
UNICAMERAL CONGRESS OF THE COMMONWEALTH, 1935 – 1941
By virtue of the 1935 Constitution, Senate President Manuel L. Quezon and his running mate Senate President pro tempore Sergio Osmeña were elected as President and Vice President, while voters elected representatives for the new unicameral National Assembly and for local positions.
There were two elections held under the Commonwealth. The first, in 1935, elected the President of the Philippines as well as members of the National Assembly; the second, in 1939, elected only members of the National Assembly. The National Assembly would be retained until 1941, when a new structure for the legislature was introduced through a constitutional amendment, restoring the two chambers of Congress.
RESTORATION OF THE SENATE IN THE COMMONWEALTH, 1941
After six years under a unicameral legislature, the Constitution of 1935 was amended, restoring the Senate of the Philippines and the House of Representatives, with a Senate President and a Speaker of the House leading their respective chambers. The revived Senate was no longer elected via senatorial districts, as it was from 1916 to 1935, but was nationally elected, due to the introduction of block voting which allowed voters to write the party name on the ballot instead of naming the chosen candidates individually. There were 24 senators elected, out of whom eight would hold their office for six years, another eight for four years, and the last eight for two years.
The elections for members of these newly created chambers were held in 1941. However, the onset of World War II in December 1941 prevented the elected members of the Congress elected in November from assuming their posts, and the National Assembly of Commonwealth of the Philippines expired when its term ended on December 30,1941.
RETURN TO UNICAMERALISM UNDER JAPANESE OCCUPATION, 1942-1945
During the Japanese Occupation, the Commonwealth government went in exile to the United States while the Japanese controlled the country through the Japanese Military Administration and the Philippine Executive Commission (composed of several pre-war Filipino political leaders). With the promised independence of Premier Hideki Tojo to the Philippines on June 16, 1943, the Japanese-sponsored Second Republic was inaugurated on October 14 of the same year, with Jose. P. Laurel as the President. This government followed the newly crafted 1943 Constitution, and reverted the legislature back to a unicameral National Assembly, abolishing the bicameral structure. The National Assembly of the Second Republic would remain in existence until the arrival of the Allied forces in 1944, which liberated the Philippines from the Imperial Japanese forces by 1945.
BICAMERAL CONGRESS OF THE COMMONWEALTH REESTABLISHED 1945 – 1946
Upon the reestablishment of the Commonwealth on February 27, 1945, President Sergio Osmeña immediately called for a joint session of the restored bicameral Congress. The first joint session of Congress convened on June 9 of that year, with most of the senators and representatives, who were elected in 1941, assuming their positions. Manuel Roxas and Jose C. Zulueta served as Senate President and Speaker of the House, respectively. Not all, however, were allowed to take their post because some were incarcerated for alleged collaboration with the Japanese. President Osmeña delivered his State of the Nation Address on that day. A few days after, Field Marshal Douglas MacArthur was declared honorary citizen of the Philippines and via Joint Resolution No. 2, and 3, of both chambers of Congress.
The inaugural session, was held in a converted schoolhouse in Lepanto St., Manila, as the Legislative Building in Manila was reduced to rubble as an outcome of the war. An issue would soon rock Congress. Two laws were passed by the U.S. Congress on April 30, 1946, both of which would need counterpart laws passed by Congress for them to take effect. These were the Philippine Rehabilitation Act and the Philippine Trade Act (Bell Trade Act). The first was the U.S. appropriation of $620 million for Philippine war reparations, and the second provided for the free entry of Philippine products to the U.S. with incremental increases in duties every year until 1954 and equal exploitation of Philippine natural resources to American citizens. The second law also made the payment of war damages by the U.S. contingent on the passage of the Act. This required an amendment to the 1935 Constitution, which could only be done with the approval of three quarters of the House and Senate. Legislative opposition was strong as accusations of imperialism was hurled on the congressional floor. Congressional approval of the amendment would only come with the denial of seats for several solons during the April 23, 1946 elections due to “fraud and violent campaign tactics.” Thus, the definition of the three quarters of Congress was questioned, but the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the move.
