The Law of the Sea

Arturo M. Tolentino: I wish people will remember me for The Law of the Sea

A Second Letter to President Quezon The Philippine Free Press, Published June 24, 1934

Your Excellency,

Recently you broke your silence on the matter of your re-election, by delivering a speech before the National Assembly, the keynote of which is contained in the following words:

“But while I am reluctant to serve as President longer than my term of office, I might be willing to serve for more than six years if the amendment of the Constitution was adopted by a constitutional convention called for the purpose, and the delegates elected to the convention had stated in their platform or certificates of candidacy that they would vote for the amendment to the Constitution reducing the term of office of President from six to four years, and allowing one re-election.

Concerning the question of my re-election, I informed Speaker Yulo that I had not change my mind on the subject, but if the Constitution was amended in the manner above stated, I would give the matter further consideration, since my re-election would, in that case, mean only two years over my present term.”

Those words lead me to believe that you do not desire to run for re-election, but maybe persuaded to do so if the Constitution is amended in the way you suggest. In the hope of keeping you from being “persuaded”, in addition to those already set forth in my previous letter, which those around you – sometimes more prone to flattery than to frankness – may have forgotten in their seal.

Our Constitution provides for a very powerful executive, and forbid his re-election. On February 5, 1935, you delivered a speech before the delegates of the Constitutional Convention; appraising their work, and because I agree whole-heartedly with what you said then, I am reproducing your exact words:

Guaranty Against Dictatorship

If you allow yourself to be persuaded to run for re-election, we shall lose what you have so accurately called the guaranty of the people against possible dictatorship and constant revolutions. Of course, you made it clear that in no case would you consent to hold office for more than eight years, citing the precedent set by George Washington. But George Washington was the head of his nation for only eight years; while you have been at the head of your people, politically if not constitutionally, for almost 20 years now.

Personally you are averse to dictatorship. But if the national respect for the Constitution is undermined at this early stage by amendment without impelling necessity, don’t you think that it will be easier in the future to amend the Constitution again to suit some future President who may want to entirely eliminate the limit on the number of re-elections, and thus perpetuate himself in power? The precedent would have been set, and the process may be followed until even the judiciary’s independence is destroyed. At this juncture, permit me to quote again from your February 5, 1935 speech:

When you took your office, you swore to preserve and defend the Constitution. If the amendment reducing the presidential term and allowing one re-election is not made retroactive, you will be eligible for another period of four years, after your present six years term. This will make your term a total tenure of 10 years, a period longer than intended by the Constitution, whether as it now stand (allowing six years) or as it will be amended ( allowing a maximum of eight years). This will circumvent the letter of the Constitution and violate its spirit. Since you have categorically stated, however, that you will not consent to hold office for more than George Washington’s term, the amendment may be made retroactive so as to cover your first term of office. This way your wishes will be respected. But this will tantamount to forcing the Filipino people to put on record, in their own fundamental law, a humiliating admission that men in this country need not adapt themselves to the “high and noble ideals of the Constitution”, but the Constitution itself may change to suit individuals, when so desired. May I hope, Your Excellency, that your patriotism , expressed into words last quoted from February 5, 1935 speech, coupled with the compelling force of your oath of office, will not permit that you allow yourself to be made a party to a Constitutional sacrifice that will destroy the people’s respect for fundamental law.

Politicians’ Strategy

I trust that the resolution urging your re-election have not deceived you. As a master of mass psychology, you must be aware of the fact that the masses can be made to think one way or another by leaders. Resolutions can thus be engineered by men who have axes to grind. If you do not know it yet, allow me to tell you that your name is a magic word to average voters. Those who cannot rely on their on merit, those who are uncertain of election on their own strength, naturally find it convenient to use your magic name to promote their ends. This is more obvious now, when we consider the plan to include the issue of re-election in the platform of the Nationalista party. This will mean that every candidate of the party, from assemblyman down to councilor, will be using that battle cry “Quezon” in his own campaign for election, thus having a hand “open sesame” to positions to which his personal qualifications and public record may not be sufficient to carry him.

The plan to make the constitutional amendment a party issue seems contrary to the spirit of the Constitution. By requiring the people’s ratification before a constitutional amendment may take effect, the Constitution intends that in all matters effecting changes in its provisions, each manor woman should vote as a free-thinking citizen, and not as a a party man or woman fettered by party discipline. Only in this way can the best provisions find their way into the Constitution. As you stated in your speech of February 5,1935 – “xxx the success of this convention is due in large measure to the fact that when you first entered the portals of this august hall, you left behind you the bias of partisan-ship and all the prejudices and pettiness of political passion. You came here as Filipino with no political affiliation xxx. Your yardstick was merit, tour test that of patriotsm.”

In such an atmosphere, it was possible to make a Constitution which, in your own words, “is an expression of the genius and political ideas of our race, adequately meets the requirements of the age in which we live, and at the same time is broad enough to encompass problems that may face future generations.” With the Constitution so well framed, don’t you think it untimely and inadvisable to change it now, when “the bias of partisanship and all the prejudices and pettiness of political passion” may influence those called upon to change it?

The fact that approval of pending congressional legislation may make amendment necessary is not a sufficient excuse for the proposed amendment on re-election. The pending congressional legislation will occasion changes only in the ordinance appended to the Constitution, but not in the Constitution itself. The ordinance is merely a temporary law which will automatically cease to have effect when we become independent; the Constitution, properly speaking, is the fundamental law, stable and permanent in character, intended to govern this country even after 1946. Conditions justifying a change only in the ordinance cannot justify amendments in the Constitution proper.

No Need of Re-election

The argument that six years is too long for a bad president and too short for a good one, is a shibboleth more rhetorical and true. One fundamental feature of representative democracy is rotation in office so as to give all equal opportunities for service. If a president is bad, the impeachment clause of the Constitution will take care of him. If he is good, he should be able to accomplish all that is expected of him in six years. If he fails to accomplish what is expected of him during his time, then he is not worthy of re-election. In any event, therefore, there is no necessity for amending the Constitution to provide for re-election.

We are not face to face with any problem really demanding constitutional amendment. No man can enumerate the specific problem that we may have to face in the next few years and say, with absolute truth and honesty, that out of the 16,000,000 Filipinos, you are the only man blessed by God with patriotism, ability, and genius to meet such problems. Only in such a case can we rightly say that there is a need for amending the Constitution to allow your re-election – and, perhaps, even your perpetuation in office.

In closing, Your Excellency, may I hope that you will choose to take a much-deserved rest, with the gratitude and blessing of the Filipino people, after your six years of office and give an opportunity to others to serve their country as well as you have done, so that in the first trying years of the future Republic we may have sufficiently experienced men from whom to pick our leaders.