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Philippine Government and the New Constitution (with Human Rights)

Back to Licensure Examination for Teachers (LET) Coverage

The following topics (not in any particular order) are usually covered under this course:
state, politics, government, governance, administration
the constitution - as social construct and as social construct
highlights of the 1987 constitution
overview of forms and structures of government (monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, totalitarianism)
principles of check and balance
separation of powers
political regimes
democracy v. authoritarianism
political parties
legislative structure of the Philippine government: Congress, House of Representatives, Senate,
membership, party-list
how a law is made
bicameralism v. unicameralism
executive branch: the president, qualifications, executive succession
scope of executive/presidential powers
judiciary: functions, powers, membership, mode of appointment, organization of Philippine courts
local governments
constitutionalism: origins, classifications, characteristics, parts, process of amendment/revision
the isms
citizenship - who are Filipino citizens, etc.
suffrage - who can vote, etc.
the bill of rights
human rights

What is the importance of studying Philippine Constitution?

The importance of studying Philippine Constitution is for you, as a Filipino, to be aware of your state,
government, politics and your rights. It helps you to be connected in your nation as a citizen which you
have a major role and obligation in your community. It also practices your concern about the political
events and condition. Thus, Philippine Constitution teaches you to support the government and bring
about understanding of your government.
The constitution of the Philippines is the supreme law of the land as of 1987. Prevailing themes
throughout the document are peace and equality. Adherence to international law is also important. The
state has the right to pursue international relations with other nations, and nuclear weapons of any kind
are restricted from the Philippine islands. The constitution is also meant to establish government authority
and protect the welfare of the Filipino people. Democratic institutions have been set up, such as universal

voting rights for people 18 years old or older. There are also judicial, executive and congressional
branches of governance.
Certain freedoms are afforded to the Filipino people, such as the right to be safe and secure in their
persons, as noted in Article III, Section 2 of its Bill of Rights. Other freedoms secured are due process of
law, freedom of speech and private property rights. The constitution also states that civilian authority
overrides the military in all functions. The role of the armed forces is to be a protector of the Filipino
people and the state.
The current Philippine Constitution, ratified in a plebiscite in 1987, defines the Philippines' national
territory thus:
The national territory comprises the Philippine archipelago, with all the islands and waters embraced
therein, and all other territories over which the Philippines has sovereignty or jurisdiction, consisting of its
terrestrial, fluvial and aerial domains, including its territorial sea, the seabed, the subsoil, the insular
shelves, and other submarine areas. The waters around, between, and connecting the islands of the
archipelago, regardless of their breadth and dimensions, form part of the internal waters of the

Constitutional history of the Philippines

The Republic of the Philippines sits on an archipelago in Southeast Asia and consists of 7,107
islands with a total area of 300,000 square kilometres. It is located at the intersection of several
bodies of water: it is bounded by the Pacific Ocean in the north, the South China Sea in the west, the
Sulu and Celebes Seas in the south, and the Philippine Sea in the east. Over 90 million people live
on the islands, some 12 million of whom live in the capital region, Metro Manila. Most of the people
on the islands are of the same racial stock as the Malays and the Indonesians, but a Chinese
minority (around 1.5%) make up an influential part of the Philippine economy. There are eight major
languages and close to a hundred dialects.

Constitutional history
The Philippines had long been used as a trading port in Asia, and this led to their colonization by the
Spanish and later by the Americans. The Spanish converted most of the population to Catholicism
and the religion remains the dominant one in the country. During the later part of more than 300
years of Spanish rule, nationalist sentiment began to grow among groups of Indios (which was how
the Spanish referred to the Filipinos), fuelled in large measure by the writings of national hero Jose
Rizal (later executed by the Spanish authorities) and other ilustrados (the Filipino intellegensia). A
revolution was launched against Spain and the revolutionaries declared Philippine independence in