After the elections the second Congress of the Commonwealth convened on May 25, 1946. It would only last until July 4, 1946, with the inauguration of the Third Republic of the Philippines. The parity amendment issue would be carried over into the First Congress.
THE SENATE UNDER THE THIRD REPUBLIC, 1946 – 1972
The independent Republic of the Philippines was finally proclaimed on July 4, 1946 with Manuel Roxas as President. The Second Congress of the Commonwealth was transformed into the First Congress of the Republic of the Philippines, also made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. This would mark the beginning of the count of Congresses of the Republic until the imposition of Martial Law in 1972, when Congress would be dissolved.
This era started the legislation of republic acts which would continue until 1972. Upon the restoration of democracy in 1986 and the ratification of the 1987 Constitution, the naming of laws as Republic Acts would be reinstated.
As soon as the First Congress began, the debate on parity amendment in the Constitution resumed in both the Senate and the House. On September 11, 1946, President Roxas sent a message to Congress urging the constitutional amendment on parity rights. By September 17, a joint resolution was drafted satisfying the Bell Trade Act. The Senate voted 16 to 5 in favor, while the House voted 68 against 18, with one abstention, also in favor. This led to the enactment of Republic Act No. 73, setting the date of the national plebiscite for the amendment on March 11, 1947. The plebiscite favored the amendment with a vote of about 5 to 1.
In 1949, under the Quirino Administration, allegations of corruption plagued the members of the Senate, including Senate President Jose Avelino. The investigations interrupted senate sessions leading up to a senatorial probe on Avelino and his eventual suspension, his case submitted to the Department of Justice for prosecution. The issue also coincided with the move to impeach President Quirino (the first in Philippine political history). This impeachment charge however was rejected by the House for its lack of factual and legal basis thus never reaching the Senate for trial. Eventually the senators were also exonerated from accusations, putting an end to the charges and counter-charges of corruption.
By 1952, Senator Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez, who became senator from 1945 to 1947, became senator again, having been elected Senate President. He was the longest serving Senate President after Quezon, concluding his term on April 5, 1963.
In 1963, the Senate was dominated by the Liberal Party, with 12 seats. As the highest ranking member of the Liberal Party in the upper chamber, Senator Ferdinand Marcos eventually won as Senate President, replacing Senate President Rodriguez of the Nacionalista Party.
The following year, another impeachment case entered Congress. Senator Arturo Tolentino of the Nacionalista Party demanded the impeachment of President Diosdado Macapagal for betraying public trust with violation of Republic Act No. 3452, which forbade any government agency to import rice. As the majority of the House were allied with the Macapagal administration, the impeachment effort came to nothing, never reaching the Senate.
Eventually, Marcos was not allowed by Liberal standard bearer President Diosdado Macapagal to ascend to the presidency under the party. Thus, Marcos left the Liberal Party for the Nacionalista Party to win his presidential bid. In the 1965 elections, Marcos defeated Macapagal with a 700,000 vote margin. In the Senate, five Nacionalistas, two Liberals, and Senator Lorenzo Tañada of the Nationalist-Citizens Party (NCP) win. Overall the Senate was split between 11 Nacionalistas, and 10 Liberals, with two Progressives and one NCP member in the caucus with the opposition.
In the midterm elections of 1967, the Nacionalista Party dominated the Senate by landslide, winning 15 seats, with six of its bets winning, as opposed to the only one Liberal, Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr., and one independent. This shifted the balance of power in the upper chamber to the administration’s party.
