On 15 September 1898, the revolutionary Congress was inaugurated at the Barasoain Church in Malolos, Bulacan. The 110 delegates were either elected from among the municipal elite in the liberated provinces, or appointed from provinces not yet under the government’s control. The majority of the delegates were college graduates, including several from European universities. Pedro Paterno was elected president of the Congress.
The first significant act of the Malolos Congress on 29 September was to ratify the Declaration of Independence at Kawit, Cavite. The Congress also drafted a constitution anchored in democratic traditions that ultimately had their roots in American soil. It created a Filipino state whose government was “popular, representative and responsible” with three distinct branches—the executive, the legislative and the judicial–the legislative having primacy over the executive and the judicial. The constitution specifically provided for the separation of church and state, the preservation of human rights, and the safeguards against abuses.
Owing to the objections of Mabini to some provisions in the Constitution, Aguinaldo did not immediately promulgate it, so the leaders of Congress compromised by inserting some amendments. Thereafter, the first important Filipino document ever produced by the people’s representatives– the Malolos Constitution– was promulgated on 21 January 1899. Two days later, the first Philippine republic was inaugurated, with Emilio Aguinaldo as its first president. He was 29 years old then.
The Malolos Constitution as a whole is a monument to the capacity of the Filipinos to chart their own course along democratic lines. In a period of storm and stress, it symbolized the ideals of a people who had emerged from the Dark Ages into the Light of Reason. The revolutionary Congress was a remarkably successful institution considering the haste with which it was convened and the wartime conditions then prevailing.