Address of President Marcos on Constitution Day

His Excellency Ferdinand E. Marcos
President of the Philippines
On Constitution Day

[Released on January 17, 1984]

We commemorate today a monumental event in our nation’s history. Eleven years ago, we set a new course for the attainment of our national destiny by ratifying a new Constitution. That Constitution altered the form of government in our country. It memorialized the duties of citizens, at the same time that it reaffirmed all the traditional rights and immunities of the individual. It advanced the frontiers of state programs for social justice and national development. Above all, it enshrined for us all the national purpose, which is the attainment of the political liberation, the economic liberation, and the lasting unity of the Filipino people.

Sentiments and occasions such as these are common enough in the histories of nations and peoples everywhere yet in our case, we do well to remind ourselves of the meaning of Constitution day to our people and our country, for it has been our pervasive experience as a nation to struggle for our rights and prerogatives as a free and independent nation.

We begun national independence under the aegis of a foreign Constitution written by a Constitutional Convention called by a foreign law, which in turn was approved by a foreign president. We shall not recite here the circumstances that led to these strange beginnings of Filipino nationhood, but we do well to remember that under that Constitution, another nation claimed sovereignty over vital bases and territory in our country, for a period of 99 years. And under that Constitution too, another people were able to claim and secure parity rights with our people here in our own land.

It has taken some time and not too little effort on the part of several generations of our people to correct and banish these fundamental defects under which we begun our nationhood. And in all this time, we have always known and fervently believed that only through the full rejection of these limitations to our political liberation can we truly claim our place in a world of independent and sovereign nations.

It is in the light of this national experience that the ratification in 1973 of our new Constitution derives its meaning and import. For by that singular act of national will and resolve, we enshrined within sight of the world a new fundamental law of the land, written by and for Filipinos. And since that time, there has been no end to our efforts to achieve our full national liberation: to erase every limitation up on national independence, to free our people, politically, economically, socially, culturally, as is worthy of a free nation.

It is true that this new Constitution has been from time to time subjected to the criticism of those who seem to pine for and who would shackle the entire nation to the irrelevance and shame of the past. It is true that time and again, during the last 11 years, there have been challenges mounted against the legality and efficacy of the new Constitution, for whatever reasons you can imagine.

But the overwhelming fact is already clear to all. The effectivity of this Constitution is now beyond all manner of debate. In no less than 50 decisions, the Supreme Court has acted to uphold as well as interpret the 1973 Constitution. The very efficacy of this Constitution has been proven in countless national referenda and elections since its ratification.

It is not therefore to these sterile debates and futile cavils that our attention is called in this 11th anniversary of our new Constitution. But to the continuing challenge of making this charter fit the changing needs and circumstances of national life. Ten days hence, our people will exercise their twin right and duty to participate in a national plebiscite that will decide upon important amendments to the Constitution. And they will do so in the same spirit under which they had ratified that charter: that only their mandate sets the course for the government and the nation to follow. Only their mandate will decide how we may proceed to promote the national purpose to strengthen the sovereignty we claim for ourselves, and to attain the just aspirations of all.

We have travelled much since 1973 in our goal to remove limitations on our political liberation. Philippine sovereignty is now recognized in the remaining military bases in our country. For the first time, our flag flies alone over these military facilities. Similarly we have expanded the electoral franchise to include citizens from 18 years and above, as well as those who cannot read and write. We have recreated the Pre-Spanish Filipino barangays to widen the base of participatory democracy. In numbers alone, this means an increase of the national electorate from eight million to about 24 million voters today.

And we have introduced as well many changes in the Constitution designed to enhance the political liberation of our country and of the individual citizen.

With similar resolve, we have significantly moved to achieve the economic liberation of our people, knowing that while a people can be politically free, they can yet remain shackled under various forms of economic bondage, captive to either the control of others or to the terrible prisons of poverty and underdevelopment.

Economic liberation for us means what I have repeatedly said: the transformation of a mendicant society into a productive society, self-sufficient, self-reliant, proud and dignified because each individual earns a livelihood and contributes to the nation’s vitality and strength. Our Constitution specifically recognizes this economic dimension to national liberation, in stating in various provisions the need for the promotion of gainful opportunities for every Filipino and the need for the nation to address itself to the tasks of development.

Thus, reforms in the national economy have flowed in the light of this national purpose. We have put into place a National Land Reform Program, which continues to liberate many of our farmers from bondage to the soil. We have consecrated ourselves to a national development effort, that places on the state the task of leadership and on individual enterprise and initiative the responsibility of making economic change.

Under this new Constitution we have expanded the national vision from the mere objective of securing political rights, to include now the equally important objective of securing economic rights. And this is because we believe with the social scientists of the age that political rights are irretrievably linked with economic and social rights. That there is in the end no political freedom where there is no economic freedom. That only the man who is economically independent and self-reliant is truly politically free. And only in those terms can we then become a united and strong nation.