By 1969, several student-led demonstrations began to proliferate, due to allegations of graft and corruption in the highest echelons of government. Approaching the 1969 elections, President Marcos ran for re-election and won for a second presidential term. However, his delivery of the State of the Nation Address on January 26, 1970 triggered the First Quarter Storm, a period marked by rallies and violent street demonstrations. By this time, Marcos has been contemplating on declaring martial law if peace and order worsened. By 1971, according to the survey conducted by the Research Center Philippines, public opinion had also swung against the administration. Calls for the amendment of the 1935 constitution were raised and by November 10, 1970, a Constitutional Convention was formed to draft a new constitution. The ConCon were ridden with allegations of corruption and pressures from the administration.
It was on August 21, 1971 at the miting de avance of the Liberal Party at Plaza Miranda that simultaneous grenade attacks nearly liquidated the party leadership, just as Senator Gerry Roxas, Liberal Party president, was proclaiming his party’s local candidates. Many of those seriously injured were senators Roxas, Jovito Salonga, Genaro Magsaysay, Eva Estrada-Kalaw (Nacionalista guest candidate), and senatorial bets John Henry Osmeña and Ramon Mitra, Jr. Many quarters believed it to be masterminded by Marcos himself, which led to increased opposition to his administration. Injured Senator Eva Kalaw, interviewed by the Philippine Free Press commented: “I think the best thing is for people to wait two more years. If they agitate now, it will be used as an excuse for martial law.” Three months later, at the 1971 Midterm Elections, the polls resulted in a Senate sweep by the Liberals, with only two Nacionalistas making it into the winner’s circle.
The Senate then became the hotbed of debate on the policies of the administration. On September 13, 1972, Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr. delivered his privilege speech on “Oplan Sagittarius,” a top-secret military plan of President Marcos to place Manila and outlying areas under military control as prelude to martial law. On the same day however, Senate President Gil Puyat went to Malacañan Palace and asked President Marcos if the martial law plan was true. Marcos however flatly denied the plan, but promised that if martial law would be imposed, he would first consult with the leaders of Congress.
By September 13, 1972, President Marcos planned to declare martial law on September 21 having known the date of the adjournment of Congress and the date being divisible by 7, but both Senate and House leaders agreed not to adjourn on the 21st, as scheduled. They decided instead to conduct a special session on that day, and moved the adjournment to September 23.
CONGRESS PADLOCKED UNDER MARTIAL LAW, 1972-1986
On September 23, 1972 President Ferdinand E. Marcos issued Presidential Proclamation No. 1081, placing the entire country under Martial Law. This coincided with the closing of the sessions of both chambers of Congress. Several midnight arrests were made which included four senators, several congressmen and other opposition leaders and journalists, numbering to approximately 8,000 individuals. The senators arrested were the priority in the list of arrests– senators Benigno S. Aquino Jr., Jose Diokno, Ramon Mitra Jr., and Francisco Rodrigo.
After the declaration and imposition of Martial Law, many clamored to challenge the constitutionality of Proclamation No. 1081. Those arrested filed petitions for habeas corpus with the Supreme Court. But Marcos, who had originally announced that Martial Law would not supersede the 1935 Constitution, engineered the replacement of the constitution with a new one. Days before the scheduled reopening of the Senate and the House of Representatives under the 1935 Constitution, Marcos promulgated the 1973 Constitution, which effectively abolished Congress and replaced it with a unicameral legislature which would be formed three years after. Opposition legislators reported to the Legislative Building on January 22, 1973, but found the building padlocked and under an armed guard.
On March 31, 1973, the Supreme Court issued its final decision in Javellana v. Executive Secretary, which essentially validated the 1973 Constitution. This would be the final legitimizing decision on the constitutionality of Martial Law. Thus, Congress was finally abolished. It was not until the ouster of President Marcos through the EDSA People Power Revolution, when talks of the restoration of a bicameral congress resumed.
THE SENATE OF THE PHILIPPINES, 1987 – 2015
On March 25, 1986, President Aquino declared a revolutionary government by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 3, s. 1986, which suspended some provisions of the 1973 Constitution and promulgated in its stead a transitory constitution. This effectively abolished the Batasang Pambansa, the legislature established by President Marcos. A Constitutional Commission, tasked with drafting a new charter, was created by virtue of Proclamation No. 9 issued on April 23, 1986.
