Philippine Parliamentary Elections of 1978

Before President Ferdinand Marcos instilled his martial law throughout the Philippines, there was another highly-debated topic that preceded this one – the Philippine Constitution. From 1967-1971, the formation and the election of delegates for a Constitutional Convention were created in order to make a few revisions to the current constitution. Officially holding its first meeting on June 1, 1971, the Constitutional Convention was headed by the elected delegate Carlos P. Garcia of Bohol up until his death on June 14, 1971. He was succeeded by Diosadado Macapagal of Pampanga, who, unfortunately, also found himself incapable of performing any real changes due to Marcos’ martial law that was declared and put into place in September 1972.

As if being subject to martial law were not enough, the Convention was met with further obstacles. When several delegates happened to disappear, either due to their being placed in detention, hiding, or voluntary exile, it seemed as if nothing were to be done about the revisions. In addition to the persistent “suggestions” for provisions in the Constitution from President Ferdinand Marcos himself, the Convention approved its proposed Constitution of the Philippines on November 29, 1971. The following day, the President issued Presidential Decree No.73 setting the date of the plebiscite on January 15, 1973 for the ratification or rejection of the proposed Constitution. He then issued a contradictory General Order No. 20 postponing the scheduled referendum. Unbeknownst to the Constitutional Convention, the proposed Constitution had been approved according to the President’s Proclamation No. 1102. It announced that the proposed Constitution had been ratified on January 17 with an overwhelming vote of the members of the Citizen Assemblies, organized by Marcos himself through Presidential Decree No. 86. Although many petitions were sent to the Supreme Court for an appeal, it was conclusive that there were no obstacles in the way of the new Constitution.

Had the actual proposed Constitution of the Constitutional Convention had been approved, it would have established a parliamentary government in the Philippines, with the President as a Prime Minister but a ceremonial head of state. This, however, was not implemented as a result of the meeting held during January 10-15, 1972 by the Citizen Assemblies where an overwhelming majority rejected the convening of a National Assembly. The Citizen Assemblies continued to support President Ferdinand Marcos, agreeing that martial law should be continued and that the President’s “suggestions” to the Constitution be ratified in 1976. The suggested amendments included an Interim Batasang Pambansa (IBP) substituting for the Interim National Assembly, and the President becoming the Prime Minister with legislative powers until martial law was lifted. From 1972 until the convening of the Interim Batasang Pambansa in 1978, the President exercised absolute legislative powers.

The assembly of the Interim Batasang Pambansa was once again postponed through legislation, with Presidential Decree No. 995 creating the Batasang Bayan – a 132-member council that advised the President on important legislature measures – instead. Finally, on April 7, 1978, the first national election for 166 of the 208 seats of the Interim Batasan Pambansa took place. The major opposing camps were the regime’s Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) led by First Lady Imelda Marcos and Lakas ng Bayan (LABAN) led by Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino. Regardless of being able to run from his jail cell and promoting noise to be made in support of the opposition, Ninoy lost by a landslide to KBL. Of the 21 opposing candidates LABAN endorsed, none received a seat. The fraudulent Interim Batasang Pambansa now consisted of an entire committee committed to its new Prime Minister, President Ferdinand Marcos, convening on June 12, 1978.

♥ Jessel Villegas


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