I would put it to you, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Philippine Constitution Association, that it is in the light of these fundamental themes of our National Charter that we must examine and deliberate the issues posed to us on January 27.

For this is truly not an exercise merely for the sake of change; rather it is a national reckoning of proposed changes designed to aid the nation in the quest for national progress and stability.

“The Constitution,” as Justice Felix Frankfurter once said, “is neither a printed finality nor the imprisonment of the past, but the unfolding of the future.” In the same vein, Justice Frandeis looks at the Constitution as “a living organism.” As such, he says, “it is capable of growth — or of expansion and adaptation to new conditions — and growth implies changes, political, economic and social”

It is, therefore, in this spirit and against this background that the Filipino people will, once again. Be asked on January 27 to make an important amendment to our Constitution.

The proposed substantial amendments to our Constitution — particularly the abolition of the Executive Committee and the restoration of the Vice-Presidency — will be submitted to the people for ratification. This brings into focus once again the debate as to what is the form of our government, or how the proposed amendments will affect the structure of our government.

The Supreme Court of the Philippines, in the case of Free Telephone Workers Union vs. MOLE, 108 S. C. R. A. 757, Oct. 30, 1981, held that the features of parliamentary system in the Constitution does not alter its “essentially presidential character.” It stated that –

“The adoption of certain aspects of a parliamentary system in the amended Constitution does not alter its essentially presidential character. Article VII on the Presidency starts with this provision: ‘the President shall be the Head of State and Chief Executive of the Republic of the Philippines.’ Its last section is an even more emphatic affirmation that it is a presidential system that obtains in our government. Thus: all powers vested in the President who, by virtue of his election by the entire electorate, has an indisputable claim to speak for the country as a whole. Moreover, it is he who is explicitly granted the greater power of control of such ministries. He continues to be the executive, the amplitude and scope of the functions entrusted to him in the formulation of policy and its execution leading to the apt observation by LASI that there is not one aspect of which that does not affect the lives of all.”

The form of government under the 1973 Constitution has merged the effective features of a presidential type of government with a dominant President and the essential character of a parliamentary form of government which is the fusion of the Legislative and Executive departments of the government. Under the parliamentary system of government, there is a greater blending of powers between the Executive and the Legislative departments.

In contra-distinction with the presidential type of government, there is a meticulous assignment of powers between the Legislative and Executive departments.

At the outset, I do not feel it important to give a label by which we should classify our form of government. The truth is whatever name we attach to it will not alter or change what it is. As Shakespeare would put it, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

However, I will venture on an analysis of our present form of government which reflects what I have already said in my speech at the opening of the Fourth Regular Session of the Batasang Pambansa on July 27, 1981. To my mind, the principal test to determine our form of government is to know whether or not there is a clear cut cleavage that separates the legislative and executive powers in the present setup. For if there is none, then it is a parliamentary form of government.

Although the President enjoys a stature of prominence in our government structure, our form of government retains and enjoys the essential features of a parliamentary form of government. This is because there is a fusion, though not total, of the Legislature and the Executive departments. There is a close and intimate collaboration between the Legislative and Executive branches of government, thereby modifying or diluting the system of checks and balances between the Legislative and Executive department in the presidential system. The majority of the members of the Cabinet are members of the Batasang Pambansa. This setup is to our utmost advantage especially during these times when vital decisions should be implemented posthaste. The blending of the Legislative department which makes the laws and the Executive department which enforces it, set in motion the policies of the government with definite celerity.

Therefore, the Batasang Pambansa retains its dual function of legislation and control over the government. There is a sharing of executive power between the President and a Prime Minister responsible to Parliament. The power to dissolve the government by a vote of no-confidence is retained by the interim Batasang Pambansa. Thus, our Constitution unequivocally provides:

The Batasang Pambansa may withdraw its confidence from the Prime Minister by a majority vote of all its members. (Section 13, (1), Art. VIII, 1973 Constitution).

On the other hand, the President, through the advice of the Prime Minister, may dissolve the I. B. P. and call for new elections. Sec. 13, No. (2) of Article VIII provides:

The Prime Minister may advise the President in writing to dissolve the Batasang Pambansa whenever the need arises for a popular vote of confidence on fundamental issues, but on a matter involving his own personal integrity. Whereupon, the President may dissolve the Batasang Pambansa not earlier than seven nor later than fourteen days from his receipt of the advice, and call for an election on a date set by him which shall not be earlier than forty-five nor later than sixty days from the date of such dissolution. x x x

These are the essential features of our parliamentary system which dilutes the dominance of the President. The legislative process is initiated by both the Government or the Executive and the Parliament. In turn, bills and proposals of the Cabinet are studied by the Parliamentary Committee before they are debated in Parliament.

