- 1st Congress of the Commonwealth of the Philippines
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The First Congress of the Commonwealth of the Philippines (Filipino: Unang Kongreso ng Komenwelt ng Pilipinas) , also known as the "Postwar Congress" and the "Liberation Congress", refers to the meeting of the bicameral legislature composed of the Senate and House of Representatives, from 1945 to 1946. This Congress convened only after the reestablishment of the Commonwealth Government in 1945 when President Sergio Osmeña called it to five special sessions. Osmeña had replaced Manuel L. Quezon as president after the former died in exile in the United States in 1944.
Significance of the First Commonwealth Congress
Not much has been written about the First Commonwealth Congress, despite its historical and political significance. This owes mainly to the briefness of its existence (i.e., less than a year). However, the First Commonwealth Congress was significant in at least two key respects:
First, it brought an end the president's exercise of legislative powers under the wartime emergency act passed by the defunct National Assembly in 1941. The opening of Congress in 1945 allowed democratically elected representatives to pass legislation, especially to deal with the Philippines' postwar problems. It also provided an institutional check against executive power, including the presidential power to appoint top officials of the (postwar) government and appropriate funds for its operations.
Second, the First Commonwealth Congress served as a well spring of political leaders for the soon-to-be independent Republic of the Philippines. The division within the monolithic Nacionalista Party of Quezon that led to the birth of the Liberal Party and the two-party system can be directly traced to the politics of the First Commonwealth Congress. Three Philippine presidents, Manuel Roxas, Elpidio Quirino and Carlos P. Garcia were members of this Congress, as were postwar political party leaders like Senate President Eulogio Rodriguez, Speaker Eugenio Perez, Senator Jose E. Romero and Senator Melecio Arranz. The patron-client orientation of the two-party system evolved in part from the resource constraints faced by members of the Congress right after the war.
Background: The Outbreak of World War II
Through the most part of the term of the Second National Assembly (1938–1941), the First Congress' immediate predecessor, international conflicts that led to World War II began to take shape. As early as 1940, the National Assembly already declared a state of national emergency to address the escalating emergency conditions of the times. It gave Philippine President Manuel L. Quezon extensive emergency powers to meet the worsening conditions. All preparations culminated when Japan attacked the Philippines a few hours after bombing Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941. The National Assembly lost no time in enacting substantive legislations, diverting all remaining funds for national defense purposes, and declaring a state of total emergency. It furthered the broad emergency powers already granted to the President, such as the transfer of the seat of government and the extension of the effectivity of lapsing laws.
In its last act as a legislative body, the National Assembly certified the results of the November 1941 elections where Quezon and Osmeña were re-elected as president and vice president, respectively, along with the legislators who were to compose the First Commonwealth Congress. The Congress replaced the unicameral National Assembly as the legislative branch of government. It was due to meet for the first time in January 1942 had the war not intervene.
Due to the transfer of the Philippine Government to Washington, D.C. in 1942, and the three-year occupation (1942–1945) of the Philippines by Japanese forces, the First Congress could not be convened. In its place, the Japanese formed a puppet National Assembly that passed laws dictated by the Japanese Imperial Government in Tokyo.
The Japanese-sponsored Philippine Republic, under José P. Laurel as president, ended in late February 1945 when the Philippines was liberated by the returning American forces in the Pacific.
Reestablishment of Commonwealth Government
Upon the reestablishment of the Philippine Commonwealth in Manila in 1945, General Douglas MacArthur exerted political pressure on President Sergio Osmeña to convene Congress in formal session. Osmeña was reluctant to do so not only because of the huge expense associated with the functioning of Congress, but more so because he feared that its two houses would be controlled by legislators who had collaborated with the Japanese when the Philippine Government was on exile in Washington, D.C.
On May 24, 1945, Osmeña offered Roxas the position of Resident Commissioner to the U.S. Roxas by then was known to be actively seeking the right opportunity to launch his presidential ambition with the backing of General Douglas MacArthur, Quezon's former military adviser and considered as the "Liberator of the Philippines." Two days later, Roxas declined Osmeña's offer and instead asked his supporters to announce his candidacy for president at a time when there was no designated date to hold a national election. The First Commonwealth Congress thus provided the vehicle for Roxas' primacy in Philippine postwar politics and government. It also paved the way for the permanent division of the old Nacionalista Party into two warring factions. Its so-called Liberal Wing or faction (later Liberal Party) nominated Roxas for the presidency in 1946.
