A Mere Scrap of Paper: The Constitutional Convention Hijacked under Martial Law

In the aftermath of the declaration of Martial Law on live television on September 23, 1972, all media, long distance phone calls, all flights going in and out, ceased. 

But one must take note that not all institutions that could resist were shut down. However, without media scrutiny on Malacañang, and a balancing opposition in the political establishment, it was only a matter of time before these institutions cave in.

Let me take this time to be very technical so that you’d understand the balance that the Constitution was trying to preserve. If one tips this balance, abuse of power would be imminent and the People, where the power of the government emanates, would suffer the most. Bear with me.

Branches of Government
The three co-equal branches of the Philippine Government: (1) Executive Branch: The President executes, (2) Legislative Branch: Congress legislates, and (3) Judiciary: the Supreme Court settles legal controversies. | Gov.ph

The Philippines, following the democratic set up of the United States, has a very powerful Executive, with the Army and the Police under its control, which the other two co-equal branches of government—the Legislative and the Judiciary—do not possess.

The constitutional balance to limit this great political power was the presidential term limit of four years with a chance of reelection set under the 1935 Constitution.

One must remember that Marcos was supposed to wrap up as he was approaching the end of his second term on November 1973. But with Martial Law in force beginning on the evening of September 22, 1972, which could only be invoked by the President “in case of invasion, insurrection, or rebellion or imminent danger thereof, when public safety requires it,” there were special rules to be followed.

And here I must point out, that the timing of the declaration of Martial Law, just before the recess of Congress, was intentional. The Constitution was clear that under Martial Law, in the event of a congressional recess, the President had the power to appoint heads of departments without consent from Congress, but only temporarily, until the opening session set next year.

Article VI, Sec. 9 of the Constitution set the Opening Session of Congress on the “fourth Monday of January,” that is, January 22, 1973. That’s four months away. And because Congress was officially on recess beginning on the 23rd, Marcos could call the shots “legally.”

But a lot can happen in four months.

And we must remember that according to the primary sources we’ve gleaned in the past few days, Marcos meticulously prepared everything, anticipating every possible move of the opposition. The only thing he had no control of was the “silent majority” which Marcos took a gamble to risk.

Max Soliven of The Manila Times, had this to say in his column four days before Martial Law:

“We must never, of course, underestimate Mr. Marcos. He is no fool. There is always method in what looks like madness. The Apo is a “group dynamics” expert, a practitioner of that science dedicated to the manipulation of people and the cunning exploitation of the basic weaknesses of human nature. The President is gambling on the probability that the ‘silent majority,’ as a term implies will remain silent; that the Filipino’s every-man-for-himself mentality will assert itself and impose inaction; and that all good men will shake their heads sadly but do nothing. And he is right. A few articulate dissenters will make loud and angry noises, but nothing will happen.”

In his diary, Marcos anticipated stormy and violent protests. He even had his family put to safety, in case something unpredictable happens. This was what surprised him the most, the seemingly silent acceptance of the majority. Perhaps, maybe out of intimidation or shock? Maybe.

If Marcos were to succeed, he only had four months to step up his game. The reconvening of Congress the following year would most definitely challenge him. And what gave Congress that authority? The Constitution.

Hence, Marcos turned all his attention to the new draft Constitution being done by the elected Constitutional Convention. A few of its delegates, all of whom supported the anti dynasty provision, nicknamed the “Ban Marcos” Resolution, were included in those who were rounded up in dawn of September 23. The pressure of the Executive on the ConCon would be more pronounced as days went by, especially without free media and political opposition as watchdogs.

On September 25, 1972, the media was allowed to go back with their business, but under strict censorship of the Department of Public Instruction. The department orders specified that all editorial publication must have “DPI Clearance” and that no form of mass media should be produced without permission from the department.

Meanwhile, the Senator Jose Diokno and journalists Chino Roces and Max Soliven filed a petition to the Supreme Court, the last standing co-equal branch of government, to challenge the constitutionality of Martial Law.

Marcos himself would write on his diary on the same day:

“I asked Justices Claudio Teehankee, Antonio Barredo, Felix Makasiar and Felix Antonio to see us. They insisted that the government should submit to the Supreme Court for the Court to review the constitutionality of the proclamation of martial law, Proclamation No. 1081.