One might be misled, however, that no check remains in the process of legislation or, for that matter, in the execution of laws. This is not the case. What has been eliminated is the pernicious practice in the presidential system whereby the Legislature and the Executive are pitted against each other, that their primary functions is to watch and check each other rather than be active collaborators.

Related to this effective integration of executive and legislative processes is the institution of party responsibility. There is now a growing consciousness that our present structure of government rests on party responsibility. Thus, the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, the majority party, is now the entity responsible to the people and not just a particular leader.

For the benefit of those who have the mentality that nothing is legitimate unless it is recognized in the United States or in Europe, let me point out to you that the form of government that emerged under the 1973 Constitution and its amendments is closely similar to the French form of government under its 1958 Constitution. There is also a strong French president which is its predominant feature there is a sharing of executive power between a non-accountable Head of State and a Prime Minister responsible to Parliament and the powers of dissolution of that government, by Parliament and of Parliament by the government. But the government remains subservient to the President who is elected by universal suffrage. This power was wielded first by De Gaulle from 1958-69 and then by his successors.

The Batasang Pambansa is often labelled as a mere “rubber stamp” of the President. This is because, apparently, every major proposal of the President is approved. The criticism is based on a lack of awareness of the changes in the structure and operation of our government. Actually what happens is that every major proposal in the Batasang Pambansa sponsored by the majority party is first decided in the party Caucus. The party decides on the issues before the bills are introduced to the floor of the Batasang Pambansa. The recent example was the resolution on the proposed amendments in the forthcoming plebiscite. I think most of you are aware that the issues on the restoration of the Vice-Presidency was hotly contested even within the ranks of the majority party. This mechanism of deliberating and threshing the issues of a proposed bill in party caucus demonstrates not a docile legislating assembly but a working party government.

The restoration of the President elected directly by the people instead of by the Batasang Pambansa from among its members was the most important change in the structure of our government brought about by the 1981 Amendments. One feature of the parliamentary system, namely, the merger of the Executive and Legislative branches at the highest level thus disappeared. The Chief Executive as Head of Government, no longer a member of the Batasan but a separate entity with a fixed term of office, may not be removed by the Batasan on a vote of no confidence. In this sense and to this extent there has been a reversion to the presidential system. The amendments in 1981, however, did not bring back entirely the presidential system under the 1935 Constitution. Our government still has the essential features of the parliamentary form. Rather than having a Legislature that is at odds with the Executive, we have a Batasan that effectively carries out the policies of the ruling party. The legislative power is still primarily vested in the Batasang Pambansa. The 1981 Amendments state that it is the President that “shall formulate the guidelines of national policy. It further states that the program of government shall be as “approved by the President” and the “Prime Minister and the Cabinet shall be responsible to the Batasang Pambansa about this program.” This structural interrelation between the President and the Batasang Pambansa becomes an effective mechanism in the implementation of the guidelines of national policy and the program of government as formulated and approved by the President.

The proposed restoration of the Office of the Vice-President will not in any manner affect the present structure of government. The Vice-President merely supplants the Executive Committee as the successor to the President in case of permanent disability, death, removal from office or resignation of the President. Whereas before it was a collegiate body that would exercise the powers of the President when a vacancy occurs, the amendment vests succession in an individual. The Vice-President. Thus, the Office of the Vice-President will not in any way alter the existing structural relationship between the major branches of government.

If ever our people decides in favor of the amendments, I still believe that our government will not deviate from being parliamentary in character. The new Office of the Vice-President will not alter the integration of the Executive and the Legislative. It would merely add a new office to prevent a vacuum in case the President, for reasons stated in the law, cannot function anymore.

Along with the amendment concerning Presidential succession, our people are asked to decide whether or not to revise the basis of representation in our Parliament from the present regional constituency to provinces with their component cities, highly urbanized cities, and districts in the case of the National Capital Region. This question is brought forth by the Batasang Pambansa whose members not only seek to improve the representation base for the law-making body but also provide equal opportunities for all community leaders to win popular elections in areas where they are naturally known, in their own provinces or cities. The approval of the amendment would give members of smaller and weaker political parties a sporting chance in campaigns and political combats with strong machineries such as what we have in the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan party.

Along with these proposed amendments there are two other questions in the plebiscite relating to economic and social goals. The first seeks to allow the government to grant alienable lands of the public domain as an additional mode of land acquisition for our landless farmers and tenants. Of the outcome of this particular plebiscite question, I am very curious and concerned. As you all know, I personally asked my KBL colleagues in the Batasan to study and debate on this matter which I deemed vital to the continuance of our Agrarian Reform Program. Which is why you must forgive me if, for a few minutes, I drop all convention and openly campaign for a “yes” vote on this question.

