Friday, November 24, 2006

Both People's Initiatives Were Insufficient In Form

And How the Supreme Court Has Left the Door Ajar

There have been two attempts to use the People's Initiative provision to propose amendments to the 1987 Constitution.
Article XVII - Amendments Or Revisions - Section 2. Amendments to this Constitution may likewise be directly proposed by the people through initiative upon a petition of at least twelve per centum of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three per centum of the registered voters therein. No amendment under this section shall be authorized within five years following the ratification of this Constitution nor oftener than once every five years thereafter. The Congress shall provide for the implementation of the exercise of this right.
(1) The first one in 1997 may be identified as the Pirma People's Initiative to lift the term limits on national officials and would have directly benefited its principal architect and sponsor, then President Fidel V. Ramos.

(2) The second one in 2006, as we know is the Sigaw ng Bayan People's Initiative to switch to a Unicameral parliamentary system from the present Bicameral presidential system, which would benefit the incumbent President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, House Speaker Jose de Venecia, and the aforementioned FVR.

Both were struck down by the Supreme Court for being INSUFFICIENT IN FORM after they were submitted to Comelec for ratification in a Plebiscite.

(1) Santiago v. Comelec The Pirma initiative petition contained a succinct statement of the proposed amendment, but it did not have the required number of 12% of the voters signatures upon that initiative petition. Thus the Pirma initiative had the amendments proposed by the initiative but not the signatures.

(2) Lambino v. Comelec The Sigaw initiative petition contained more than the required number of 12% of the voters signatures but the Court could not find evidence that the proponents had ever "shown to the people" the complete text of the Unicameral Parliamentary proposal. In effect, the Sigaw petition was insufficient in form because it had the signatures but not the proposed amendments!

The two Supreme Court Decisions could've stopped right here and voided each attempt just upon their self-evident noncompliance with the plain requirements of the Constitution for amending the Constitution by People's Initiative. But I guess a finding of an insufficiency in form might be criticized as a mere "technicality" so that in both cases the Supreme Court went further in its demolition of the two People's Initiative campaigns.

It found in both cases that the proposed "amendments" actually amounted to REVISIONS of the Constitution. In other words, that these proposed changes to the Constitution by People's Initiative (lifting term limits and switching to Unicameral Parliamentary) are unconstitutional because they are overly sufficient in substance, being tantamount to a wholesale revision of the 1987 Constitution. Thus the Court ruled that these changes may not be proposed by the people's initiative mode.

BUT The Supreme Court Minute Resolution denying the Sigaw ng Bayan Petition with finality ends with the following beguiling statement--
Ten (10) Members of the Court reiterate their position, as shown by their various opinions already given when the Decision herein was promulgated, that Republic Act No. 6735 is sufficient and adequate to amend the Constitution thru a people's initiative."
So, is this an Implied Reversal of --?
Santiago v. Comelec (1997)

CONCLUSION: This petition must then be granted, and the COMELEC should be permanently enjoined from entertaining or taking cognizance of any petition for initiative on amendments on the Constitution until a sufficient law shall have been validly enacted to provide for the implementation of the system.

We feel, however, that the system of initiative to propose amendments to the Constitution should no longer be kept in the cold; it should be given flesh and blood, energy and strength. Congress should not tarry any longer in complying with the constitutional mandate to provide for the implementation of the right of the people under that system.

WHEREFORE, judgment is h[e]reby rendered

a) GRANTING the instant petition;

b) DECLARING R.A. No. 6735 inadequate to cover the system of initiative on amendments to the Constitution, and to have failed to provide sufficient standard for subordinate legislation;

c) DECLARING void those parts of Resolutions No. 2300 of the Commission on Elections prescribing rules and regulations on the conduct of initiative or amendments to the Constitution; and

d) ORDERING the Commission on Elections to forthwith DISMISS the DELFIN petition (UND-96-037).

The Temporary Restraining Order issued on 18 December 1996 is made permanent as against the Commission on Elections, but is LIFTED against private respondents.

Resolution on the matter of contempt is hereby reserved.


Narvasa, C.J., Regalado, Romero, Bellosillo,Kapunan, Hermosisima, Jr. and Torres Jr., JJ., concur. Padilla, J., took no part; related to a co-petitioner and co-counsel of the petitioners. Melo and Mendoza, JJ., joins the separate, concurring opinions of Justices Puno, Francisco and Panganiban. Puno, Vitug, , Francisco and Panganiban, JJ., has separate opinions.
The "Ten (10) Members of the Court" who are merely "reiterating their opinion" in various separate concurring and dissenting opinions are Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban and Justices Consuelo Ynares-Santiago and Adolfo S. Azcuna joined their dissenting colleagues, namely, Senior Associate Justice Reynato S. Puno and Justices Leonardo A. Quisumbing, Renato C. Corona, Dante O. Tinga, Minita V. Chico-Nazario, Cancio C. Garcia and Presbitero J. Velasco Jr.


