Just weeks after President Marcos had imposed martial law, on December 1, 1972 the Jesuit priest Pacifico Ortiz stood before the assembly that had put together a new Constitution. In voting No to the document, Ortiz firmly warned:
“I believe no nation…can survive that would surrender her freedom and her future to the wisdom or mercy of one man, whoever that man may be, however great that man may be. […] Through this Constitution, we are establishing for many years to come nothing less than a dictatorial government, a government through ‘diktat’ or decree, by a one-man Executive who is likewise vested with full legislative powers (since his proclamations, orders and decrees shall have the validity of law even after martial law is lifted) and, who through his unlimited power of appointment and removal can control the judiciary, including the members of the Supreme Court.”
Elected in 1969 as the first Filipino president of Ateneo de Manila University, Ortiz resigned the post in 1971 after being elected delegate of Rizal province to the Constitutional Convention. Here he was frustrated in trying to put in safeguards that would prevent Marcos from perpetuating himself in power. It was also he who supported fellow delegate Eduardo Quintero in exposing the massive bribery that took place to ensure that Marcos would get the Constitution he wanted.
On January 26, 1970, Ortiz was asked to deliver the invocation at the opening of the joint session of Congress. In it, he described a situation where the people had lost their “political innocence” and now knew that “salvation can only come from below, …from the people themselves…” The country, he went on, stood “on the trembling edge of revolution.”
Only hours later, violence would erupt as security forces beat back tens of thousands of students and workers rallying in front of that same building. That historic demonstration ushered in the period of massive protests known as the First Quarter Storm.
With the martial law regime consolidating its monopoly of power, as he had foreseen, Ortiz continued to resist. As secretary of both the Episcopal Commission on Justice and Peace and the Church-Military Liaison Committee, he exerted himself to mitigate oppression and the violation of human rights.
Pacifico Ortiz was born to a landed family in Surigao province in Mindanao. Before World War II broke out, he had been appointed personal chaplain to President Manuel Quezon; with the escalation of hostilities, the president went into exile in Australia and then the United States, and Ortiz was a member of his entourage.
After the war, Ortiz pursued his studies in America. Upon his return, he became Catholic chaplain of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, at the same time serving as secretary of the Bishops’ Commission on Social Action.
In 1961, he moved back to the Ateneo de Manila to teach political science. There he remained for the next 11 years, except for a one-year teaching stint at the Ateneo de Zamboanga. He also held other positions such as dean of the graduate school, regent of the school of law, and executive vice-president.
He died after a stroke in 1983, at the age of 70.