‘Ang’ 1971 Con-Con ‘at Ako’

Amado S. Tolentino Jr.

Amado S. Tolentino Jr.

I have to confess I was “starstruck” in the beginning in the company of my 1971 Constitutional Convention colleagues-former Presidents, senators, congressmen, justices, ambassadors, University of the Philippines bigwigs, fiery student leaders, missionaries, priests and a nun, labor and peasant leaders, indigenous peoples’ representatives, topnotch professionals, business elite and celebrities I only saw and read about in newspapers. Gradually, I eased to the situation and became on first-name basis with everyone except with the very elderly delegates.

I settled down to the task I, alone, sought and determined to do. With the Manila Hotel room assignment in order, we embarked on the choice of committees which, we were forewarned, will be by lottery. Guided by the thought of not competing along prime committees like executive or legislative power, citizenship, natural resources, etc., I smoothly got my preferred Youth (Sponsor), National Territory and Education committees. My membership in the Committee on General Provisions was an add-on but turned out to be very informative and fortuitous.

While the matter of reduction of voting age from 21 to 18 was first tackled in plenary, my concerns–national territory and youth committee reports–were the next two pursued in earnest by the convention. The Committee on National Territory report received public notice because of the phrase “by historic right or legal title,” the intent of which is to prevent forfeiture of our historic right or legal claims over some territories by their omission from the constitutional definition. We were only 8 in the committee and I was assigned the “historic right” portion referring to the Marianas Islands and Guam, which were integral parts of Las Islas Filipinas. Historians believe when General Aguinaldo’s revolutionary forces defeated the Spanish colonizers, Spain lost sovereignty not only over the Philippine archipelago but also over Marianas Islands and Guam. After my sponsorship speech, I was besieged by the media for interviews because of the novelty of what I divulged based on much research and scrutiny. Questions centered on the strategic location of Marianas Islands and Guam for defense purposes (it was Cold War at the time). I was on TV newscast that night and in the front page of national dailies the following day. I was baffled and bewildered at the attention given to my maiden speech. It was just work about which I did the utmost. I felt humbled.

Association with the National Territory committee was a great learning experience. That was where I listened mesmerized at the revelations of the regal and intellectual Princess Tarhata Kiram in support of our legal claim over Sabah. That was also where I came to feel first-hand the international-law concept of acquisition of a territory by discovery when Philippine Maritime Institute’s lawyer Tomas Cloma (Manila press dubbed him “Admiral’) spoke before us in executive session about his discovery of Freedomland (now Kalayaan) in the South China Sea. Best of all, my decision to join the wonderful world of diplomatic service sometime later in my journey through life could only have flowed from my frequent talks with Chairman Delegate Quintero, a career diplomat.

An add-on to my committees was the Committee on General Provisions referred to by some as the “miscellaneous” or “dumping ground” committee. Resolutions that cannot be accommodated in well defined or delineated committees were assigned to this one. Among such resolutions were those on arts and culture, science and technology, sports, population and divorce. The latter gave me a bit of “notoriety.”

Some delegates, aware of the many unsuccessful attempts in the past to legalize divorce in the Philippines, thought of a constitutional provision as a last resort. Considering the number of resolutions filed to legalize divorce, the Committee on General Provisions decided to create a special sub-committee to handle the divorce proposals. Problem was, not one among the married sub-committee members could be convinced to accept the chairmanship on the pretext that the wife will not like it. So it was thrown on the lap of the lone unmarried member. That was me. I reluctantly agreed not realizing the many consequences of such chairmanship.
For awhile, we were working quietly in the sub-committee until an elderly American Jesuit priest got invited as a resource person and pronounced the now-often-quoted “When love dies, something essential has died in marriage.” The media immediately grabbed the statement and in the course of a short time, got wind that the chairperson is a bachelor. That started the “roller coaster” of media interviews, which extended to TV debates, guesting in school programs, Rotary meetings and I recall, even TV game shows one of which was hosted by Boots Anson-Roa. I even landed in a magazine interview for their weekly choice of “Bachelors-at-Large” feature. They were not idealizing me. They were just curious about the bachelor chairman. In a way, my father who abhorred politics, was correct. The brief exposure was my “Tawag ng Tanghalan.”

As a counter-measure, I rushed the meetings on the divorce resolutions, handed the sub-committee report to the mother committee, put to a vote and expectedly lost. Divorce has no place in the Constitution was the verdict of majority. In short, divorce was “killed” at the committee level. Forty-six years after the Con-Con, the Philippines remains one of the two states in the world that is steadfast in its resolve not to have it in the legal system. The other is The Vatican.

I also remember I campaigned on a platform of People’s Power at a time when the catch-phrase was still unknown. Good I saved a copy of my campaign leaflet to prove my early call to people’s power via constitutional provision. Listed are referendum, recall, free access to information of general concern, among others. To date, those procedures, while already incorporated in the fundamental law leave much to be desired in regard to implementation. And, reflecting on the day-to-day happenings at the Con-Con, I would like to share the following few points: (i) The mandate for a Constitutional Convention or a Constituent Assembly should clearly state whether the task is to completely change the existing Constitution or to amend only identified provisions; (ii) The length of time for the task should be clearly stated; (ii) The topic on prohibition of political dynasties should be spelled out in detail in the Constitution itself to guide and ensure effective implementation instead of leaving details to “as may be provided by law;” and (iv) Barangay (villages) should be tapped at Constitution information, awareness, education and public participation.

Of all the invocations delivered daily in the halls of the Convention, my favorite is the one by Delegate Tingson on “nothing is politically right that is morally wrong” or something to that effect. That theme firmed up my resolve about decision vote. Thenceforth, the aspect of representation I kept and gave me much peace after each voting on issues was conscience vote. When my constituents brought me to the forum, it is my conscience I should follow as it is impossible to accommodate all their wishes with my one vote. That is the essence of representation and I live by that vote. Needless to say, while the elective post carries with it all kinds of honor and prestige, it also carries enormous responsibility.

I was 28 during the inaugural of Con-Con and 30 when it finally adjourned. Outward I looked 30. But inward I aged by 20 years. I felt 50 when it ended. The Con-Con along with some “come and go” personal experiences had a tremendous effect on me. It hastened my maturation. I felt very mature in outlook and making decisions unlike before. It was a fleeting moment in politics. I enjoyed and learned a lot by it–but it’s not the only thing I wanted to do. I want to go out and grow in other areas. Very important for me though are the friendships that blossomed and developed out of my short stint as an elected public official. I could sum it all by saying the Con-Con colleagues had become BFFs (best friends forever). On the lighter side, what is the similarity between work at the Con-Con and foreign service ?.. One ends up with lots of photographs and indelible memories!

The author is a professor, diplomat and a pioneer in the field of environmental law.


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