Following a dictator's playbook

Tue, 05/02/2006 - 00:00
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Vigorous objections

After Paterno pointed out the similarities between the new provisions and some of those in the Marcos constitution, Commissioner Pablo Garcia stood up and vigorously objected to what he said were unapproved insertions.

These were "not submitted or not found in the original committee report," protested the former Cebu governor. "These are entirely new amendments that were prepared only about a few minutes ago or an hour inside the executive room," he said. He called what happened "cooking up provisions."

But Commissioners Romela Bengzon, Raul Lambino and Romualdo said that the amendments - introduced by Abueva and Lambino - were a "substitution or addition" to the original report of the subcommittee on transitory provisions chaired by Bengzon.

They were done "in the interest of time" and "to fast track" discussions, they said. They and other commissioners also argued that the powers given to Arroyo would be needed to "smoothen the transition" between the purely presidential into a parliamentary form.

This somewhat echoed the words uttered by the supporters of the dictatorial provisions of the 1973 constitution, who had said the extraordinary powers given to Marcos at the time were needed to "contend with any problem during the emergency situation." They had, however, carefully refrained from mentioning that the emergency had been brought about by Marcos himself, when he imposed military rule.

It had been Commissioner Bengzon who a few minutes after 5 p.m. last Dec. 14 had casually handed out copies of the insertions to her surprised colleagues. But more than three decades earlier, no less than ConCom chairman Abueva - then the ConCon secretary - had distributed copies of a draft article that listed "transitory provisions" to be included in the Marcos charter.

Marcos's moves

Those provisions were laws that would prevail while the country was transitioning from the old constitution to a new one. They proposed to make Marcos both president and prime minister of an ad interim assembly, and gave a list of formidable powers that he would wield.

AS EASY AS 1-2-3
  1. In 1972 Marcos promised that any constitutional convention delegate who approved the transitory provisions giving him tremendous powers would automatically become a member of the Interim National Assembly -- a proto-parliament.
  2. In fact, he said, to avail of this wonderful offer, all a delegate had to do after signing his approval was to take an oath as an Interim National Assembly member and have it notarized. Many delegates did this.
  3. Oops. What Marcos omitted to tell them was that the Interim National Assembly would never meet. He cited as an excuse the fact that two plebiscites (which he had actually rigged) voted against convening the assembly. The plebiscite voters said they wanted no such assembly because they didn't want constutitonal delegates to become members. Ouch. As some swindled delegates later wryly put it:. Na-onse na, na-uto pa (roughly translated: "first we were gypped; then we were screwed")
 

Yet the very next day - Oct. 17, 1972 - Abueva was handing out a revised copy of the provisions, with a note saying this "supersedes that which we transmitted to you yesterday."

The previous document had stated that all Marcos decrees "shall remain in force and effect unless amended by the ad interim national assembly." The new document added three ominous words, saying that whatever decrees Marcos issued would be considered "valid, legal and binding" even after martial law was lifted or the constitution was approved. Delegate Dandy Tupaz would later tell this reporter, "This came from Malacañang."

In a recent interview, Abueva denied he had a hand in helping Marcos gain dictatorial powers. He said he had merely performed a purely administrative function as the ConCon secretary. He said he had applied for the post - besting current Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban - because as a political scientist he wanted to witness history. But in the end, Abueva said, "I was so very, very disappointed (because) some of the provisions were made in Malacañang."

So onerous were the Marcos provisions that after the strongman was overthrown in 1986 and delegates sat down to write yet another constitution, they made it a point to specifically delete the poisonous words "valid, legal and binding" from any transitory provisions.

Same words

Last December, though, the Arroyo-appointed commissioners included these three words in their proposed charter. If their version of the constitution is implemented, those words would mean that all of Arroyo's proclamations and orders, including Proclamation 1017 that declared the entire country under a state of emergency, could be considered valid and legal.

In truth, it had not only been Paterno who thought that President Arroyo could become as powerful as Marcos had been.

During the Dec. 14 deliberations, Commissioner Angelo Abarico, a veteran editor-publisher from Davao, also pointed out, "This could be misconstrued as going back to the years of the late strongman, President Marcos, when he was both the head of state as well as the head of government. And the prime minister was a mere decorative piece."

Abueva had quickly replied that the analogy was wrong and the situations were different since that of Marcos "was never really a parliamentary system" but a dictatorship.

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