Following the overwhelming ratification of the 1987 Constitution through a national plebiscite held on February 2, 1987, the 1987 Constitution finally came into full force and effect on February 11, 1987. It re-established the people’s representation through a bicameral legislature, composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives, much like the way it was before martial law.
Furthermore, the Constitution safeguards the three branches of government from a repeat of the Marcos’ Martial Law regime. Congress cannot be padlocked. And the Supreme Court is now empowered to review all official acts to determine if there has been grave abuse of discretion. Martial Law is limited in duration and effects, even if contemplated by a president.
Since the new Constitution’s promulgation, the Senate, still with its 24 members, returned to the Legislative Building. The senators however, were no longer elected via block voting but are elected at large by qualified voters. Moreover, as part of the transitory provisions of the Constitution, while a senatorial term is six years with a chance of reelection, the first senators elected in 1987 had to fill in the position in the duration of a presidential term (beginning 1987 upon constitutional promulgation, until 1992), and by the time of the 1992 elections, “the first twelve obtaining the highest number of votes shall serve six years and the remaining twelve for three years.”
It was also decided to maintain the old congressional count, taking up where the last pre-martial law Congress left off. Thus, the last Congress under the 1935 Constitution was the seventh Congress, and the first Congress under the 1987 Constitution became the eighth Congress.
In 1997, the Senate of the Philippines finally moved to the GSIS building in Pasay City where it is currently housed.
__“Constitutional Convention Or Malacañang Kennel?” The Philippine Free Press, January 22, 1972. Link.
“1987 Constitution of the Philippines,” Article VII, Section 18, Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines, accessed October 15, 2015, link.
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 Rolando M. Gripaldo, “Manuel L. Quezon: A Life Led with Achievement,” The Technician 7 (1): 1998. Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.
 William Gueraiche, Manuel Quezon: Les Philippines de la decolonisation a la democratisation, (Paris: Maisonneuve & Larose, 2004), p. 25.
 Samuel K. Tan, The Critical Decade: 1921-1930, (Quezon City: University of the Philippines CSSP Publications, 1993), p. 22.
 Jose Aruego, The Framing of the Philippine Constitution, (Manila: University Publishing Co., Inc., 1936), 238.
 Salvador P. Lopez, The Judgment of History, (Quezon City: President Elpidio Quirino Foundation, Inc., 1990), p. 118.
 Carlos Quirino, Apo Lakay: The Biography of President Elpidio Quirino of the Philippines, (Makati: Total Book World, 1997), p. 103.
 Manuel Martinez, The Grand Collision: Aquino vs. Marcos (Quezon City: M. F. Martinez, 1987), p. 289.
 Eva Estrada Kalaw,A Political Journey (Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, Inc., 2008), p. 121.
 Jovito Salonga, A Journey of Struggle and Hope: The Memoir of Jovito R. Salonga (Quezon City: U.P. Center for Leadership, Citizenship and Democracy, 2001), p. 200; Raymond Bonner, Waltzing with a Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of American Policy (New York: Times Books, 1987), p. 98.
 Jovito Salonga, A Journey of Struggle and Hope: The Memoir of Jovito R. Salonga (Quezon City: U.P. Center for Leadership, Citizenship and Democracy, 2001), p. 200.
 Marcos Diary entry on September 13, 1972, as quoted from William C. Rempel, Delusions of a Dictator: The Mind of Marcos As Revealed in His Secret Diaries (Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co., 1993).
 Primitivo Mijares, The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos (San Francisco: Union Square Publications, 1976), p. 54, 62.
 Aurora Javate-De Dios, Dictatorship and Revolution: Roots of People’s Power, (Metro Manila: Conspectus, 1988), p. 26