The Legislative Branch

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According to the 1987 Constitution, legislative power shall be vested in the Congress of the Philippines, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.

The Senate shall be composed of twenty-four Senators who shall be elected at large by the qualified voters of the Philippines, as may be provided by law; the House of Representatives shall be composed of not more than 250 (unless otherwise fixed by law), 20 percent of whom must be Party-list representatives.

The qualifications to become a senator, as stipulated in the constitution, are:

  1. a natural-born citizen of the Philippines;
  2. at least thirty-five years old;
  3. is able to read and write
  4. a registered voter; and
  5. a resident of the Philippines for not less than two years before election day.

Meanwhile, the constitution provides for the following criteria to become a member of the House of Representatives:

  1. a natural-born citizen of the Philippines;
  2. at least twenty-five years old;
  3. is able to read and write; and
  4. except the party-list representatives, a registered voter and a resident for at least one year in the district where s/he shall be elected.

Legislative process

Congress is responsible for making enabling laws to make sure the spirit of the constitution is upheld in the country and, at times, amend or change the constitution itself. In order to craft laws, the legislative body comes out with two main documents: bills and resolutions.

Resolutions convey principles and sentiments of the Senate or the House of Representatives. These resolutions can further be divided into three different elements:

  • joint resolutions — require the approval of both chambers of Congress and the signature of the President, and have the force and effect of a law if approved.
  • concurrent resolutions — used for matters affecting the operations of both chambers of Congress and must be approved in the same form by both houses, but are not transmitted to the President for his signature and therefore have no force and effect of a law.
  • simple resolutions — deal with matters entirely within the prerogative of one chamber of Congress, are not referred to the President for his signature, and therefore have no force and effect of a law.

Bills are laws in the making. They pass into law when they are approved by both houses and the President of the Philippines. A bill may be vetoed by the President, but the House of Representatives may overturn a presidential veto by garnering a 2/3rds vote. If the President does not act on a proposed law submitted by Congress, it will lapse into law after 30 days of receipt.



Prior to the creation of a legislature in the Philippines, Filipinos, from time to time, were allowed to sit in the Spanish Cortes as representatives of the Philippine Islands. In 1810, the Spanish government allowed Filipinos to receive Spanish citizenship and appropriate representation in the Cortes. When the Cadiz Constitution was in full force and effect, Filipino representation became a standard in the Cortes. However, in 1837, the liberal Cortes finally abolished representation and declared that overseas territories of Spain to be ruled by special laws. This loss of representation was one of the main points that Jose Rizal and other propagandists were fighting for during the Propaganda movement.


The first Filipino legislature was convened on September 15, 1898 in Barasoain Church, Malolos, Bulacan. Later known as the Malolos Republic, it drafted the first constitution of the Philippines, which was also the first democratic constitution in Asia. The Congress included delegates from different provinces of the Philippines, some elected and some appointed. It was a short-lived legislature, unable to pass any laws due to the onset of the Philippine-American War. The first Philippine Republic was ended on March 23, 1901 with the capture of President Emilio Aguinaldo in Palanan, Isabela.


In 1899, United States President William McKinley appointed a commission led by Dr. Jacob Schurman to study and investigate the conditions in the Philippine Islands. This would be known as the first Philippine Commission. It was followed by another investigative commission led by William Howard Taft in 1900, which also had limited legislative and executive powers. From 1901 onwards, the Philippine Commission would be regularized. It exercised both executive and legislative powers, with three Filipino delegates, namely Benito Legarda, Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, Jose Luzuriaga. After the organization of the Philippine Assembly (see below) in 1907, the commission stayed on as the upper house of the legislature.


Electoral representation in the Philippines by Filipinos began when the American insular government allowed partial self-governance by establishing the Philippine Assembly. The assembly, as the lower house, shared legislative power with the Philippine Commission, which remained under American control, as membership in the Philippine Commission was still restricted to appointed American officials. In 1907, still under American rule, the Philippines held its first national elections for the newly created representative body, which had an inaugural membership of 81 Filipinos representing their respective districts. In the succeeding years, the number of districts were increased to 85 in 1910, and 91 in 1912.


From 1907 to 1946, the Philippine legislature sent a representative to sit in the U.S. House of Representatives, as resident commissioner. Under Spain, the Philippines had also been given limited representation in the Spanish Cortes, and like the resident commissioners, they had the right to speak, but not to vote. The restoration of Philippine independence in 1946 ended Philippine representation in the U.S. Congress. (Note: To this day, Puerto Rico still has a resident commissioner in the U.S. House of Representatives.)


Upon the enactment of the Jones Law in 1916, the Filipinos were subsequently granted the opportunity to hold other offices in the government. Positions in the Philippine Senate were opened to Filipinos, with 12 senatorial districts and two senators elected from each. The inaugural President of the Senate in 1916 was Manuel L. Quezon, representing the fifth senatorial district. He would hold this position until the establishment of the Commonwealth of the Philippines in 1935. For the 19 years prior to the Commonwealth, the Senate presidency was the highest position a Filipino could hold.

From the first Philippine Commission to the establishment of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, the Philippine legislature were passing public acts. This form of legislation is started at Congress, with the approval of the American governor-general of the Philippine Islands.


On November 15, 1935, Quezon took his oath as the first President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, giving control of the executive branch of government to the Filipinos. It was also in this era that the Supreme Court of the Philippines was completely Filipinized. By virtue of the 1935 Constitution, the bicameral Philippine legislature was merged to form the unicameral National Assembly.

