Closing remarks of the President of the Constitutional Commission at the final session, October 15, 1986

Closing remarks of Constitutional Commission President Cecillia Muñoz-Palma:
During the final session of the Constitutional Commission

Batasang Pambansa, Quezon City
October 15, 1986

Thank you, Mr. Vice-President Ambrosio Padilla.

My beloved colleagues in the Constitutional Commission, and with your kind permission, may I also address our guests this morning:

Your Excellencies of the Diplomatic Corps, the Acting Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, Members of the Cabinet and other dignitaries of government, my countrymen:

On June 2 of this year, 48 men and women gathered in this hall for the inaugural session of the Constitutional Commission of 1986, and took their solemn oath to write a new Charter for the Republic of the Philippines which, in the words of President Corazon Aquino will be, and I quote: “truly reflective of the aspirations and ideals of the Filipino people.”

Today, October 15, the closing session of the Constitutional Commission is taking place in this same hall where its Members have labored from morning till evening for no less than 111 working days. The 48 was reduced by one; several became sick and were hospitalized as the work progressed, and one is too sick to be present at these closing ceremonies.

Everyday we opened our plenary sessions with a prayer, led by a Commissioner called in alphabetical order, and in every prayer was reflected our full surrender to a Supreme Being, to God Almighty, seeking Divine guidance, wisdom, physical and spiritual strength, to enable the Commission to accomplish its sacred mission of drafting a new fundamental law that will rule the destiny and life of the Filipino nation.

My colleagues, today we are called upon to present to the Filipino people and to the community of nations the historic document which our hearts and minds have brought into existence with much love and dedication. Today we are called upon to make an accounting of every single word, phrase and sentence, of every punctuation mark, of every paragraph, section and Article written and, most importantly, of every thought, idea and principle enunciated in that document. Our people expect and await the new Charter with great expectations, clouded, however, with no little amount of misgivings as to what may have been produced.

My colleagues, as your President, it becomes my task and duty today to submit and offer to the Filipino people the Constitution you have written and drafted, and I assure you it will be a most happy task. The document admittedly is a lengthy one. The research of one of our Commissioners shows that it consists of 18 Articles, 321 long sections, and numerous subsections. With humility intertwined with profound pride, I can state that the new Constitution is a worthy legacy to the Filipino people of today, tomorrow and posterity.

The fires of patriotism which erupted in the Philippine Revolution of 1896 and produced the Magna Carta of Malolos, the intense desire and clamor for independence from foreign rule which inspired the eminent nationalists who framed the 1935 Constitution for the Philippine Commonwealth and which eventually became the Constitution of the Philippine Republic, the bitter experiences of the nation under a Constitution imposed upon the people under the aegis of martial rule — all these forces played a part in the framing of the new Charter of 1986 in this year of Our Lord.

A beautiful irony which cannot be overlooked is the fact that this new Constitution was discussed, debated, and finally written within the walls of this hall which saw the emergence of what was called by its author a “constitutional authoritarianism,” but which, in effect, was a dictatorship, pure and simple. This hall was the seat of a combined executive and legislative power skillfully placed in the hands of one man for more than a decade. However, the miracle of prayer and of a people’s faith and determined struggle to break the shackles of dictatorship toppled down the structure of despotism and converted this hall into hallowed grounds where the seeds of a newly found freedom have been sown and have borne fruit.

My countrymen, we open the new Charter with a Preamble which is the beacon light that shines and brightens the path in building a new structure of government for our people. In that Preamble is expounded in positive terms our goals and aspirations. Thus, imploring the aid of Almighty God, we shall establish a just and humane society, a social order that upholds the dignity of man, for as a Christian nation, we adhere to the principle that, and I quote: “the dignity of man and the common good of society demand that society must be based on justice.” We uphold our independence and a democratic way of life and, abhorring despotism and tyranny, we bind ourselves to live under the rule of law where no man is above the law, and where truth, justice, freedom, equality, love and peace will prevail.

For the first time in the history of constitution-making in this country, the word “love” is enshrined in the fundamental law. This is most significant at this period in our national life when the nation is bleeding under the forces of hatred and violence. Love which begets understanding is necessary if reconciliation is to be achieved among the warring factions and conflicting ideologies now gripping the country. Love is imperative if peace is to be restored in our nativeland, for without love there can be no peace.

We have established a republican democratic form of government where sovereignty resides in the people and civilian supremacy over the military is upheld.