The Reversal is not implied. The Ten Minute Resolution is a direct contradiction of Santiago v. Comelec, if you look at the red-bolded words above.

There may be a clue to the Court's apparently vacillating stance in this now suggestive passage from Santiago v. Comelec--
Even if it be conceded ex gratia that R.A. No. 6735 is a full compliance with the power of Congress to implement the right to initiate constitutional amendments, or that it has validly vested upon the COMELEC the power of subordinate legislation and that COMELEC Resolution No. 2300 is valid, the COMELEC acted without jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion in entertaining the Delfin Petition.

Under Section 2 of Article XVII of the Constitution and Section 5(b) of R.A. No. 6735, a petition for initiative on the Constitution must be signed by at least 12% of the total number of registered voters of which every legislative district is represented by at least 3% of the registered voters therein. The Delfin Petition does not contain signatures of the required number of voters. Delfin himself admits that he has not yet gathered signatures and that the purpose of his petition is primarily to obtain assistance in his drive to gather signatures. Without the required signatures, the petition cannot be deemed validly initiated.
In effect, that was all there was to Santiago v. Comelec--a defective petition that did not meet the Constitution's requirements on the numbers and signatures of the petitioners that Comelec had no business entertaining. Meanwhile in Lambino v. Comelec, all there is to it is also a defective petition with the required numbers of voters and signatures, but no proper proposal attached to them.

In a some sense, the matter of "revision or amendment" and the matter of a "sufficient enabling law" are in and of themselves, superfluous matters with respect to the decision facing the Supreme Court in each case, which was whether to allow either of these to proceed to plebiscite. I, for one, don't agree that the term limits change is a Revision, fer Chrisakes!

They did not have to rule that RA 6735 was "inadequate" to implement People's Initiative in Santiago v. Comelec, and did not even address it in Lambino v. Comelec. Even if they were to reverse that dictum now, it would not reverse the practical effect of the Conclusions of either Decision, which was to stop the Pirma and Sigaw initiatives.

Perhaps, the Supreme has suddenly realized it had overstepped its bounds by ruling upon the sufficiency in substance of the enabling law of Congress on initiative and referendum.

But what a niggardly apology this one sentence is at the end of a mere Minute Resolution of the God Almighty Supreme Court!

They have left the door ajar though!

...and I am actually glad this is happening. Because there should be a People's Initiative mode for amending the Constitution. It should NOT be limited to once every five years. Instead it should be permitted when some percentage of the voters sign upon a proper initiative petition and be put up for plebiscite in regular elections as Propositions, to be ratified or rejected by the People.

The worst thing about the current provision is it is not self-executory and requires that Congress provide for the implementation of the people's initiative. How can it be the People's Initiative when the Twin Houses of the Politicians gets to define and provide for its implementation?


ricelander said...

The People's Initiative has noble intentions but having seen how it could be manipulated to fit the agenda of some people, I'm not so sure about the wisdom anymore.

Rizalist said...

Several hundred Propositions to amend laws and constitutions were passed or rejected during the recent US Midterm elections. they do it all the time. why can't we?

Jego said...

What if a grassroots petition to amend the constitution were started by an organization and because it's a door-to-door, person-to-person explanation of the merits of the petition, it takes 20 years to get the required number of signatures (the NGO is that determined), could it's sufficiency in form be challenged citing that in the time it took to reach the required number of signatures, it is no longer possible to determine if the signatories still have the same view on the petition? Is there a time limitation on the gathering of signatures? Should there be one?

Jego said...

wayward apostrophe in the "i'ts" above. sorry.

Rizalist said...

from what i can deduce, all the petitioners in a people's initiative must be registered voters at the time the initiative petition is submitted to Comelec. But that would seem to be the only requirement. An enabling law would take care of all such questions. IN fact RA 6735 probably does.

Juan said...

The reversal on the insufficiency of RA 6735 is crucial and questionable. What are the bases? if 'reiterations' then no arguments were presented as MR's require. Are there new arguments to account for the reversal?
Is there an irregularity here or something fishy? Please raise the controversy, the lack of it is confoundng. Please clarify the SC-PI puzzle, flip-flop. Thanks.

Rizalist said...

What I think it boils down to is this.

In BOTH cases, the "mere" insufficiencies in form (lack of signatures or lack of text)were enough to bring about the actual effect of the two cases, which was to prevent the Comelec from entertaining the petitions and proceeding to plebiscite.

Even though in BOTH cases, the Court also ruled them to be REVISIONS and therefore not allowed for PI, they did not HAVE to make such determination on the SUBSTANCE of the initiative petitions.