So I told them in the presence of Secs. Ponce Enrile and Vicente Abad Santos as well as Sol. Gen. Estelito Mendoza that if necessary I would formally declare the establishment of a revolutionary government so that I can formally disregard the actions of the Supreme Court.

They insisted that we retain a color of constitutionality for everything that we do.

But I feel that they are still image-building and do not understand that a new day has dawned. While they claim to be for a reformed society, they are not too motivated but are too bound by technical legalism.”

That Marcos threatened the Supreme Court to declare a revolutionary government, was uncalled for, not to mention that what happened was a clear intrusion of the Chief Executive to the independence of the ideally impartial Judiciary, a blatant disregard of the balance of power set by the Constitution. Plus, the SC’s insistence that government should file a submission via legal channels and not by inviting justices to Malacañang in person showed the last weak resistance of the highest court against the Executive. But the Court would soon give in. Meanwhile, Marcos was betting on the support of the people who did not even resist. On the Marcos Diary, dated September 26, 1972:

The public reaction throughout the Philippines is a welcome to martial law because of the smooth, peaceful reestablishment of peace and order and the hope of a reformed society. In fact most everyone now says, this should have been done earlier. It is indeed gratifying that everyone now finds or discovers I am some kind of a hero!

President Ferdinand Marcos gives his first press conference after declaring martial law, which he says was imposed against current terrorism, September 28, 1972. | Associated Press

In the ConCon, the draft Constitution was being fast-tracked. Due to the precarious political environment, many well-meaning delegates wanted to finish a good Constitution draft before the convention “fizzles out.” On October 5, the convention planned to organize a smaller committee that was still representative of the entire body to fast track the draft based on the drafts of the second reading, and subsequent consolidated provisions. The goal was to finish by January 13, 1973. The next day, Delegate Aquilino Pimentel Sr. went to the Supreme Court to challenge it to rise to the occasion in resisting Executive pressure. Delegate Augusto Caesar Espiritu described it in his diary:

“[Nene Pimentel] said that the conditions did not warrant the declaration of martial law. To begin with, the bombings could not be used as an excuse. For example, Pimentel warmed up, who were caught after the grenade bombing of Plaza Miranda a year ago? There were some convicts among them, but there was absolutely no proof that the NPAs have really done it.

Again, who bombed Joe’s store at Carriedo? A PC trooper, not NPAs. Who was suspected of bombing the Con-Con? Two men dressed in PC uniforms were seen running away; in fact, it was probably because he was yelling and telling everyone that he saw two soldiers coming out of the toilet (which was the epicenter of the bombing) that Pepito Nolledo was later arrested.

Nene told the Supreme Court that it was their historic duty to do something to avert disaster. He apologized for speaking that way, but he was before a court of justice and if he could not speak there, he would not be able to speak anywhere else.”

Some of the justices were fairly convinced that something was wrong, and Pimentel took comfort in that. But pressures on the ConCon only increased. By October 10, around 11 delegates were already taken in by the military. Another 7 remained on the wanted list, many of whom either escaped arrest and were in hiding or were out of the country when Martial Law was declared.

Around the same time, there were already rumors going around that in the transitory provision of the new Constitution, a transitory government would be established after the electorate’s approval of the new Constitution (through a plebiscite) extending up to 1975, making all the ConCon delegates as sitting assemblymen in the Interim National Assembly. This greatly appealed to some of the delegates so much so that Delegate George Borromeo of Camiguin proposed P5,000.00 monthly allowance to assemblymen in the new draft (a fairly large amount of money at the time). Some delegates later learned to their disgust that the draft Constitution had provisions which would make Marcos both President and Prime Minister of the Interim National Assembly. Delegate Espiritu asked himself, “What will future generations say if this were approved?”

The rumors turned out to be true. 

According to Senator Arturo Tolentino’s memoir, Marcos had a direct hand on the transitory provision (in Article XVII) of the new Constitution, passing it on to a “working group”. And worse, the ConCon president, former president Diosdado Macapagal, was a willing accomplice because of a secret agreement between them: that Marcos would stand in as interim Prime Minister, with Macapagal as interim President, and Cornelio Villareal as Speaker of interim National Assembly.

