The Downside of Imperial Collapse
When Empires or Great Powers Fall, Chaos and War Rise
The Filipino people, imploring the aid of Divine Providence, in order to establish a government that shall embody their ideals, conserve and develop the patrimony of the nation, promote the general welfare, and secure to themselves and their posterity the blessings of independence under a régime of justice, liberty and democracy, do ordain and promulgate this constitution.
SO RUNS the preamble of the new Constitution of the Philippine Commonwealth, adopted by the Constitutional Convention February 8, 1935, approved by the President of the United States on March 23, and on May 14 ratified in a plebiscite of the Filipino people.
The first thing that a reader interested in Philippine affairs will probably inquire is as to the nature of the Commonwealth Government which is being established. Will it be a semi-independent state? There is no doubt that when the American Congress adopted the name "commonwealth" it was inspired by the precedents of Anglo-American history in which "commonwealth government" has always meant self-government or autonomy. It is probably the highest type of self-government compatible with a colonial or dominion status. The word "commonwealth" was used in England in the sixteenth century and was the accepted translation of the classical expression, res publica. Sir Thomas More in his famous "Utopia" so used it.
More specifically, the term "commonwealth government" was given to the English government which existed from the abolition of monarchy in 1648 until the establishment of Cromwell's Protectorate in 1653. Since that time, a commonwealth government has carried the significance and the traditions of a free, autonomous government. This idea was transported to America by the liberty-loving immigrants. James Russell Lowell referred to the colonies of America as the "sturdy commonwealths which have sprung from the seed of May-flower." The term has been applied both to governments with nominal kings and to purely republican institutions.
That this type of autonomous government is what is contemplated for the Philippines is also to be gathered from the various provisions of the Independence law. It seems to be the purpose of Congress to extend a partial grant of sovereignty, acting, therefore, on the theory that sovereignty is divisible. In various parts of the independence act we see provisions to the effect that the governmental powers are granted to us pending the "final and complete" withdrawal of the sovereignty of the United States, implying thereby that there is a partial grant of sovereignty. This expression has been used several times. It is clearly repeated in Section 10 that upon the expiration of the transition period the President is directed to "withdraw and surrender all right of possession, supervision, jurisdiction, control or sovereignty then existing and exercised by the United States in and over the territory and people of the Philippine Islands. . . ."
The only limitations imposed are the mandatory provisions in the Tydings-McDuffie law. These are (1), that the constitution to be drafted shall provide for a republican form of government; (2), that it shall contain a bill of rights; and (3), that it must respect some sixteen enumerated provisions about trade relationships, allegiance of Philippine officials to the United States, public debt, maintenance of an adequate system of public schools primarily conducted in the English language, foreign affairs, certain powers of the American Government with regard to intervention, equal civil rights of Americans and Filipinos, powers of the United States to maintain reservations, certain laws that require presidential approval, and review of the decisions of the Supreme Court of the Philippine Islands by the Federal Court of the United States.
Subject to such limitations, the Constitutional Convention which was elected on July 10, 1934, proceeded to draft the constitution of the Commonwealth. On October 26, 1934, a subcommittee of the Committee on Sponsorship submitted a draft which became the basis for discussion. On January 31, 1935, the discussion was finished and the draft was then submitted to the Style Committee for minor changes. The Convention finally approved the draft on February 8, 1935.
What exactly is the nature of the government which it is proposed to establish under this Constitution? What is to be the fate of those institutions which the United States implanted in the islands?
The Constitution of course respects the injunction that the government to be established must be republican in form. But even without any such inhibition the ideals of democracy are bound to be maintained in the Philippines. As far back as 1898, the Malolos Constitution of the late Philippine Republic provided for popular sovereignty, being the first constitution in the Orient to establish such a principle. It therefore is not surprising that the constitution of the Commonwealth should provide that the Philippines shall be a republican state, that sovereignty resides in the people, and that from the people all government authority emanates.
The form of government established is the presidential system. This shows the impact and permanence of American institutions. There shall be a President, elected directly by the voters of the Philippine Islands. With him will rest the supreme executive power, as well as the veto power not only of all legislation but also of any separate item or items of an appropriation or revenue law or tariff act. The President is to be elected for a term of six years and will be ineligible for the following term. In a sense, he will be a great deal more powerful than the President of the United States, for the new government will continue the unitary character of the present government. He shall have control and supervision over all provinces and municipalities. Under the present system, the elected provincial and municipal officials are at the beck and call of the central government. The President must be a natural-born citizen of the Philippine Islands. He is to occupy the historic Malacañang Palace, as provided for in the Tydings-McDuffie Law. He shall have the power of appointment, but subject to confirmation by the Commission on Appointments of the National Assembly.
