In three days, the 17th President of the Philippines, Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos, Jr., is taking his oath of office on the front steps of the National Gallery of Art. That is the very place where in 1935, the Philippine Commonwealth was inaugurated and Manuel L. Quezon sworn in as Philippine Commonwealth President. Jose P. Laurel was also sworn to office there in 1943 as President during the Japanese occupation and Manuel A. Roxas in 1946 when the Philippines became a republic.
The building was originally intended to be the National Library but from the time of its completion until 1972, it was where both House of Representatives and Senate held their sessions and where congressmen and senators held office.
Under the 1905 Burnham Plan, the Capitol was to be located at the Taft Avenue end of Rizal Park and the National Library was to be nearby, evidently following the pattern set in Washington D.C., where the Library of Congress is across from the Capitol. The thinking was that any branch of human knowledge might be the subject of legislation and legislative research.
Anyway, the building’s construction began in 1918 after the passage of the 1916 Jones Law that provided for a bicameral legislature consisting of a House of Representatives and a Senate. The former had been holding sessions at the Marble Hall of the Ayuntamiento Building while the latter was at the Intendencia Building. From 1907 until then, we had an elected Philippine Assembly and an appointive Philippine Commission, both holding sessions at the Ayuntamiento.
The national-library-building-to-be was promptly redesigned to provide for the legislature and was formally inaugurated on July 11, 1926 with the opening of the second regular session of the Seventh Philippine Legislature. The National Library was given part of the ground floor.
Housekeeping arrangements would have shifted over the years because we have switched from unicameral to bicameral and back several times.
The Tydings-McDuffie Act paved the way for independence with the establishment of the Commonwealth and the formulation of a constitution, the 1935 Constitution that established a unicameral National Assembly. A 1940 amendment, however, made the legislature bicameral once more, with a House of Representatives and a Senate. The Japanese took over from the Americans in 1941 and set up the Second Philippine Republic (the first one being the Republic under Emilio Aguinaldo) with a unicameral National Assembly.
The legislature again became bicameral after July 4, 1946 when the US left. This lasted until 1972 when President Marcos declared martial law and legislation was done by presidential decree. A new constitution had been approved by plebiscite in 1987 providing for a unicameral legislature and the Batasáng Pambansâ convened in 1978 with the official end of martial law. With EDSA I, however, Mrs. Corazon Aquino called for another constitutional convention under which the legislature again became bicameral.
The Legislative Building was almost totally destroyed in February 1945. It had been the Japanese military headquarters during the Battle of Manila and only the central part remained relatively undamaged. It was reconstructed and from 1950 until martial law abolished the legislature in 1972, the building accommodated the House and Senate session halls and offices of congressmen and senators.
The building consists of four floors—the ground floor entered from the rear, the main floor entered via the driveway on the building’s front façade, and two floors above it. The large room on the main floor with Luna’s Spoliarium was the House session hall. The high Senate session hall was on the third and fourth floors.
From 1968 to 1974, as UP assistant for finance and development under Presidents Carlos P. Romulo and S.P. Lopez and later as dean of the College of Business Administration, I was often there to attend budget hearings or to lobby for something or other. The building was a big, overcrowded mess and I often got sick after each visit.
The House Chamber was on the main floor, on the room where Luna’s Spoliarium is hung. On both sides were bleachers always filled with spectators and staff. The high Senate session hall had been split in two—the lower part above the House Chamber, i.e., on the third floor, was an office and the Senate held sessions on the upper part, i.e., on the fourth floor. Spectators (including me) were on the sides separated from the senators by a low railing.
There were 24 senators and 120 congressmen, each with maybe a dozen staff members and a contingent of waiting petitioners and hangers-on. They were crammed in the wings of the main, third and fourth floors. All had mezzanines and air conditioners spewing hot exhaust onto corridors. The less said about CRs, the better.
The late 1960s was a time of student and leftist activism. In the US, students took over places like U.C. Berkeley and Stanford University. Here, particularly during the so-called First Quarter Storm (Jan. 26 to March 17, 1970), there were almost daily protests at the US Embassy and Congress, i.e., at the Legislative Building. There was a super violent demonstration in January 1970 when President Marcos delivered his State of the Nation Address. President and Mrs. Marcos were almost trapped on leaving the building. Reportedly, that was when seeds were planted of the need to suspend the privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus and to declare martial law.
President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. will affirm, to the best of his ability and with the guidance of Divine Providence, to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the Philippines. He will do so in a place that has seen joy, prosperity, misery, and dissent. We all hope that his inauguration dispels the shadows of the past and the worries of the present and is the beginning of a truly progressive future.
Notes: (a) The title is from the Song of Solomon, ch2, v 16; and (b) In 1944, Sergio Osmena was sworn in as President in Washington, D.C. after Quezon died; Elpidio Quirino became President when Manuel A. Roxas passed away in 1948 and took his oath in Malacañang; Joseph Estrada chose Barasoain Church in Malolos for his 1998 swearing in. Other Presidents took their oath of office at Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park.
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