In fact, even the finding in Santiago v. Comelec that RA 6735 was "inadequate" to implement PI, was NOT NECESSARY in order to strike down both PIRMA and SIGAW.

In other words, the suggestion is now floating, because of the Minute Resolution "reiteration of opinions", that the more elemental reason for ruling against a plebiscite in both cases is the mere insufficiency in form, and not the inadequacy in the enabling law, or the more metaphysical determinations that (1) changing the term limits is a revision, i.e., as big and serious a change as (2) switching to Unicameral Parliament from Bicameral Presidential.

Hmmm...Seems to me there is very little room left for AMENDMENTS allowed under the PI provision!

I think the SC realizes these points. They have overstepped their bounds in these decisions by rendering on questions NOT NEEDED to be adjudicated for the cases then at hand.

Even though the insatiable minds of the bloggers would love for them to rule on everything, including whether God exists!

Rizalist said...

We must not forget that Congress and the Court are CO-EQUAL Branches of Govt with well defined areas of responsibility. The Congress makes the laws, while the Court is supposed to rule on the Constitutionality of laws, resolutions, policies, orders and other Acts of the Govt in real controversies that arise. It is not supposed to be however, a "trier of facts" -- such as what percentage of the People had been "shown the full and complete text".

When the Court ruled that RA 6735 was "inadequate" it did not strike it down as "unconstitutional". By doing that, the Court seems to be questioning the competency or wisdom of the Congress. Granted they found 6735 insufficient to implement a Constitutional provision, but fact is, even if they did not make such finding, the result of both Decisions would have been the same: no plebiscite allowed because of form infirmities alone.

Also, there is no denying that Congress, through Raul Roco, who was the author of RA6735, clearly intended that law to provide for the exercise of PI (that is what is explicitly declares in its TITLE).

But JUDICIAL ACTIVISM is the founding stone of the 1987 Charter, especially in how the Judiciary has become both JUDGE and JURY of the Universe.

Juan said...


I came across an opinion by one of the associate justices where he said that the failure of RA 6735 to provide sufficient standards have rendered it unconstitutional. (I’m searching for it.)

The original ruling is quite clear:
“b) DECLARING R.A. No. 6735 inadequate to cover the system of initiative on amendments to the Constitution, and to have failed to provide sufficient standard for subordinate legislation;”

If there is no standard to start with, iniatives cannot proceed. The ruling on form and substance therefore redounds on the ruling on the standard wich RA6735 failed to provide.

domingo said...


Justice Carpio cited Capezzuto v. State Ballot Commission, decided by the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, affirmed by the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Capezzuto decision is not available at FindLaw, since the accessible Massachusetts Supreme Court and the First Circuit Court of Appeals decisions date back only from 1998. I hope we can get to read Capezzuto soon.

Anyway, the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts website provides a paper, titled: State Ballot Question Petitions or A Guide for Circulating Petitions (PDF) at:

What is intriguing is that at page 7, you’ll come across this:


“To originate an initiative petition for a constitutional amendment, at least ten qualified voters of the Commonwealth may draw up and sign an original petition on which they put forward the full text of the constitutional amendment they wish to have enacted.

“Each of the ten original signers must obtain a certificate of voter registration from the board of
registrars or election commission in the city or town in which they are a registered voter. Each certificate of voter registration must be signed by at least three members of the board of registrars or election commission. These voter registration certificates and the original petition then must be submitted to the Office of the Attorney General by the first Wednesday in August.”


Still at page 7, farther below, the second paragraph under “EXCLUDED SUBJECTS AND SUMMARY is this:

“The Attorney General bears the responsibility of determining whether the petition is an acceptable subject of an initiative, and if so, prepares a fair and concise summary and returns this summary and the proposed amendment to the petitioners. If the Attorney General determines that the petition relates to an excluded matter, the petition is disallowed.”

So, the Attorney General PREPARES THE “SUMMARY” (synonym of “FULL TEXT”?)

Then at page 8 under “PRINTING OF PETITIONS is this:

“After the petition is returned from the Attorney General with the summary, the petitioners filed both the summary and the amendment with the Secretary of the Commonwealth. The Secretary prepares initiative petition form blanks with the summary printed thereon for gathering signatures of registered voters. These petition forms are available within fourteen days after the petitioners file the papers with the Secretary of the Commonwealth.”

So, the Secretary of the Commonwealth PREPARES THE FORMS “with the SUMMARY printed thereon.”

With only TEN signers required to originate, how could there have been a GRAND DECEPTION in the Commonwealth under Capezzuto, if the Attorney General prepares the Summary of the petition, and the Secretary prepares the forms and even takes charge of having these forms printed?

I wonder.