As the draft that Marcos influenced was resisted, the following ConCon delegates were added on the surveillance list of the military: “Augusto Caesar and Rebeck Espiritu, Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Naning Kalaw, Erning Amatong, and Lilia Delima.” The draft, as produced by the 166-member Steering Committee was turning out to be everything that the reformist delegates in the ConCon were opposed to. Delegate Espiritu describes the feeling of indignation in his diary:

“…the President has practically staged a coup in the Convention. He has literally dictated some provisions of the new Constitution. This is indecent, immoral. And was it necessary? We have already given him—under duress—all that he wanted in terms of political power. Was it still necessary for him to impose his will on the other provisions? Unbelievable as it may seem, we now believe that it is, indeed, true that he has gone over the whole draft of the Constitution, provision by provision, and made corrections in them in his own handwriting.

[…][Don Fernando Sison] also informed us that many delegates in the Convention, from the time we were discussing the form of government we should adopt, were receiving ₱1,000 each per attendance to make sure that the provision on parliamentary form of government would win.

Really? I never knew this!”

By November 27, 1972, it was a done deal.

“Before I could think through my dilemma or banish my fears, voting was called. Those who were voting “No” were asked to stand up.

I found myself instinctively standing up—to join the “No” voters. In half a second, Joe Feria joined me. But before we could fully straighten up, a sudden loud roar of approval burst out. The overwhelming majority of the delegates had obviously voted for the ap­proval of the Constitution!

We now have a brand new Constitution. A Marcos Constitution. Authoritarianism has been institutionalized. The lapdogs of the dictator were delirious with joy.”

And just like that, the 1935 Constitution, crafted by the genius of its framers, was discarded like an old scrap of paper. Outdated in opportunists eyes, and rendered useless.

1934 Constitutional Convention
A scene from the 1934 Constitutional Convention that drafted the 1935 Constitution of the Philippines. | Presidential Museum and Library

This reminded me of Luningning Cruz, a second year high school student, who wrote an insightful essay entitled “The Constitution Speaks.” It was published via the Free Press on February 12, 1972:

“…if I [1935 Constitution] have failed, it is because you have failed yourself. If I have not worked out well, it is because you have failed to make me work. And if you have failed to make me work, what guarantee is there that you will be successful in making your new Constitution work?

Even now, before my replacement is drafted, selfishness, bigotry and greed, and worst of all, hatred, are already rearing their ugly heads within your present Constitutional Convention. Name one among your present “wise” men who can approximate the greatness of the Rectos and the Laurels who drafted me. Look into the hearts of your present delegates and search in vain for the patriotism and selflessness of that noble breed of men. Instead, what do you see? A group of men whose first act as delegates was to vote themselves P3,000-a-month allowances in addition to their P100-a-day salaries, just like the “Tong-gressmen” and the “Sena-tongs” who at present make your life so miserable.

I do not say that they will not draft a Constitution better than myself. But this I say, they may draft a hundred constitutions, each one a thousand times better than I am, but if you, the people, do not change, if your leaders remain the same kind—if you remain indifferent, callous, lazy, selfish, greedy, uncooperative, regionalistic—the best constitution in the world, or in the Universe for that matter, will not work for you.

And so I do not plead, like a lover about to be discarded, that you keep me. But hear these my last words, which I paraphrase from the great Recto: “The best amendment to the Constitution would be the amendment of your lives, the amendment of your attitudes, and actions, the realization that you are free men, and the resolution to live and act as free men.”

For if you do not change, a hundred new constitution will not help you. And if you do change, perhaps, you will not even need a Constitution.”

Free Press Editorial Cartoon
The Free Press editorial cartoon sometime on February 1972, critiquing the ConCon delegates move to increase the allowances of the assemblymen of the parliament to P3,000.00 despite the popular opinion against the parliamentary system set up.

This brand new draft Constitution accorded Marcos decree-making powers, wielding not only the Executive but also Legislative authority, too much for one single leader of a country that claimed to be democratic. Marcos was made to be almost an absolute monarch. The next day, the majority in the convention filed the unprecedented motion for the dismissal of the Quintero Expose and the exoneration of the 39 delegates allegedly involved in the bribery of President Marcos. Delegate Eduardo Quintero tried to stand up in indignation, but he was met with uproar from the majority, who clearly have turned against him. Delegate Augusto Espiritu and other few reformist delegates couldn’t take the travesty. 