The First Commonwealth Congress Convened
In late May 1945, President Osmeña was persuaded to call the First Commonwealth Congress to special session in order to tackle the most pressing issues of postwar rehabilitation and regain constitutional normalcy. Regular sessions could not be held by then, as the Constitution provided that these should take place for 100 days beginning on the fourth Monday of January of each year.
With the old Legislative Building in ruins, the First Commonwealth Congress met in a former Japanese schoolhouse located at 949 Lepanto Street, Manila, beside the headquarters of Gota de Leche. Most senators and congressmen could not hold office there due to limited space and facilities, which were alloted to the officers of the two chambers and the congressional staff. The Senate and the House of Representatives shared the same session hall (the school's former auditorium), with the House meeting in the morning and the Senate using the hall in the evening. The Senate eventually took temporary quarters in the badly damaged Manila City Hall in May 1946. The House remained at Lepanto Street until it moved, with the Senate, to the newly rebuilt Congress building in 1950.
At the first special session of Congress on June 9, 1945, Senators Manuel Roxas and Elpidio Quirino were elected as Senate President and Senate President Pro-Tempore, respectively. The House of Representatives elected for its Speaker Iloilo Rep. Jose C. Zulueta and for Speaker Pro-Tempore, Pangasinan Rep. Prospero Sanidad. Only 16 out of 24 senators and 75 of 98 congressmen, who were elected in 1941, attended the five special sessions called by the President. In the Senate alone, Senator Daniel Maramba had died of natural causes immediately before the outbreak of World War II. Senator Jose Ozamiz was executed by the Japanese. Senators Antonio de las Alas, Vicente Madrigal, Quintin Paredes, Claro M. Recto, Proceso E. Sebastian, Emiliano T. Tirona and Jose Yulo were arrested by the US Army's Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC) because they had worked in various capacities under the Japanese-sponsored Philippine Government. Alas, Madrigal, Paredes, Recto, Sebastian, Tirona and Yulo had been part of Laurel's Cabinet. The Senate held a lottery to determine who among its members would serve up to April 1946 and November 1947, since senators serve staggered terms under the Constitution.
The First Commonwealth Congress initially convened with 13 senators and 70 congressmen. Three more senators reported and five congressmen joined their colleagues in later sessions. Among the members of the First Commonwealth Congress was Representative Elisa Ochoa from Agusan, the first woman ever elected to the Philippine national legislature.
The two chambers of Congress assembled in joint session in the afternoon of June 9, 1945 to hear President Osmeña deliver his state of the nation address (photo above left). Osmeña expectedly dealt with several proposed legislation to rebuild the financial infrastructure of the Philippines and restore government institutions. He also tried to address issues concerning the terms of office of officials elected in 1941 just before the Japanese invasion.Because of the severe damage caused to property by the war, the legislators who were hurriedly called to Manila in June 1945, including Roxas and Quirino, had no appropriate attire for the congressional sessions other than their army khaki uniforms. President Osmeña ordered two pairs of sharkskin suits to be purchased by the government for each of the legislators around the time of the opening of Congress.
A few foreign dignitaries also addressed the joint session in the next six months. This included U.S. High Commissioner Paul V. McNutt and General MacArthur who received a commendation from the Congress. In his memorable address before its joint session on July 9, 1945 (left photo), MacArthur said:
"Since the beginning of the time men have crusaded for freedom and for equality. It was this passion for liberty which inspired the architects of my own government to proclaim so immutably and so beautifully that 'all men are created equal' and 'that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights � that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.' On such rights rest our basic concept of human freedom, in defense of which we have fought and still continue to fight on the battle fields of the world. These rights are the very antithesis to the totalitarian doctrine which seeks to regiment the people and control the human will as the price for presumed efficiency in government."
Accomplishments and Controversies
The First Commonwealth Congress passed a total of 48 laws in five special sessions: Commonwealth Act Nos. 672 to 720.
Heeding Osmeña's urgent call during the opening session of Congress, the first legislative measure it enacted was Commonwealth Act No. 672 which restored the Philippine National Bank and organized its financial capital. The viability of the Philippine National Bank was critical to the resuscitation of the Philippine Commonwealth after the war.
