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Calen Legaspi
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The geek shall inherit the earth.
The geek shall inherit the earth.

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Looking Back: The 1971 Constitutional Convention

PUBLISHED ON FEB 17, 2003 in Newsbreak
By CHAY FLORENTINO HOFILE

President Arroyo’s father, Former President Diosdado Macapagal, headed the controversial 1971 Constitutional Convention (Con-Con), picking up where Carlos P. Garcia left off when he died in office.

It was Macapagal who clashed head-on with former President Ferdinand Marcos who maneuvered to control the Con-Con by bribing and influencing its delegates who were supposed to be independent of Malacañang.

If Congress decides to push through with plans to change the Charter via a Con-Con in 2004, it will not be a first for the country.

Way back in 1967, Congress passed a resolution calling for a Con-Con to change the 1935 Constitution. That resolution remained unacted upon until 1969 when another resolution was passed reiterating the call for a convention. Congress then passed a law to govern the election of delegates to the Con-Con, paving the way for an election in 1970. In June 1971, the delegates assumed office.

By October 1971, or four months after debates and discussions, only one resolution, recalls Samar Rep. Eduardo Nachura, chair of the House committee on constitutional amendments, had been formulated. The resolution sought to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 years. When submitted to a plebiscite, the move was challenged before a court that ruled a Con-Con cannot submit piece-meal amendments to the Constitution.

The issue, however, was nothing com pared to the bigger problems that plagued the 1971 Con-Con.

Pay-offs

Among the hotly contested issues of that time were the shift to a parliamentary form of government, the presidential reelection ban, and the ban on the wife of the incumbent president from seeking the presidency, or the anti-dynasty provision.

With his political survival at stake, Marcos sought to influence the outcome of the convention. An exposé by 72-year-old delegate Eduardo Quintero from Leyte, the home province of former First Lady Imelda Marcos, tainted the 1971 Con-Con forever.

On May 19, 1972, Quintero exposed a “money lobby” in the Con-Con, waving 18 envelopes that contained all of P11,150. The envelopes, he said, were given by lobby agents.

In his three-page sworn statement, Quintero, former Ambassador to the United Nations, named 14 persons, 12 of them delegates themselves, from the Samar-Leyte group. Of the 12, eight were named as agents, while two were tagged as “principals.” The other two were Imelda Marcos and Paz Mate, the wife of then Leyte Rep. Artemio Mate.

The exposé was followed by revelations of former Malacañang technical assistant and lawyer Elly Pamatong about “Con-Con Operation” which allegedly sought to bring the Con-Con delegates under Malacañang control.

Reports from the Philippines Free Press quoted Pamatong as saying they were instructed to find out the names of persons recommended by delegates to government posts and to expedite these appointments; find out the names of delegates applying for government grants and concessions; find out the names of delegates against Marcos; and provide financial aid to those in need of it.

At the center of all these controversies was Macapagal, who was eventually forced to write Marcos a letter demanding that he make a “categorical and firm announcement” that he and his wife would retire from active political life after the end of his term in 1973. The demand naturally fell on deaf ears.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., a Con-Con delegate then, recalls that at the start of their sessions he was “encouraged by the thought that we had many politically unattached delegates, delegates who were elected without partisan tags, and a number were genuinely progressive elements.”

But when martial law was declared [in September 1972], he recalls, “our numbers dwindled fast so that in the end, there were only 17 or so delegates who voted against the Marcos-dictated Constitution.”

Pimentel says that the final product of the Con-Con was irreparably tainted given that “when the Constitution was passed by the convention and when it was ‘ratified’ by the people in a referendum or…plebiscite, the acts of the delegates approving the Constitution were done under duress and the people’s acquiescence to it was not only fraudulently done, it was coerced by the administrators of martial rule.

In the end, it was a waste of time and resources as it served to legitimize Marcos’s dictatorial rule.

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