Kawit, Cavite on June 12, 1898. What became known as the Malolos Congress was convened on
September 15, 1898 and the first Philippine Constitution, called the Malolos Constitution, was
approved on January 20, 1899, ushering what is called the First Philippine Republic. In the SpanishAmerican War of 1898, the revolutionaries sided with the Americans, hoping that, with the defeat of
Spain, independence would be granted by the US to the Philippines. This, however, did not happen.
After Spain ceded (or sold) the islands to the United States in the Treaty of Paris, the US
immediately proceeded to brutally suppress the Philippine independence movement.
In 1916, the US passed the Jones Act which specified that independence would only be granted
upon the formation of a stable democratic government modelled on the American model, not the
French model as the previous constitution had been. The US approved a ten-year transition plan in
1934 and drafted a new constitution in 1935. World War II and the Japanese invasion on December
8, 1941, however, interrupted that plan. After heroic Filipino resistance against overwhelming odds
finally ended with the fall of Bataan and Corregidor in 1942, a Japanese republic was established,
in reality, a period of military rule by the Japanese Imperial Army. A new constitution was ratified in
1943 by Filipino collaborators who were called the Kapisanan sa Paglilingkod ng Bagong Pilipinas
(Kalibapi). An active guerilla movement continued to resist the Japanese occupation. The Japanese
forces were finally defeated by the Allies in 1944 and this sorry chapter came to a close.
Philippine independence was eventually achieved on July 4, 1946. The 1935 Constitution, which
featured a political system virtually identical to the American one, became operative. The system
called for a President to be elected at large for a 4-year term (subject to one re-election), a bicameral
Congress, and an independent Judiciary.

Independence to martial law

From the moment of independence, Filipino politics have been plagued by the twin demons of
corruption and scandal. Notwithstanding, Presidents Ramon Magsaysay (1953-57), Carlos Garcia
(1957-61), and Diosdado Macapagal (1961-65) managed to stabilize the country, implement
domestic reforms, diversify the economy, and build Philippine ties not only to the United States, but
also to its Asian neighbours.
Ferdinand Marcos was elected president in 1965 and was re-elected in 1969, the first president to
be so re-elected. Desirous of remaining in power beyond his legal tenure, he declared martial law in
1972, just before the end of his second and last term, citing a growing communist insurgency as its
justification. He then manipulated an ongoing Constitutional Convention and caused the drafting of a
new constitution the 1973 Constitution which allowed him to rule by decree until 1978 when the
presidential system of the 1935 Constitution was replaced with a parliamentary one. Under this new
system, Marcos held on to power and continued to govern by decree, suppressing democratic
institutions and restricting civil freedoms. In 1981, martial law was officially lifted, but Marcos
continued to rule by the expedient of being re-elected in a farce of an election to a new 6-year
term. He continued to suppress dissent and thousands of vocal objectors to his rule either
mysteriously disappeared or were incarcerated. Despite economic decline, corruption allowed
Marcos and his wife Imelda to live extravagantly, causing resentment domestically and criticism

The peoples choice

When opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. was assassinated upon returning from exile in 1983,
widespread outrage forced Marcos to hold snap elections a year early. The election was marked by
fraud on the part of Marcos and his supporters but Marcos had himself declared the winner
constitutionally, amidst international condemnation and nationwide domestic protests. A small band
of military rebels tried to mount a coup, which failed because of its discovery, but this triggered what
became internationally celebrated as the People Power revolution, when droves of people spilled
out onto the streets to protect the rebels, eventually numbering well over a million. Under pressure
from the United States, Marcos and his family fled into exile. His election opponent, Benigno Aquino
Jr.s widow Corazon, was installed as president on February 25, 1986.

