[OPINION] The ‘Siopao Constitution’ of Ferdinand Marcos

I was preparing for a lecture when I came across an article written in 2018. It featured an interview with former Senator Rene Saguisag, who warned how the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has a strong influence in Congress, poses a threat to our democracy . While explaining how such influence may result in the making of another Siopao Constitution, my attention was caught by this term he used: “Siopao Constitution.”

It brought me back to my college days when my fellow UP students founded a satirical religion called the Church of the Quantum Siopao. This “Church” was founded as a protest of their perception that the university violated the constitutional provision on the separation of the church and state by allowing Catholic relics to be displayed around the school premises. Its disciples, the Siopaoists, demanded that the image of the Almighty Quantum Siopao be displayed around the campus for equality of representation, arguing that if UP, a government institution, would allow one religion to display their religious relic in campus, it should also allow relics from all other religions to be displayed as well – that, or none at all. In essence, it is a local version of Pastafarianism – the satirical belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster as the identity of the divine. Right now, however, I want to focus on siopao.

Going back to what Saguisag said, I wondered: is this Siopao Constitution also a form of protest? Upon searching, I learned that this pertains to the 1973 Constitution. I know that the 1973 Constitution is often regarded as the Marcos Constitution. This is because it was drafted and ratified during the Martial Law era. It being called the Siopao Constitution is something new to me. A consequence of a generation gap, perhaps?

For the benefit of those who belong to the younger, post-Martial Law generations like me, this is what I’ve learned from a little digging: the 1973 Constitution was surrounded by several scandals.

First, while it was being drafted, some members of the Constitutional Convention (those who are tasked to draft the 1973 Constitution) such as Teodoro Locsin and Rama Napoleon were arrested and removed from the Convention. It was done immediately after the entire Philippines was placed under Martial Law. According to his critics, these arrests were Marcos’ way of silencing his detractors and furthering his personal political agenda. Afterwards, the public perceived the 1973 Constitution as the Marcos Constitution – a self-serving Constitution instead of a reflection of the will of the supposedly sovereign people.

Second, after the draft was ready for a special plebiscite, Marcos issued Presidential Decree No. 86. This decree called for the cancellation of the said plebiscite and replaced it with what were called Barangays’ Citizens’ Assemblies. So, instead of voting for or against the proposed Constitution by casting one’s vote via secret ballot (which was the standard of voting until that point), Marcos called for a convention where attendees were asked to vote out their votes in the public. This can be construed as: those who refuse to cooperate with what Marcos wants can be identified and punished accordingly. Also, to secure the “yes” votes, attendees were asked “SINO ANG GUSTO NG SIOPAO?” and a raised hand was counted as a vote cast in favor of the Constitution. In some barangays, the siopao was offered with a drink – “SINO ANG GUSTO NG SIOPAO AT COKE?” It was, to use today’s language, a scam.

After the ouster of the dictator, the 1986 Constitutional Commissioners tasked with the drafting of the 1987 Constitution were deliberating on whether literacy – or the ability to read and write – should be required as a requirement to the exercise of the right to vote. At this time, the concept of a Siopao Constitution came to light again.

The principal advocate for restoring the literacy requirement was Commissioner Napoleon Rama. He argued that “for a strong electoral system, what was needed was not numbers but the intelligence of voters.” He made the experiences related to the ratification of the 1973 “Siopao” Constitution as an illustration of how the illiterates were exploited by deceitful politicians, and that they were used for the perpetration of various types of election fraud.

In disagreement, however, Commissioner Fr. Joaquin Bernas explained that depriving the illiterates of voting will only aggravate their situation since their voices will not be heard. Furthermore, the inclusion of the illiterates in the voting population is essential since the representatives who are being voted upon must be able to say that they are also “representing even the illiterates.”

Our present Constitution states that “No literacy, property, or other substantive requirement shall be imposed on the exercise of suffrage (Section 1, Article V, 1987 Constitution).” We know, therefore, that Fr. Bernas’ side won that debate.

Decades after the ratification of our current Constitution – after we have elected a movie star-president, as well as severalsenators, congressmen, and mayors whose well-known qualifications were that they were actors, athletes, sons and daughters of a dictator, ex -convicts, the latest representative of political families, good-looking, among others – the stance of Commissioner Rama on restoring the literacy requirement rings loudly, especially to those who have deemed themselves as the educated voters as opposed to the bobotante [bobo (stupid) + botante (voter)].

The term bobotante became louder after the 2019 senatorial election outcome was revealed. The Hugpong ng Pagbabago won overwhelmingly, while the main opposition coalition, Otso Diretso, failed to obtain at least a seat in the Senate. The well-educated lawyer-senatoriables were beaten by the good-looking ex-convict ex-movie star, along with newbie candidates who have no record of public service whatsoever.

Prior to the actual election, mock election results from top universities showed that the senatorial candidates who were more accomplished (educated, coming from prestigious universities, known for public service, lawyers, etc.) were preferred by this voting population considered as educated and discerning . On the other hand, we have news interviews and videos posted on social media featuring the masses who are claiming that they will vote for a certain candidate because “ang gwapo!” and “ang galing gumiling.”

Why did the more successful candidates lose against their less competent counterparts? It’s easier to pin the blame on the bobotante – the masses that comprise the majority of the voting population. However, should we?

The right to vote is considered as the ultimate expression of democracy because it allows people to personally take a stand for or against what they deem as representative of their interests and ideals. The problem, however, is that not every Filipino can comprehend nor appreciate the spirit of this right they are given. Worse, the uneducated population is being taken advantage of by dirty politicians who would rather offer them stronger substitutes to the siopao instead of strong credentials.

Campaign rallies and motorcades are conducted not for the masses to get to know the qualifications of the candidates, but to provide them with entertainment (aside from free shirts and other “gifts”). Rather than addressing their real concerns, the masses are distracted by hired artists who would sing and dance for them so that they can no longer think about asking the respective candidates platforms. To make matters worse, we have candidates who are considered as educated and accomplished joining this bandwagon.

With the 2022 election looming around the corner, having a large proportion of our population enticed by the siopao in its modern forms will do us nothing good. It will only maintain an electorate that is asadong-asado and bolang-bola. – Rappler.com

Minami O. Iwayama is a graduate of BA and MA Sociology from the University of the Philippines and is currently taking her Juris Doctor degree. She is a Lecturer at the Ateneo de Manila University and an Assistant Professor at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

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