It is in the Legislative department that innovations have been made. In the first place, a unicameral legislature, called the National Assembly, is to be established. In this respect, the Philippines follows the example of a number of European states. The members of the National Assembly shall not exceed 120, to be chosen every three years and to be apportioned among the different provinces. At present there are 98 members of the lower house of the Philippine Legislature. This is to be continued until the National Assembly shall otherwise provide. Some members who are at present appointed by the Governor-General to represent mixed Christians and non-Christians are to be elected.
It was decided to abandon the bicameral system and eliminate the Senate for several reasons. The Senate was elected by the same set of voters as was the House of Representatives, the only difference being that the Senate members were elected from larger constituencies. The Senate never really developed a different character from that of the lower house. Sometimes it was believed to be more radical; at other times it was thought to be more conservative. There was no fixed responsibility for legislation under the bicameral system and there was much "passing of the buck." As a result, the chief responsibility for legislation really fell into the hands of the Governor-General, through his power of veto. Since the time of General Wood an average of from one-fourth to one-third of all the bills approved by both houses of the Legislature have been vetoed. An added reason for the abandonment of the bicameral system probably was the cost of legislation. An investigation made of legislative costs in 1927 revealed that for every bill introduced 13,216 pesos were spent, and that for every bill enacted 22,847 pesos were spent.
Another innovation is an Electoral Commission, to be set up to decide election contests. Formerly, as in the typical American state legislature, each chamber was the sole judge of the election and qualification of its members. Now all election disputes shall be judged by an Electoral Commission to be composed of three Justices of the Supreme Court (designated by the Chief Justice) and six members chosen by the National Assembly, three of them nominated by the party having the largest number of votes therein, and three by the party having the second largest number of votes.
A wholesome prohibition is presented in Article VI, Section 8, which provides as follows:
No Member of the National Assembly shall directly or indirectly be financially interested in any contract with the Government or in any subdivision or instrumentality thereof, or in any franchise or special privilege granted by the National Assembly during his term of office; nor shall any such Member appear as counsel before the Electoral Commission or any court in any civil case wherein the Government or any subdivision or instrumentality thereof is the adverse party, or collect any fee for his appearance in any administrative proceedings or in any criminal case wherein an officer or employee of the Government is accused of an offense committed in relation to his office. No Member of the Commission on Appointments of the National Assembly shall appear as counsel before any court inferior to the Supreme Court.
Another prohibition is found in Section 8, Paragraph 1, which provides:
No Member of the National Assembly may hold any other office or employment in the Government without forfeiting his seat, nor shall any such Member during the time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil office which may have been created or the emoluments whereof shall have been increased while he was a member of the National Assembly.
There is created in the National Assembly a Commission on Appointments which shall confirm or reject appointments. This body succeeds the Senate as a confirming body. No member of the Commission on Appointments shall appear as counsel before any court inferior to the Supreme Court. This was stipulated in order to correct a previous practice whereby members of the Senate had a great deal of influence upon judges, due to the Senatorial power of confirmation.
An attempt has been made to set up a budget system under which the Executive will have responsibility for the budget he presents. Article 6, Section 9, Paragraph 1, provides that within fifteen days of the opening of each regular session of the National Assembly the President shall submit a budget of receipts and expenditures, which shall be the basis of the general appropriation bill. The National Assembly may not increase the appropriations recommended by the President for the operation of the government as specified in the Budget, except as regards the appropriations for the National Assembly and the Judicial Department. The form of the Budget and the information that it should contain shall be prescribed by law. The principle, however, of the English budget system is not copied in toto, inasmuch as the prohibition of the Assembly to increase appropriation measures does not include public works bills. In other words, the American "pork-barrel" system is to be continued in spite of the serious denunciations made against it by prominent officials and other citizens of the country.
Some departure from presidential rule is to be found in Article VI, Section 10, whereby the heads of departments may, upon their own initiative or upon the request of the National Assembly, appear before and be heard by the National Assembly on any matter pertaining to their departments, unless the public interest shall require otherwise and the President shall so state in writing.
To avoid a rush during the last days of a session, when many bad bills used to be adopted, Article VI, Section 12, Paragraph 2, provides that no bill shall be passed or become a law "unless it shall have been printed and copies thereof in its final form furnished the Members at least three calendar days prior to its passage by the National Assembly, except when the President shall have certified to the necessity of its immediate enactment."