The 1987 Constitution

Aquino began her term by repealing many of the Marcos-era regulations that had repressed the
people for so long. In March, she issued a unilateral proclamation establishing a provisional
constitution. This constitution gave the President broad powers and great authority, but Aquino
promised to use them only to restore democracy under a new constitution. This new constitution was
drafted in 133 days by an appointed Constitutional Commission of 48 members and ratified by the
people in a plebiscite held on February 2, 1987. It was largely modelled on the American
Constitution which had so greatly influenced the 1935 Constitution, but it also incorporated Roman,
Spanish, and Anglo law.
The 1987 Constitution established a representative democracy with power divided among three
separate and independent branches of government: the Executive, a bicameral Legislature, and the
Judiciary. There were three independent constitutional commissions as well: the Commission on
Audit, the Civil Service Commission, and the Commission on Elections. Integrated into the
Constitution was a full Bill of Rights, which guaranteed fundamental civil and and political rights, and
it provided for free, fair, and periodic elections. In comparison with the weak document that had
given Marcos a legal fiction behind which to hide, this Constitution seemed ideal to many Filipinos
emerging from 20 years of political repression and oppression.

Executive branch
The Executive branch is headed by the President and his appointed Cabinet. The President is the
head of the state and the chief executive, but he is subject to significant checks from the other
branches, especially in times of emergency, which, given the history of the country, was obviously
intended to be a safeguard against a repeat of Marcos martial law despotism. For example, in cases
of national emergency, the President can still declare martial law, but not for a period longer than 60
days. Congress can revoke this decision by a majority vote, or it can also extend it for a period to be
determined by the Congress. Additionally, the Supreme Court can review the declaration to decide if
there were sufficient facts to justify martial law. The President can grant pardons and amnesty. He is
also empowered to make or accept foreign loans. He cannot, however, enter into treaties without the
consent of the Senate. The President and Vice-President are elected at large by a direct vote, but
the President may only serve one 6-year term. The Cabinet, consisting of the Presidents advisers

and heads of departments, is appointed by the President and it assists him in his governance

Legislative branch
The legislative power is vested in a Congress which is divided into two Houses, the Senate and the
House of Representatives. The 24 members of the Senate are elected at large by a popular vote
and can serve no more than two consecutive 6-year terms. The House is composed of 250 elected
members. Most of these Representatives are elected by district for 3-year terms, but 20% of the total
membership is chosen in proportion to party representation. Besides the exclusive power to
legislate, one of the most important powers of Congress is the ability to declare war, which it can
through a two-thirds vote in both houses. Even the power to legislate, however, is subject to an
executive check. The President retains the power to veto a bill passed by both houses, and
Congress may override this veto only with a two-thirds vote in both houses.

Judicial branch
The Court system in the Philippines exercises the judicial power of government and it is made up of
a Supreme Court and lower courts created by law. The Supreme Court is a 15-member court
appointed by the President without need for confirmation by Congress. Appointment, however, is
limited to a list of nominees presented to the President by a constitutionally-specified Judicial and
Bar Council. This Council consists of 7 members: the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the
Secretary of Justice, a representative from Congress, a representative of the Integrated Bar, a
professor of law, a retired member of the Supreme Court, and a representative of the private sector.
The first four serve for four years, the law professor for three, the retired Justice for two, and the
private sector representative for one year. The Supreme Court Justices may hear, on appeal, any
cases dealing with the constitutionality of any law, treaty, or decree of the government, cases where
questions of jurisdiction or judicial error are concerned, or cases where the penalty is sufficiently
grave. It may also exercise original jurisdiction over cases involving government or international
officials. The Supreme Court also is charged with overseeing the functioning and administration of
the lower courts and their personnel.