For the first time, the Charter contains an all-embracing expanded Bill of Rights which constitutes the cornerstone of the structure of government. Traditional rights and freedoms which are hallmarks of our democratic way of life are reaffirmed. The right to life, liberty and property, due process, equal protection of the laws, freedom of religion, speech, the press, peaceful assembly, among others, are reasserted and guaranteed. The Marcos provision that search warrants or warrants of arrest may he issued not only by a judge but by any responsible officer authorized by law is discarded. Never again will the Filipino people be victims of the much-condemned presidential detention action or PDA or presidential commitment orders, the PCOs, which desecrate the rights to life and liberty, for under the new provision a search warrant or warrant of arrest may be issued only by a judge. Mention must be made of some new features in the Bill of Rights, such as: the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus can be suspended only in cases of invasion or rebellion, and the right to bail is not impaired during such suspension, thereby discarding jurisprudence laid down by the Supreme Court under the Marcos dispensation that the suspension of the privilege of the writ carried with it the suspension of the right to bail. The death penalty is abolished, and physical, psychological or degrading punishment against prisoners or detainees, substandard and subhuman conditions in penitentiaries are condemned.

For the first time, the Constitution provides for the creation of a Commission on Human Rights entrusted with the grave responsibility of investigating violations of civil and political rights by any party or groups and recommending remedies therefor.

From the Bill of Rights we proceed to the structure of government established in the new Charter.

We have established the presidential system of government with three branches — the legislative, executive, and judicial — each separate and independent of each other, but affording an effective check and balance of one over the other.

All legislative power is returned and exclusively vested in a bicameral legislature where the Members are elected by the people for a definite term, subject to limitations for reelection, disqualification to hold any other office or employment in the government including government-owned or controlled corporations and, among others, they may not even appear as counsel before any court of justice.

For the first time in our Constitution, 20 percent of Members of the Lower House are to be elected through a party list system and, for three consecutive terms after the ratification of the Constitution, 25 of the seats shall be allocated to sectoral representatives from labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth and other sectors as may be provided by law. This innovation is a product of the signs of the times when there is an intensive clamor for expanding the horizons of participatory democracy among the people.

The executive power is vested in the President of the Philippines elected by the people for a six-year term with no reelection for the duration of his/her life. While traditional powers inherent in the office of the President are granted, nonetheless for the first time, there are specific provisions which curtail the extent of such powers. Most significant is the power of the Chief Executive to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or proclaim martial law.

The flagrant abuse of that power of the Commander-in-Chief by Mr. Marcos caused the imposition of martial law for more than eight years and the suspension of the privilege of the writ even after the lifting of martial law in 1981. The new Constitution now provides that those powers can be exercised only in two cases, invasion or rebellion when public safety demands it, only for a period not exceeding 60 days, and reserving to Congress the power to revoke such suspension or proclamation of martial law which congressional action may not be revoked by the President. More importantly, the action of the President is made subject to judicial review, thereby again discarding jurisprudence which render the executive action a political question and beyond the jurisdiction of the courts to adjudicate.

For the first time, there is a provision that the state of martial law does not suspend the operation of the Constitution nor abolish civil courts or legislative assemblies, or vest jurisdiction to military tribunals over civilians, or suspend the privilege of the writ. Please forgive me if, at this point, I state that this constitutional provision vindicates the dissenting opinions I have written during my tenure in the Supreme Court in the martial law cases. [Applause]

With these safeguards, it is hoped that never again will the Filipino people undergo the harrowing experiences of a dictatorship.

Of the three branches of government, it is said that the weakest is the judiciary. The new Charter clothes the judicial branch of government with the mantle of independence in order that it may attain once more its lost prestige and regain the faith of the Filipino people. The provisions on the judiciary aim to make the courts of justice the true and faithful “guardian of the Constitution, protector of people’s rights and freedoms, and repository of the nation’s guarantees against tyranny, despotism, and dictatorship.”

For the first time and breaking all traditions in the history of the judiciary in our country, judicial power is now expressly defined in the Constitution as to include the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable and to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. What does this mean? Former Chief Justice Roberto Concepcion in his dissenting opinion in Javellana vs. Executive Secretary has the answer:

When the grant of power is qualified, conditional or subject to limitations, the issue on whether or not such conditions have been met is justiciable or nonpolitical and the courts have a duty rather than the power to determine whether another branch of government has kept within constitutional limits.

With this broad definition of judicial power, therefore, our highest tribunal can no longer evade adjudicating on the validity of executive or legislative action by claiming that the issue is a political question. Aside from the above, for the first time the judiciary is placed beyond the reach of politics and politicians through the creation of a Judicial and Bar Council and security of tenure of judges is assured with a specific prohibition that the legislature may not organize the courts when it shall undermine the security of tenure of the judges. Administrative supervision of the courts is placed in the hands of the Supreme Court.

