I while back, I ran a post about upper legislative houses in the Americas, including the Philippines, and a later one on Bolivia. It turns out that I got the history of the Philippine legislature wrong.
The Constitution of 1935 established a unicameral National Assembly. The reason was not that the drafters wanted a unicameral legislature. (Although I'll be damned to understand why they didn't want one.) Rather, the drafters wanted an upper house, but couldn’t decide on how it should be apportioned. Delegates from underpopulated provinces wanted equal representation for each province. Progressives proposed a Senate elected by proportional representation. Conservatives wanted to keep the existing 12 senate districts, each with equal representation. Each proposal lost in a vote. Unicameralism emerged by default. (See here, p. 144.)
In 1937, President Quezon started to raise the bicameralism issue. Publicly, he claimed that he feared that a unicameral legislature could create an “oligarchy.” Privately ... well, who knows? Ricardo Jose of the University of the Philippines believes that Quezon worried that a unicameral legislature could more easily challenge presidential authority, especially if a political enemy controlled it.
Whatever the reason, Quezon got the Assembly to approve the change to bicameralism on September 15th, 1939. (The amendment also changed the presidential term from six years to four and allowed re-election.) How was the new chamber to be elected? Article 4, Section 2: “The Senate shall be composed of 24 Senators who shall be chosen at large by the qualified electors of the Philippines, as may be provided by law.”
In other words, every three years Filipinos picked twelve names off a list of Senate candidates. The top twelve vote-getters became Senators. Sort of like proportional representation, only not. The amendment passed the required popular referendum on June 18th, and President Roosevelt approved them on December 2nd.
As so often, however, the devil is in the details. The 1941 election introduced “block voting,” in which a voter could check a box next to the name of a party, thereby automatically giving each of that party’s candidates one vote. Under that system, a party that could muster a plurality would sweep all the Senate seats. Unsurprisingly, Quezon’s Nacionalista Party managed to pull off just such a feat.
For reasons unknown, the Philippine senate is still selected by at-large elections. Yet another inexplicable upper house, out of so many that America has given the world.