Elected by a direct vote

Nominated by the
President and confirmed by a
commission on appointments

Nominates the
Cabinet and other high

the end of 6
year term

Head of


Ensures faithful






execution of the laws

Commander-inChief of the Armed Forces
Contracts for
foreign loans
Declares martial

the legislatur

removal by th


Advises the President


Elected by a direct vote
House of

Elected by districts or a
party-list system

Election monitoring
Introduces and
passes legislation by a
majority vote


the end of a 6
year term

Conductes inquiries
in pursuit of passing
Declares war with
joint two-thirds vote of

Election monitoring
Introduces and
passes legislation
Introduces and
passes financial legislation


the end of a 3
year term






Conduct inquiries in
pursuit of passing
Declaring war with
joint two-thirds vote of


Supreme Court
Appointed by the

supervision over other
Jurisdiction over
cases involving
ambassadors and public

Government oversight bodies

The Constitution also establishes three independent Constitutional Commissions. The Civil Service
Commission acts as a central agency in charge of government personnel. The Commission on
Elections enforces and administers all election laws and regulations to ensure that they are free and
fair for all involved. Finally, the Commission on Audit examines all funds, transactions, and property
accounts of the government and its agencies. Each of these Commissions is given governing and
financial autonomy from the other branches of government to ensure unbiased decision-making. All
decisions made by these Commissions are reviewable by the Supreme Court. To further ensure the
ethical and lawful functioning of the government, the Constitution also creates an Office of the
Ombudsman to investigate complaints regarding public corruption, unlawful behaviour of public
officials, and other public misconduct. The Ombudsman can then charge such misbehaving public
officials before a special court called the Sandiganbayan. The Ombudsman is also independent
administratively and financially from the other branches of government, although the President is
vested with the power to appoint the Ombudsman and his Deputies (from a list also prepared by the
Judicial and Bar Council) for single 7-year terms. Only the House has the power to initiate
impeachment of the President, the members of the Supreme Court, and a few other constitutionally


reaching the a
of 70

protected public officials like the Ombudsman. The Senate is then supposed to try the impeachment
case. Each of these aforementioned independent agencies was created for the purpose of
promoting moral and ethical conduct in government.

System of Government under 1987 Constitution

Issues and Challenges


Economic development how to ensure

that economic growth also benefits the
poorer classes?
Minority rights how to ensure multiethnicity and pluralism for religious and
ethnic minorities?
De-concentration of power how to
reduce the considerable power of the
political and economic elites and give
more actual power to the people?

Better governance how to make

government more effective in meeting the
nations aspirations?

Spreading growth how to have more

even regional development?


Poor law enforcement and an ineffective

justice system

Lack of transparency and accountability

in public office

Polarization between the few who are

wealthy and the many who are poor

Weak actual protection of the human

rights of vulnerable groups (women,
children, minorities, journalists, political

Involvement of the military in political


Ending the Muslim insurgency in

southern Mindanao


Spanish claim the islands


Spain cedes the Philippines to the US


US establishes civil government to replace military rule


The Commonwealth of the Philippines is established under President Manuel Quezon

and the US promises independence in 10 years


Japanese forces invade the islands


The US retakes the islands


The US grants the new Republic of the Philippines full independence


Ferdinand Marcos becomes President


Marcos is reelected despite allegations of elections fraud, Vietnam protests begin,

Muslim separatists begin guerrilla war in the south


Marcos declares martial law, suspends parliaments, arrests opposition leaders, and
imposes censorship regulations


New constitution adopted granting Marcos broad powers


Marcos wins reelection, martial law lifted


Oppoisiton leader Benigno Aquino killed as he returns to the Philippines from exile


Marcos opposed in elections by Aquinos widow Corazon, mass protests of election

results in favour of Marcos forces him into exile

11 February

New Constitution passed


Aquino replaced as President by defence minister Fidel Ramos


Peace agreement signed with Muslim separatist group


Joseph Estrada, former film star, elected President

January 2000

Impeachment trial against Estrada suspended, leading to mass protests which replace

Estrada with Vice-President Gloria Arroyo

April 2001

Estrada found guilty of stealing more than 80 million dollars of state funds during
Presidency, but later pardoned

June 2004

Arroyo elected to Presidency


Arroyo resists attempt to impeach her under allegations of vote-rigging, declares a

state of emergency in response to an alleged military coup


Ethnic tensions mount between Islamic separatist groups and Christian majority

June 2010

Beningo Noynoy Aquino, son of Corazon Aquino, elected President