Having presented to you the organic parts of the government structure, let us now look into the source of the bloodstream that gives life and substance to the provisions of the new Charter.

The Constitution has an Article on Declaration of Principles and State Policies and an Article on General Provisions.

My colleagues, the Article on Social Justice which we have framed is the heart of the new Constitution.

When Pope Paul II came to the Philippines and visited the slums of Tondo, he indicated the obligations of justice that confront society and all who have power, whether economic, cultural or political. He called attention to the intolerable situations that perpetuate the poverty and misery of the many who are constantly hungry and deprived of their rightful changes to grow and develop their human potential, who lack decent housing and sufficient clothing, who suffer illness for want of employment and protection against poverty and disease.

The Article on Social Justice answers these challenges and addresses itself to specified areas of concern – labor, agrarian and urban land reform, health, working women, indigenous cultural communities, and people’s organizations. The agrarian reform program is founded on the right of farmers and farmworkers who are landless to own directly or collectively the lands they till or to receive a just share of the fruits of the land. This provision answers Pope John Paul II when he said:

. . . the land is a gift from God that he makes for all human beings and it is not to be used in such a way that its benefits are to the advantage of only a few while the vast majority are excluded from sharing in the benefits of the land and are condemned to a state of want, poverty and borderline existence.

The Article on the National Economy and Patrimony sets out our goal that the State shall develop a self-reliant and independent national economy effectively controlled by Filipinos. There lies the reason for our statement that this Constitution is not only pro-poor and pro-people, but also pro-Filipino, notwithstanding claims to the contrary by some. For the first time, the use and enjoyment of the nation’s marine wealth are reserved exclusively for Filipinos; agricultural lands of the public domain may be alienated only to Filipino citizens; executive and managing officers of public utilities must be citizens of the Philippines; the practice of all professions shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines: while the Filipino-First policy has been constitutionalized. These provisions, to my mind, demonstrate a significant step towards an effective control of business and the profession by Filipinos, while the “maligned” 60-40 equity ratio found in the article does not in itself preclude the government from increasing the Filipino equity even to 100 percent should conditions and the economic situation in the country in the near future justify such an economic policy. After all, the ultimate decision lies in the hands of the Filipino people acting through their elected national leaders in government.

Very close to my heart are the provisions on the family. For the first time, the Constitution devotes a separate Article on the Family thereby giving due recognition to the fact that the family is a basic autonomous social institution and, therefore, the State shall uphold the sanctity of family life, protect the stability of marriage and the right to found a family in accordance with one’s religious beliefs and convictions, and responsible parenthood. At this time in the history not only of our country but of all mankind when the institution of the family is subjected to assaults against its inherent dignity as an instrument to God’s creation, constitutional provisions which give protection and guarantees to rights and duties of parents are safeguards against the erosion of moral and spiritual values.

For the first time, the new Charter upholds the right to life of the unborn from conception. We believe that to destroy human life in the womb of the mother not only violates the sacredness of a living, growing and developing human being but also attacks society by undermining respect for all human life.

For the first time, the rights of the youth to free public elementary and secondary schooling and to quality education that will instill in them the virtues of patriotism, nationalism, morality and service to one’s fellowmen are guaranteed.

For the first time, there is a positive declaration that the State guarantees the fundamental equality before the law of women and men. [Applause]

For the first time, there is a declaration against nuclear weapons in the country subject, however, to the demands of national interest. [Applause] This must be so for who can foretell the future? And must we close the doors to safeguard the security and welfare of coming generations by not providing for such a saving clause? There is also a prohibition against foreign military bases after 1991, unless there is the consent of the elected representatives of the people and of the Filipino people themselves expressed in a referendum, if necessary.

For the first time, people power is enshrined in this new Constitution by way of initiative, referendum and the power of recall. [Applause]

Decentralization in local government is assured and autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras, subject to a plebiscite, are provided for.

Equally important is the provision on the accountability of public officers. Public office is a public trust and all officials in government from the highest to the lowest are accountable for their actions in office. [Applause] The immunity from suit found in the 1973 Constitution has been discarded and the procedure of impeachment for the impeachable public officials has been liberalized. [Applause]

My countrymen, we in the Commission admit that the document we have framed is not perfect. It has been said by one of the Commissioners that there is no perfect document on earth except the Word of God found in the Holy Scriptures. The Charter is lengthy, it is true, contrary to standard and traditional requirements of a written Constitution. But if the document is somehow detailed, although tremendous efforts were made to cut down its length and breadth, that is attributed to the fact that the 47 men and women who come from different walks of life and of diverse political, social and cultural persuasions have such a rich background on the issues confronting the nation that each had numerous contributions to the document which could not just be ignored.