The new Constitution draft was finally submitted by ConCon President Diosdado Macapagal to President Ferdinand Marcos on November 30, 1972, former enemies now turned to pragmatic allies. It’s a Game of Thrones. Marcos approved the draft and set the preparation for its ratification through a plebiscite.

With Marcos firmly cementing his power, “legalized” by virtue of the new Constitution which Marcos was confident would be promulgated soon, he initiated the release of his political detainees, beginning December 1, 1972, with the exception of Senators Ninoy Aquino and Jose Diokno, who were kept under Maximum Security at Fort Bonifacio. Why keep the two? Some documents say that if ever election was held in 1975, the two would be formidable contenders to the Interim National Assembly. 

As the released Senators filed to the Supreme Court the motion to nullify the plebiscite for the new Constitution scheduled on January 15, 1973, President Marcos turned his attention to the Supreme Court, the last resisting co-equal branch of government that could dispute the legality of Martial Law.


Abaya, Hernando. The Making of a Subversive: A Memoir. Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1984.

Cruz, Luningning, “The Constitution Speaks,” Philippines Free Press, February 12, 1972, link.

De Quiros, Conrado. Dead Aim: How Marcos Ambushed Philippine Democracy. Pasig City: Foundation for Worldwide People’s Power, Inc., 1997.

Espiritu, Augusto Caesar, “October 5, 1972,” Philippine Diary Project, link.

Espiritu, Augusto Caesar, “October 7, 1972,” Philippine Diary Project, link.

Espiritu, Augusto Caesar, “October 10, 1972,” Philippine Diary Project, link.

Espiritu, Augusto Caesar, “October 14, 1972,” Philippine Diary Project, link.

Espiritu, Augusto Caesar, “November 9, 1972,” Philippine Diary Project, link.

Espiritu, Augusto Caesar, “November 27, 1972,” Philippine Diary Project, link.

Espiritu, Augusto Caesar, “November 28, 1972,” Philippine Diary Project, link.

Pimentel Sr., Aquilino. Martial Law in the Philippines: My Story. Mandaluyong City: Cacho Publishing House, 2006.

Mijares, Primitivo. The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. San Francisco: Union Square Publications, 1976.

Rempel, William C. Delusions of a Dictator: The Mind of Marcos As Revealed in His Secret Diaries. Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co., 1993.

Salonga, Jovito. A Journey of Struggle and Hope: The Memoir of Jovito R. Salonga. Quezon City: U.P. Center for Leadership, Citizenship and Democracy, 2001.

Tolentino, Arturo. Voice of Dissent. Quezon City: Phoenix Publishing, 1990.

Wurfel, David. Filipino Politics: Development and Decay. New York: Cornell University Press, 1988.

Editor’s note: This 15-part series called the Road to Martial Law first appeared on the author’s Tumbler page. It documents the unprecedented rise of a Filipino dictator and the sudden death of Philippine democracy with the declaration of a nationwide Martial Law via live television on September 23, 1972. Minor edits have been made by SubSelfie.com editors.

Part 1: It Takes a Village to Raise a Dictator: The Philippines before Martial Law
Part 4: The Turbulent ’60s and Marcos’ Ascent to Power
Part 6: First Quarter Storm of 1970: Philippines on the Brink
Part 7: Plan for Endgame: Plots, Protests, Scandals and Assassinations
Part 8: Plaza Miranda Bombing: Prelude to Marcos’ Endgame
Part 9: Hijacking Democracy: The Mood Before the Declaration of Martial Law
Part 10: September 21, 1972: When Martial Law Had to Wait for One More Day
Part 11: Like a Thief in the Night: Martial Law Implemented
Part 12: The Long Night Begins: Martial Law Announced on Live TV
Part 13: A Mere Scrap of Paper: The Constitutional Convention Hijacked under Martial Law
(up next) Part 14: The Final Blow: A compromised Supreme Court legitimized Martial Law
(up next) Part 15: Road to Martial Law Redux: A Conclusion to a Series

About the Author

Kristoffer Pasion the resident historian of Team SubSelfie.com. He is a public historian working for the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. He has been serving in government for almost a decade, having worked as cultural officer for the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (2011-2013), and as history researcher for the Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines (2013-2016).

He runs the blog Indiohistorian, and does active history writing on social media. He is finishing his masteral studies in History at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, pursuing research on the history of government institutions.

One Comment Add yours

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.