Slightly more independence has been provided for the Judicial Department. In the past, complaints were numerous to the effect that political considerations unduly influenced the judiciary as a result of the power of the Senate to transfer judges from one district to another. Some members of the Constitutional Convention even proposed that judges be not appointed with the consent of the Legislature; but that plan was turned down. However, Article VIII, Section 7, provides that no judge appointed for a particular district shall be designated or transferred to another district without the approval of the Supreme Court. The National Assembly shall by law determine the residence of judges of inferior courts.
Section 10 of the same article provides that no law may be declared unconstitutional or invalid by the Supreme Court without the concurrence of two-thirds of all the members of the Court. This is in line with the suggestion heard even in America that the power of the Supreme Court to declare laws unconstitutional by a narrow margin should be curtailed.
The President, the Vice-President, the Justices of the Supreme Court and the Auditor General are removable from office on impeachment for the commission of high crimes.
According to President Claro M. Recto of the Convention, the Constitution tries to reconcile what he calls classic principles with modern tendencies. To some this will seem a mixing of oil and water. The Supreme Court will probably have to determine what is oil and what is water -- and maybe throw away the water. For instance, the American Bill of Rights has been copied in the Constitution almost verbatim. Yet we find that Article XII, Section 6, provides that the state may, in the interest of national welfare and defense, establish and operate industries and means of transportation and communication, and, upon payment of just compensation, transfer utilities and other private enterprises to public ownership to be operated by the government.
Certain provisions are in the nature of declarations of principle, and these will require further legislation by the National Assembly if they are to be effective. Thus, in Article XI, Section 1, it is provided that all appointments in the Civil Service except those which are policy-determining, primarily confidential or highly technical in nature, shall be made only according to merit and fitness, this to be determined as far as practicable by competitive examination. This is a notable statement of the principle of civil service. But unless it is supplemented by legislation carrying the proper penalties, politicians will find a way to appoint men of their own choice and not in accordance with standards of merit and fitness. Section 2 of the same article embodies another laudable principle, whereby officers and employees in the Civil Service, including members of the armed forces, shall not engage directly or indirectly in partisan political activities or take part in any election except to vote. Here again there is need of supplementary legislation providing punishment for violations.
The decision to establish a presidential system of government will be welcomed by most Americans who have wondered why their system of government has not been followed outside of the two American continents. But the proposal made by some members of the Constitutional Convention to establish the cabinet system met with very little support.
It might be interesting at this point to note that the presidential system has not generally met with success in South America. The consensus of opinion among many writers seems to be that the South American countries made a mistake in copying the American system of government in toto. It is adduced as one of the reasons why so many of those countries have been converted into dictatorships. Now in tradition, in temperament and in the background of Spanish culture the Filipinos seem more akin to the South Americans than to the people of the United States. However, we have led ourselves to believe, with some reason, that the Oriental in us makes us law-abiding and that the thirty years of American guidance have given us a different outlook from South Americans. On the other hand, our addiction to supporting the party in power, our respect and even fear of the constituted authorities, certainly are not American characteristics.
Our unbalanced party system will be a strong handicap on the successful operation of the presidential system. Since the establishment of national representative institutions in 1907, the Filipino people have invariably supported the party in power. Under the Philippine Commonwealth, and even more under an independent government, the presidential system may so entrench a certain party in power as to make it almost impossible for any minority to win unless by means of a revolution.
It has been said that the greatest virtue of the presidential system is its stability. It is true that stability is generally a virtue. But the result of the continuous victory of the party in power may produce a sort of stability that may ripen into dictatorship, and that dictatorship may lead to revolution. The cabinet system, on the other hand, has the opposite defect. Through its frequent changes of government it often produces instability. But, under the circumstances, the very fact that the cabinet system tends to change governments more often than the presidential type does should win us to its favor. The worst criticism of the cabinet system is that if there are not two well-balanced parties the government is likely to be unstable. Considering the fact that the Filipinos have been so accustomed to supporting the party in power, I do not think that we are likely to change to such an extent that we will upset the government on slight pretexts. Admitting the fact that all representative democracies on a large scale must be governed by parties, I believe that in order to offset the evils that come from our characteristic party system that form of government which facilitates an easier change of power should be favored.
Perhaps realizing the danger of a purely party system during the first years of the Commonwealth, President Quezon has suggested that Senator Osmeña, leader of the minority party, shall run with him for Vice-President. One or two other leaders of the minority party may be given important positions and thus a sort of coalition may be formed. The result would be practically a oneparty system.