The collective work of the Commission has produced a good inspiring Charter, but I cannot close this address of mine without stating here the distinctive legacy of each Commissioner in the new Charter. And thus, with your indulgence, let me state:

Yusup Abubakar — a valiant defense on the definition of our national territory; [Applause]

Domocao Alonto — establishment of an autonomous Muslim Mindanao; [Applause]

Felicitas Aquino — the fundamental equality before the law of women and men and the rights of labor; [Applause]

Adolfo Azcuna — the nuclear weapons-free principle; [Applause]

Teodoro Bacani — the right to life of the unborn from conception and teaching of religious instruction in public schools during reasonable class hours; [Applause]

Jose Bengzon — effective steering of the proceedings and the legitimacy of the tenure of office of President Aquino and Vice-President Laurel on the basis of the February presidential elections; [Applause]

Ponciano Bennagen — the right to self-determination of indigenous cultural communities and the creation of a separate Article on Social Justice; [Applause]

Joaquin Bernas — the composition of the Bill of Rights with particular reference to the definition and limitations of the martial law powers of the Chief Executive; [Applause]

Florangel Braid — provisions on cooperatives and mass communications; [Applause]

Jose Calderon — catalyst of the views on the U.S. military bases; [Applause]

Crispino de Castro — benefits for veterans and provisions on the Armed Forces of the Philippines that it is the protector of the people and the State; [Applause]

Jose Colayco — creation of the Office of the Ombudsman who shall act as defender of the people against government abuses and inefficiency; [Applause]

Roberto Concepcion — definition of judicial power and the composition of the Article on the Judiciary; [Applause]

Hilario Davide, Jr. — author of innumerable amendments but with particular mastery of the legislative department of the government; [Applause]

Vicente Foz — the right of workers in public and private enterprises to self-organization including the right to strike; [Applause]

Edmundo Garcia — role of people’s organizations and creation of the Commission on Human Rights; [Applause]

Jose Luis Gascon — democratization of opportunities to education such as free public secondary education, subsidies, scholarships and grants to poor and deserving students; [Applause]

Serafin Guingona — people’s right to education contained in an Article on Education, Science and Technology, Arts, Culture and Sports; [Applause]

Alberto Jamir — prohibition against block voting in elections and the 60-40 ratio amendment in public utilities which triggered a momentary crisis in the Commission; [Applause]

Jose Laurel, Jr. — advocacy of the features of a good Constitution that it should be brief, concise and definite which led to the consolidation of many provisions; [Applause]

Eulogio Lerum — rights of labor, more particularly the rights of workers to self-organization and to form associations not contrary to law; [Applause]

Regalado Maambong — application on the floor of the parliamentary procedure but more significantly his mastery of the sectional arrangement of the Constitution which we have today; [Applause]

Christian Monsod — innumerable amendments to reconcile government functions with individual freedoms and public accountability, and the party-list system for the House of Representatives; [Applause]

Teodulo Natividad — creation for the first time of the Philippine National Police, civilian in character and to be administered by NAPOLCOM, and prohibition against subhuman conditions in penitentiaries; [Applause]

Teresa Nieva — Article on Social Justice which reaches out to the underprivileged sectors of society; and family rights; [Applause]

Jose Nolledo — local government autonomy and decentralization of functions and elimination of political dynasties; [Applause]

Blas Ople — authored the industrialization provision in the Article on the National Economy and the principle of initiative as the people’s reserve power to amend the Constitution; [Applause]

Ambrosio Padilla — adoption in the Article on the Declaration of Principles of a provision on “peace and order” and of “private initiative in enterprises”; [Applause]

Cecilia Muñoz Palma — the Article on the Family; [Applause]

Minda Luz Quesada — integrated health development to improve the quality of life, especially for the poor, sick, elderly and disabled; [Applause]

Napoleon Rama — authored the statement in the Article on the Declaration of Principles that the prime duty of the government is to serve and protect the people; he was an effective floor leader; [Applause]

Florenz Regalado — clear and definite definition of the presidency, presidential succession, and cases of disability of the Chief Executive; [Applause]

Rustico de los Reyes — protection to communal fishing and rights of subsistence fishermen; [Applause]

Cirilo Rigos — the separation of Church and State and religious instruction; [Applause]

Francisco Rodrigo — champion of the bicameral legislature and jealous guardian of the legislative authority of the Senate; [Applause]

Ricardo Romulo — creation of the Judicial and Bar Council which is a vital feature of the independence of the judiciary; [Applause]