At present, the Constitution as well as subsequent legislations limit the acquisition and distribution of lands to the landless only through direct purchase, concessions, leaseholds and homesteads. While the Agrarian Reform Program which I initiated in September of 1972 was successful enough for the New Republic to rest its laurels on — as evidenced by the emancipation of the farmer from the old feudal land-ownership structure and his newfound willingness to responsibly cultivate his land which resulted in self-sufficiency in rice and cereals — the administration now realizes that past accomplishments somehow prove insufficient when taken in the light of present economic trends, both local and international. More and more clearly, we have come to realize that any great industrial leap forward necessitates accompanying strides in the fields of agriculture and agri-business.

On the other hand, we have made fruitful use of our remaining tracts of arable lands. We encouraged farmers to increase their harvests of rice, corn, vegetables and other staple through the expansion of agricultural credit, the teaching of modern farm technologies and techniques, the training of field technicians dedicated to assisting farming families, and the construction of rural infrastructures such as irrigation canals, dams, hydro-electric plants, farm-to-market roads, even rural health and medical care services. We organized self-help and self-employment enterprises through the Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran to increase rural incomes and elevate the living standards in the countrysides.

Concommitantly, we witnessed the rise of semi-urbanized communities in the once rustic areas, and the ultimate and necessary conversion of agricultural plots into residential lots. This, as you all know, is an irreversible process.

At the same time, we reserve today vast tracts of public lands from agricultural ventures. These lands simply remain as part of our untapped natural resources. But natural resources could remain unproductive unless wisely utilized in the country’s search for progress.

Thus, we foresaw the need to convert some of these lands into “grants” to private individuals in order that both our agrarian reform and economic development programs are not stunted by mere statutory hindrances. If statutes work against the interest of the state and of its people, then of what use are they?

Which is why I now openly ask you to approve the proposed amendment, to empower the government to grant public lands to landless private citizens. I promise in turn to put such land grants to good use for our national welfare.

Finally, we are asked on Plebiscite Day to vote for or against “the addition of a paragraph to Section 12, Article XIV of our Constitution, to wit: “the state shall moreover undertake an urban land reform and social housing program in order to provide the landless and homeless with reasonable opportunity to acquire land and decent homes.” This question is again of paramount concern to the landless, to our millions of toiling people who have surrendered the hope of finally owning a decent home and lot as an impossible Filipino dream.

You ask, perhaps, why the last two questions are included in the proposed Constitutional amendments. Surely, you will cite, the Constitution already categorically provides that the state should “promote social justice to ensure the dignity, welfare and security of all people.” And more explicitly, the Constitution also specifies that, “towards this end, the state shall regulate the acquisition, ownership, use, enjoyment and disposition of private property, and equitably diffuse property ownership and profits.”

To this query, I say: if adopted, these last two proposed amendments will not only further define the powers of the state. More importantly, the inclusion of these two amendments in the Constitution will make it a duty of the government — not only of this administration which boldly launched the Agrarian Reform Program and the social housing concept in the first place, but also of future administrations — to initiate activities in both rural and urban land reform.

We celebrate therefore the 11th year of our 1973 Constitution on the eve of great decisions concerning the national future. We are faced in the coming plebiscite with major decisions that will certainly influence the course and the pace of national progress. And we will make these decisions in an atmosphere of unity and conciliation through this venue of peaceful and free voting.

And so, by way of closing, I would just recall to you the illuminating words of one of our brilliant Constitutionalists, Don Claro M. Recto. He said:

“Let us then bear witness to the Constitution so that, in the language of the gospels, all the people may learn to believe if our nation is to survive and attain greatness in freedom, the Constitution must live in our actions, both as individual and as a people, in the enlightened conviction and the steadfast belief that only in the spirit of the Constitution, made flesh among us, shall democracy abide with us and our nation forever enjoy the blessings of independence under a regime of justice and liberty.”

I would like to say that the Constitution is, in essence, the avatar of the Filipinos’ highest aspirations and ideals. It is the embodiment of our nation’s response to the global pursuit of peace and prosperity. Without a fundamental law to define the powers and limitations of government and the inalienable rights of the individual, the forces of destruction will have their day and a dim abyss may be our only future.

And so, let us be assiduous in guarding and protecting this Constitution; always remembering that it is the palladium of all our political, civil, economic and even religious rights.

This Constitution is our golden legacy to generations of Filipinos to come. Let us therefore cherish and preserve it not only for ourselves but for posterity.

Source: Presidential Museum and Library

Marcos, F. E. (1984). Speeches by President Ferdinand E. Marcos. [Manila] : Presidential Library.