One major financial legislation passed by Congress stirred controversy in the U.S. and was eventually vetoed by President Harry Truman despite its approval by Presiden Osmeña. Commonwealth House Bill No. 647 (Senate Bill No. 51), titled "An Act Governing the Payment of Monetary Obligations Incurred or Contracted Prior to and During the Japanese Invasion of the Philippines and for Other Purposes", was passed by both houses of Congress on the last day of its last session, December 20, 1945. It was signed into law by President Osmeña on January 18, 1946. The law provided for the validation of payments made in Japanese "mickey mouse" money during the period of enemy occupation. However, U.S. High Commissioner McNutt objected to it and asked Truman to exercise his final veto on this currency measure. President Truman's accompanying veto letter explained his disapproval, to wit:
"The Commonwealth Act which I am now disapproving would give legal approval to transactions and payments made under the brutal Japanese regime, without regard for the actual value of the Japanese-backed currency in which such payments were made. It would give official sanction to acts by Japanese officials in forcing the liquidation of businesses and accounts of loyal Filipinos, Americans, and allies who were imprisoned by the Japanese. It would have a most harmful effect on the Philippine financial structure which it is our hope and desire to see strengthened in preparation for independence. It would work to the benefit of persons who did business with and under the Japanese to the prejudice of those who were loyal both to the Philippine Commonwealth and to the United States Government."
The First Commonwealth Congress also tackled the contentious and divisive issue of Filipino collaboration with the Japanese. Osmeña had proposed a bill to set up a special court for this purpose. Roxas initially objected to it, fearing the loss of critical support from his political allies who were accused of, or imprisoned for, collaboration. After extensive congressional debates, legislation was passed in August 1945 creating the People's Court and the Office of Special Prosecutors to investigate and decide on collaboration charges on an individual basis. In September 1945, the CIC presented the Filipinos who were accused of having collaborated with, or given aid to, the Japanese so that they may be tried before the People's Court. Included were prominent senators and congressmen who had been active in the puppet government under Laurel. These legislators were unable to attend the five special sessions of the First Commownealth Congress.
The collaboration issue continued to haunt Congress. Another currency-related legislation passed by the First Commonwealth Congress was held up for a few weeks at the White House before President Truman signed it into law in November 1945. As Truman noted in his letter to President Osmeña, his approval of the original House Bill No. 176, which provides for a reduction of the required gold coverage of Philippine currency, has been delayed "due to the fact that there have been persistent charges that a sizable fraction of the Members of the Philippine Congress had been guilty of collaboration with the enemy, and I have not wanted my approval of the act to be distorted into approval of collaboration."
The so-called Backpay Law of 1945 turned out to be the most controversial measure passed by the postwar Congress. The law authorized the Philippine Treasury, which was already financially crippled, to pay back salaries and wages to members of Congress and their staff to cover the three years of Japanese occupuation. In effect, the Backpay Law compensated the legislators for service that they never rendered during the war years. The passage of this measure was met with public indignation. It led to a political backlash and many members of Congress lost their seats during the national elections held in April 1946.
The rivalry between Osmeña and Roxas intensified in the Commission on Appointments—a congressional body, consisting of 12 senators and 12 congressmen, which was responsible for confirming presidential nominations. The Commission was chaired by Roxas himself as senate president. In that powerful position, Roxas managed to sit on (bypass) the nominations of some of Osmeña's most important political advisers and supporters. The Commission also confirmed Osmeña's nominations for chief justice and associate justices of the Supreme Court, except for one, Justice Jose A. Espiritu, whose credentials were questioned before the Commission. Espiritu became ths shortest-serving member of the Supreme Court. He returned as dean of the U.P. College of Law in September 1945, after serving in an ad interim capacity as associate justice for only two months.
The heat of presidential politics had also divided loyalties in the postwar Congress, where its members failed to decide on the date of elections for president, vice-president, 16 senators and 98 congressmen. President Osmeña thus requested the U.S. Congress to intervene and set the date of the first post-war elections. The U.S. Congress, in a joint resolution issued in November 1945, called for national elections to take place no later than April 30, 1946 and for the Second Congress to convene not later than May 28, 1946. On January 4, 1946, the First Commonwealth Congress met for the last time to discuss the April 1946 presidential elections—the first since 1941.
The 1946 elections catapulted the newly formed Liberal Party to power for the first time. Senate President Roxas and Senate President Pro Tempore Quirino were respectively elected as first President and Vice-President of the Republic of the Philippines, which gained independence from the U.S. on July 4, 1946. Erswhile Senate Floor Leader Melecio Arranz became President Pro Tempore of the Senate, while House of Representatives Majority Leader Eugenio Perez became its Speaker when the new Congress convened in May 1946. Speaker Zulueta, on the other hand, joined the Roxas Cabinet as Secretary of the Interior and later ran and won as senator. Many other members of the First Commonwealth Congress held top positions in the newly born republic.