Two elections were held under the Commonwealth. The first, in 1935, elected the President of the Philippines as well as members of the National Assembly; the second, in 1939, elected only members of the National Assembly. The National Assembly would be retained until 1941, when a new structure for the legislature was introduced through a constitutional amendment.

From the Commonwealth period to the inauguration of the Third Philippine Republic, the Philippine legislature was passing Commonwealth acts (CA). This form of legislation is started at the National Assembly and approved by the President of the Philippines.


After six years under a unicameral legislature, the Constitution of 1935 was amended, dividing the National Assembly into two separate houses. The Senate of the Philippines and the House of Representatives were reestablished, with a Senate President and a Speaker of the House leading their respective chambers.

The elections for members of these newly created chambers were held in 1941. However, the onset of World War II prevented the elected members from assuming their posts and the legislature of the Commonwealth of the Philippines was dissolved upon the exile of the government of the Philippines.


On October 14, 1943, the Japanese-sponsored Second Republic was inaugurated, with Jose. P. Laurel as the President. This government followed the newly crafted 1943 Constitution, and reverted the legislature back to a unicameral National Assembly. The National Assembly of the Second Republic would remain in existence until the arrival of the Allied forces in 1944, which liberated the Philippines from the Imperial Japanese forces.


Upon the reestablishment of the Commonwealth in 1945, President Sergio Osmeña called for a special session of Congress. The first Congress convened on June 9 of that year, with most of the senators and representatives, who were elected in 1941, assuming their positions. Manuel Roxas and Jose C. Zulueta served as Senate President and Speaker of the House, respectively. Not all, however, were allowed to take their post because some were incarcerated for collaboration with the Japanese.

The inaugural session, was held in a converted school house in Lepanto St., Manila, as the Legislative Building in Manila was reduced to ruins as an outcome of the war.

On April 23, 1946, national elections were held to choose new members of Congress, the President, and the Vice President of the Philippines. After the elections the second Congress of the Commonwealth convened on May 25, 1946. It would only last until July 4, 1946, with the inauguration of the Third Republic of the Philippines.


The independent Republic of the Philippines was finally proclaimed on July 4, 1946 with Manuel Roxas as President. The Second Congress of the Commonwealth was transformed into the first Congress of the Republic of the Philippines, also made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. This would mark the beginning of the count of Congresses of the Republic until the imposition of Martial Law in 1972, when Congress would be dissolved.

This era started the legislation of republic acts which would continue until 1972. Upon the restoration of democracy in 1986 and the ratification of the 1987 Constitution, the naming of laws as republic acts would be reinstated.


On September 23, 1972 President Ferdinand E. Marcos issued Presidential Proclamation No. 1081, placing the entire country under Martial Law. This coincided with the closing of the sessions of both chambers of Congress. Days before the scheduled reopening of the Senate and the House of Representatives, Marcos promulgated the 1973 Constitution, which effectively abolished the bicameral legislature and replaced it with a unicameral legislature. Opposition legislators reported to the Legislative Building on January 22, 1973, but found the building padlocked and under an armed guard.

Under martial rule, Marcos created the Batasang Bayan in 1976, by virtue of Presidential Decree No. 995, to serve as a legislative advisory council—a quasi-legislative machinery to normalize the legislative process for the eventual actualization of the 1973 Constitution. The Batasang Bayan would hold office in the Philippine International Convention Center (a modernist structure designed by National Artist for Architecture Leandro Locsin, within the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex—a pet project of First Lady Imelda R. Marcos). The consultative body would serve until 1978.

The Batasang Bayan would be replaced in 1978 by an elected unicameral body: the Interim Batasang Pambansa (IBP), a parliamentary legislature, as provided for in the 1973 Constitution. On April 7, 1978, elections for were held. Those elected to the IBP would be called Mambabatas Pambansa (Assemblymen) who would be elected per region, via a bloc-voting system. The IBP opened on Independence Day 1984 in the Batasan Pambansa in Quezon City.

Members of the Regular Batasang Pambansa (RBP) were elected in 1984, this time at-large and per province. The RBP held its inaugural session on July 23, 1984.

In 1986, President Marcos succumbed to international pressure and called for a snap presidential election. Though Marcos and his running mate former Senator and Assemblyman Arturo Tolentino were proclaimed by the Batasang Pambansa as the winners of the election, a popular revolt installed opposition leaders Corazon C. Aquino and Salvador H. Laurel as President and Vice President, respectively.

For both the IBP and RBP, the laws passed would be called “Batas Pambansa,” which did not continue the previous numbering of Republic Acts.


On March 25, 1986, President Aquino declared a revolutionary government by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 3, s. 1986, which suspended some provisions of the 1973 Constitution and promulgated in its stead a transitory constitution. This effectively abolished the Batasang Pambansa. A constitutional commission, tasked with drafting a new charter, was created by virtue of Proclamation No. 9 issued on April 23, 1986.

Following the overwhelming ratification of the 1987 Constitution through a national plebiscite held on February 2, 1987, the 1987 Constitution finally came into full force and effect on February 11, 1987. It re-established a bicameral legislature, composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate, much like the way it was before martial law. The former, being much larger in composition, reopened in the Batasan Pambansa while the Senate, still with its 24 members, returned to the Legislative Building. In 1997, the Senate of the Philippines moved to the GSIS building where it is currently housed.

Laws passed by the bicameral legislature would restore “Republic Acts”, as the laws were named in the Third Republic (1946-1972). Moreover, it was decided to maintain the old count, taking up where the last pre-martial law Congress left off. Thus, the last Congress under the 1935 Constitution was the seventh Congress, and the first Congress under the 1987 Constitution became the eighth Congress.