PNoy’s 63rd birth anniversary today; fidelity to Constitution was hallmark of his presidency

Today marks the 63rd birth anniversary of Benigno S. Aquino III, 15th President of the Republic of the Philippines. PNoy, as he preferred to be called, passed away on June 24, 2021, amid a still-rampant coronavirus pandemic.

Feb. 8 used to be observed as Philippine Constitution Day as it was the day in 1935 that the constitutional convention of 1934 finished its work. The convention’s mandate was to pave the way for the eventual proclamation of Philippine independence that finally took place on July 4, 1946 following the end of the Second World War.

Presently, Constitution Day is observed on Feb. 2, as it was on that day in 1987 that the present Philippine Constitution was officially ratified by the Filipino people in a plebiscite. The ratification completed the restoration of constitutional government in the country in the aftermath of the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution that toppled the dictatorship.

The late President — who was the son of Corazon Aquino, our 11th President, and the late Senator Benigno S. Aquino, Jr., whose assassination in 1983 sparked People Power — is known to have kept a well-worn copy of the Philippine Constitution on his desk so he could refer to it whenever important decisions or policies were being considered. This stands to reason, as the presidential oath states:

“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully and conscientiously fulfill my duties as President of the Philippines, preserve and defend its Constitution, execute its laws, do justice to every man, and consecrate myself to the service of the Nation.”

Among the hallmarks of his deportment as President was to emphasize respect for the Constitution and for the rule of law. On July 1, 2014, the Supreme Court struck down as being “unconstitutional” his administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) on expediting release of budget allocations for priority national projects. He withheld comment and spoke on the matter only on July 14, 2014 — devoting two full weeks to a thorough study of the decision and its implications.

On appeal, the Court acknowledged the beneficial results of the DAP while ruling that certain acts under it may be legally infirm. The Court extended the application of the doctrine of operative fact to the proponents and implementors of the DAP; it affirmed that “the authors, proponents and implementors of the DAP, being public officers, further enjoy the presumption of regularity in the performance of their functions.” (SC, 2014).

Belief in the primacy of the rule of law prompted him to bring the Philippines’ issues with China to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, that upheld most of the country’s submissions, thereby affirming that “Right is might.”

Aside from fidelity to the Constitution and respect for the rule of law, his twin mantras —“Kayo ang boss ‘ko” and “Walang wang wang” (“You are my bosses; ban on use of sirens by government vehicles) — were manifestations of humility that endeared him to the Filipino masses.