Other Vital Legislation
- Commonwealth Act No. 672 – Restoration of the Capital of the Philippine National Bank
- Commonwealth Act No. 675 – Immediate Payment of the Salaries of Deceased Filipino Soldiers Including Recognized Guerrillas
- Commonwealth Act No. 676 – Authorization of the Advance Bonus Payment for the Three-Month Salaries of Government Officials and Employees
- Commonwealth Act No. 681 – Rehabilitation of the Philippine Anti-Tuberculosis Society
- Commonwealth Act No. 685 – Rehabilitation of the Quezon Institute
- Commonwealth Act No. 686 – Advance Bonus to Public School Teachers and Low-Salaried Government Employees
- Commonwealth Act No. 689 – Creation of the Philippine Relief and Rehabilitation Administration
- Commonwealth Act No. 710 – Appropriations for the Payment of Pensions of Retired Government Personnel
- Commonwealth Act No. 714 – Appropriations for the Payment of Pensions of Retired Philippine Constabulary Personnel
- Commonwealth Act No. 716 – Penalization of Illegal Increase of Rentals
- First Special Session: June 9 – July 13, 1945
- Second Special Session: August 14 – September 17, 1945
- Third Special Session: September 22 – October 2, 1945
- Fourth Special Session: November – December 2, 1945
- Fifth Special Session: December 14 – December 20, 1945
Leadership of the First Commonwealth Congress
- President of the Senate:
- Senate President Pro-Tempore:
- Majority Floor Leader:
- Melecio Arranz (NP)
House of Representatives
- Speaker of the House of Representatives:
- Speaker Pro-Tempore:
- Majority Floor Leader:
First to Fifth Special Session Senator Partya Term Start Term End Antonio de las Alas 4 NP 1941 1946 Alauya Alonto NP 1941 1947 Melecio Arranz NP 1941 1946 Nicolas Buendia NP 1941 1946 Mariano Jesus Cuenco NP 1941 1946 Ramon J. Fernandez NP 1941 1946 Carlos P. Garcia NP 1941 1946 Pedro C. Hernaez NP 1941 1947 Domingo Imperial NP 1941 1946 Vicente Madrigral 4 NP 1941 1947 Daniel Maramba3 NP 1941 1946 Jose F. Ozamiz3 NP 1941 1946 Quintin Paredes 4 NP 1941 1946 Elpidio Quirino 2 NP 1941 1946 Vicente Rama NP 1941 1947 Esteban dela Rama NP 1941 1947 Claro M. Recto 4 NP 1941 1947 Eulogio A. Rodriguez, Sr. 4 NP 1941 1947 Manuel Roxas 1 NP 1941 1946 Proceso E. Sebastian 4 NP 1941 1947 Emiliano T. Tirona 4 NP 1941 1947 Ramon Torres NP 1941 1946 Jose Yulo 4 NP 1941 1946
- ^a Party affiliation at the time of the convening of Congress.
- NP – Nacionalista Party
- ^1 Manuel Roxas was elected as the Last President of the Commonwealth Republic in the 1946 Elections.
- ^2 Elpidio Quirino were elected as the Last Vice-President of the Commonwealth Republic in the 1946 Elections.
- ^3 Daniel Maramba died on December 28, 1941 and Jose Ozamiz was executed on February 11, 1944 during the war.
- ^4 The following were detained because of collaboration charges with the Japanese: Antonio de las Alas, Vicente Madrigal, Quintin Paredes,
Claro M. Recto, Proceso E. Sebastian, Emiliano Tria Tirona, Jose Yulo.