Decoroso Rosales — the six-and three-year terms for national elective officials; [Applause]

Rene Sarmiento — Bill of Rights with particular reference to compensation and rehabilitation of victims of violations and adequate legal assistance to the poor and the creation of the Commission on Human Rights; [Applause]

Jose Suarez — security of tenure of judges and civil service employees plus the Articles on Amendments to the Constitution and Transitory Provisions; [Applause]

Lorenzo Sumulong — creation of the Article on the Executive; [Applause]

Jaime Tadeo — agrarian land reform which, according to him, however, is still full of loopholes; [Applause]

Christine Tan — urban land and housing reform for the poor especially the so-called squatters in depressed areas; [Applause]

Gregorio Tingson — the inspiring Preamble where “love” is enshrined and the justification of the non- inclusion in the Constitution of a provision on a zone of neutrality for the Philippines; [Applause]

Efrain Treñas — speedy disposition of cases by the courts of justice, making the periods mandatory in character; [Applause]

Lugum Uka — his irrepressible sense of humor and guarantees to Muslim customs, traditions in relation to an autonomous region in Mindanao; [Applause]

Wilfrido Villacorta — principal author of sectoral representation in the House of Representatives; [Applause]

Bernardo Villegas — principles of solidarity and subsidiarity and the social function of property in the Article on the National Economy, and the right to life of the unborn from conception. [Applause]

My colleagues, today I render a public tribute to your creative minds which enriched the proceedings of the Constitutional Commission and produced the document which I have presented to our people.

It is a document which reflects the changing conditions of the time, the emerging social older, and, in the words of Commissioner Ed Garcia, it speaks of the people’s “struggle to be truly free — free from want and hunger, free to determine and build and create a future of their own, free to sing their own song and to dream their own dreams.” Although Commissioner Garcia says that the Charter is “imperfect” and represents an “unfinished quest,” still it is a document which brings hope to our people.

I, therefore, pay tribute to your sincere and unselfish devotion to duty, your fiery patriotism and nationalism, your deep concern to improve the quality of life of our people, and your capacity to strike a working balance between various forces demanding changes in the economic and social levels of our society. For all these, you richly deserve the gratitude of a people long denied the blessings of truth, justice and freedom and now eagerly awaiting the dawn of a new constitutional democracy.

For my part, I thank each and everyone of you for having lightened the burdens and responsibilities of my office as President of the Commission. Without your zealous cooperation, understanding of my inadequacies, and readiness to accommodate where principles are not involved, this glorious day in Philippine history would not have been possible. If we have accomplished the mission given to us by our people it was because we rose above our personal biases and animosities and worked in peace and harmony to attain a common goal, the full liberation of the Filipino people.

I also thank the working force of the Commission headed by our active and learned Secretary-General, Atty. Flerida Ruth Romero, and her technical staff — the debate stenographers, those responsible for the efficient, prompt and accurate preparation of the daily journals, all the personnel of the Commission and of the Task Force, all of whom were exemplary in the performance of their respective duties. All of them have contributed in the making of history. [Applause]

One last word, the Constitutional Commission has framed a new Constitution with a vision — peace and happiness — for the Filipino people. But the vision will remain a mere vision if we the people do not give life to it by our deeds. We must live it and live by it. The final responsibility lies in our hands — shall the new Charter be a mere “rope of sand” that can be washed away by the strong currents of time or shall it be a rock, firm and indestructible, unyielding to forces of greed and power?

As the great nationalist Claro M. Recto, President of the Constitutional Convention of 1935, had said:

. . . to drive away all danger of anarchy as well as dictatorship, whether by one man or a few, it is necessary that both the government authorities and the people faithfully observe and obey the Constitution.

Yes, we must be ready to defend and uphold this fundamental law with our lives, if necessary, so that never again will it be trampled upon and desecrated by men of evil designs.

Today, as we draw the curtain on the work of the Constitutional Commission, I make a plea to our people — judge not this new Charter for its imperfections and inadequacies, but rather judge it for the unprecedented measures taken to protect and defend our rights and freedoms, uphold truth, justice and the rule of law, to give a better quality of life for the working man, the sick, the elderly, disabled, the indigenous cultural communities who have long been neglected and abandoned. Look upon this new Charter as a giant step towards rebuilding our shattered democracy and regaining our pride and dignity as a free and liberated noble nation.

I close with a prayer that Almighty God who has been with us all these days will continue to guide us and the Filipino people in order that the vision of the new Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines will be transformed into a golden reality of a vision fulfilled.

Thank you for your attention.

Source: CD Asia