President Rodrigo Duterte during the 2019 State of the Nation Address at the Batasang Pambansa (Presidential Photo)

MANILA – Filipinos who were born during the 1972-1981 martial law years and after the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution may be interested to know that the Philippine Congress used to open on the fourth Monday of January, instead of July like at present.

This was because the 1935 Constitution, in its Section 9, Article VI (Legislative Department), carried this provision:

"The Congress shall convene in regular session once every year on the fourth Monday of January unless a different date is fixed by law. It may be called in special session at any time by the President to consider general legislation or only such subjects as he may designate. No special session shall continue longer than 30 days and no regular session longer than 100 days, exclusive of Sundays."

This meant that the country's lawmakers from the time of the late Philippine Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon (1935-1944) had to hold their sessions within 100 calendar days from the last week of January until the end of May or early June (except during the disruption of World War II) until September 1972 when then-President Ferdinand E. Marcos (Dec. 30, 1965-Feb. 25, 1986) issued Proclamation No. 1081 that placed the entire country under military rule.

Like today, the Senate, under the 1935 Constitution, was composed of 24 senators elected nationwide, but the House of Representatives had only 120 members chosen by voters in congressional districts, cities and provinces at that time.

Under the 1935 Constitution, the terms of office of the elected officials began on Dec. 30 following the election.

In the aftermath of martial law, the terms of the senators and congressmen, supposed to end in December 1973, were cut short, leading to the common belief that Marcos had actually abolished Congress.

This was denied by Marcos in his "Notes on the New Society of the Philippines" as quoted in the book "Foundation of Freedom: A History of Philippine Congresses" written by veteran author and editor Jose P. Abletez.

"The claim that I abolished the old Philippine Congress under the Constitution of 1935 is without basis in fact. I proclaimed Martial Law on September 21, 1972. On this date, the Congress of the Philippines continued to meet in session but was adjourned for the year. It was supposed to resume its session on the fourth Monday of January 1973. The fourth Monday usually falls on the 24th or 25th of the month.

"On January 17, 1973, however, the 1973 Constitution provided for a parliamentary system of government and created the Interim National Assembly and this abolished the old Congress of the Philippines operating under the Constitution of 1935. Accordingly, there was no need for any authority or person, much less the president, to act to bring about elimination of the Philippine Congress. The people of the Philippines had already taken final action. The old Congress had lapsed into unexistence with the Constitution of 1973."

With the promulgation of the 1973 Constitution on Jan. 17 of that year and the shift of the Philippine governmental system to parliamentary, the legislative power was vested in a National Assembly.

Consequently, Section 5, Article VIII (The National Assembly) of the 1973 Constitution moved the date of the country's elections to the second Monday of May and every six years thereafter, with the terms of office to start at noon of June 30 following the election. The opening of the Assembly was set for the fourth Monday of July

The 1987 Constitution ratified by the Filipino voters on Feb. 2, 1987, or during the administration of the late President Corazon C. Aquino, dissolved the National Assembly and restored the old setup of the Philippine Congress.

The 34-year-old present Constitution retained the provisions of the 1973 Charter on the holding of elections on the second Monday of May, beginning of terms of elected officials on June 30, and the opening of Congress on the fourth Monday of July. (PNA)