House of Representatives
Province District Representativea Abra Lone Jesus Paredes Agusan Lone Elisa R. Ochoa Albay 1st Isabelo V. Binamira 2nd Jose S. Valenciano 3rd Marcial O. Rañola Antique Lone Emigdio Nietes Bataan Lone Antonio G. Llamas Batanes Lone Vicente Agan Batangas 1st Miguel Tolentino 2nd Eusebio Orense 3rd José B. Laurel, Jr. Bohol 1st Genaro Visarra 2nd Simeon G. Toribio 3rd Margarito E. Revilles Bukidnon Lone Manuel Fortich Bulacan 1st Leon Valencia 2nd Antonio Villarama Cagayan 1st Nicanor Carag 2nd Miguel P. Pio Camarines Norte Lone Wenceslao Q. Vinzons 1 Camarines Sur 1st Jaime M. Reyes 2nd Jose Fuentebella Capiz 1st Ramon A. Arnaldo 2nd Jose A. Dorado 3rd Jose M. Reyes Cavite Lone Justiniano S. Montano Cebu 1st Celestino Rodriguez 2nd Pedro Lopez 3rd Maximino Noel 4th Agustin Y. Kintanar 5th Miguel Cuenco 6th Nicolas Rafols 7th Jose Rodriguez Cotabato Lone Ugalingan Piang Davao Lone Juan Sarenas Ilocos Norte 1st Vicente T. Lazo 2nd Rubio Conrado Ilocos Sur 1st Jesus Serrano 2nd Prospero Sanidad Iloilo 1st Jose C. Zulueta 2nd Oscar Ledesma 3rd Tiburcio Lutero 4th Ceferino de los Santos 5th Juan Borra Isabela Lone Lino J. Castillejos La Union 1st Francisco Ortega 2nd Enrique Rimando Laguna 1st Conrado M. Potenciano 2nd Estanislao A. Fernandez, Jr. Lanao Lone Salvador T. Lluch Leyte 1st Mateo Canonoy 2nd Dominador M. Tan 3rd Tomas Oppus 4th Filomeno Montejo 5th Jose Ma. Veloso Manila 1st Engracio Clemeña 2nd Alfonso E. Mendoza Marinduque Lone Cecilio A. Maneja Masbate Lone Emilio B. Espinosa Mindoro Lone Raúl T. Leuterio Misamis Occidental Lone Eugenio Stuart Del Rosario Misamis Oriental Lone Jose Artadi Mountain Province 1st George K. Tait 2nd Ramon P. Mitra 3rd Gregorio Morrero Negros Occidental 1st Enrique B. Magalona 2nd Aguedo Gonzaga 3rd Raymundo Vargas Negros Oriental 1st Julian L. Teves 2nd Jose E. Romero Nueva Ecija 1st Jose Cando 2nd Gabriel Belmonte Nueva Vizcaya Lone Leon Cabarroguis Palawan Lone Sofronio Española Pampanga 1st Eligio Lagman 2nd Jose P. Fausto Pangasinan 1st Jose P. Bengson 2nd Eugenio Perez 3rd Pascual Beltran 4th Cipriano P. Primicias, Sr. 5th Narciso Ramos Rizal 1st Francisco Sevilla 2nd Emilio de la Paz Romblon Lone Leonardo Festin Samar 1st Decoroso Rosales 2nd Pedro R. Artache 3rd Felix Opimo Sorsogon 1st Norberto Roque 2nd Teodoro Vera Sulu Lone Ombra Amilbangsa Surigao Lone Ricardo Navarro Tarlac 1st Jose Cojuangco 2nd Benigno Aquino, Sr.2 Tayabas 1st Pedro Insua 2nd Francisco Lavides Zambales Lone Valentin Afable Zamboanga Lone Matias Ranillo
- ^a 75 out of the 98 elected representatives attended the Special Sessions of the First Commonwealth Congress. 11 had died since 1941, 31 held positions in the Japanese-sponsored government, of whom 17 were arrested and detained by the US Army's Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC).
- ^1 Executed on July 15, 1942 during the war.
- ^2 Detained by the US Army's Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC).
- ^ Araneta vs. Dinglasan, G.R. No. L-2044, August 26, 1949.
- ^ The Philippine Free Press Online - Emergency Powers. Accessed on April 16, 2007.
- ^ The Sunday Times - PP1017 is not at all similar to PP1081. Accessed on April 16, 2007
- ^ Lumontad vs. Cuenco, 41 Off. Gaz., 894.
- ^ Douglas MacArthur, Address before the Joint Session of the Congress of the Philippines, Manila, July 9, 1945
- ^ Statement by the President Upon Disapproving a Bill of the Philippine Congress, February 7, 1946, .
- ^ Commonwealth Act No. 682.
- ^ Letter of President Harry S. Truman to President Osmena of the Philippines Upon Approving a Bill of the Philippine Congress. November 14, 1945, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=12293.
- "List of Senators". Senate of the Philippines. Archived from the original on 2006-09-14. http://web.archive.org/web/20060914045431/http://www.senate.gov.ph/senators/senlist.htm. Retrieved 2006-09-16.
- "The LAWPHi'L Project - Philippine Laws and Jurispudance Databank". Arellano Law Foundation. http://www.lawphil.net. Retrieved 2006-09-16.
- Philippine House of Representatives Congressional Library
- The Presidents of the Senate of the Republic of the Philippines. ISBN 971-8832-24-6.
- Pobre, Cesar P.. Philippine Legislature 100 Years. ISBN 971-92245-0-9.
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