REFLECTIVE of the sharp division among Filipinos on the issue of charter change, two former members of the Consultative Commission (Con-Com) created by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to study and recommend amendments to the 1987 Constitution held contrasting views on the current “people’s initiative” campaign for a shift to the parliamentary form of government.

Pointing to the conspicuous absence of ordinary citizens in the people’s initiative being pushed by groups like Sigaw ng Bayan — which is led by another Con-Com member, lawyer Raul Lambino — and the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP), Dr. René Azurin wonders if the campaign indeed emanates from the “sigaw ng bayan” (cry of the people).

Azurin was one of seven commissioners who submitted a minority report opposing the Con-Com’s proposed charter amendments that included, among others, transitory provisions calling for term extensions of all elected officials until 2010.

As he sees it, Azurin says it’s more a “sigaw ng politiko” (cry of politicians) as the initiative, which puts forward the same changes being proposed by the majority in the House of Representatives, only grants more power to politicians, who will benefit from the fusion of executive and legislative power in a parliamentary form of government.

Going by the assertions of the Sigaw ng Bayan proponents that they have already gathered five million signatures, Azurin says it would imply that the Filipino people want to give their politicians more power. “In effect, we are being asked to conclude that the experience that the Filipino people have had with their politikos thus far has been wonderful.”

On the signature verification process to be conducted by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), Azurin thinks it can only happen if the Supreme Court reverses itself, thereby lifting the permanent injunction on the poll body to entertain a people’s initiative in the absence of an enabling law.

To Azurin’s former Con-Com colleague, Alex Magno, though, a reopening of the debate at the Supreme Court is likely as the high court’s ruling in Defensor Santiago vs Comelec on the People’s Initiative for Reforms, Modernization and Action’s (PIRMA) signature drive for a people’s initiative to amend the Constitution was a “non-decision.”

The Court, he said, did not outrightly declare the people’s initiative as unconstitutional, but merely passed judgment on the legal construction and literary adeptness of Republic Act No. 6735 (or the Initiative and Referendum Act of 1989).

In his Philippine Star column, Magno is optimistic that a revisiting of the dissenting opinions of then Justices Artemio Panganiban and Reynato Puno will favor the Sigaw ng Bayan and ULAP initiative because several attributes make it “more compelling” than the one led by PIRMA.

Magno identifies these characteristics as such:

  • Local governments, through the ULAP, reaching a “high degree of consensus,” deadset at achieving a tipping point in public opinion by gathering more than 12 percent of all registered voters.
  • Trade union, religious groups, business organizations and severla political parties endorsing the signature campaign
  • Base of support for constitutional reform growing as indicated by recent surveys

Below is Azurin’s essay. His writings on why a parliamentary system is no better than a presidential system can be accessed here.

Sigaw ng bayan? O sigaw ng politiko?
by René B. Azurin

The train, we are told, has left the station and we should get out of the way if we don’t want to get run down. If we are to believe the pronouncements of some politikos, the shift to a parliamentary form of government is now inevitable. Ito daw ay “sigaw ng bayan.”

One can, of course, wonder, sino ba talaga ang sumisigaw? Truthfully, none of the people I know has yet heard a single tindera, jeepney driver, taxi driver, factory worker, office worker, farmer, housewife, or student shout, “Amiendahan natin ang Articles VI and VII ng ating Saligang Batas! At ipasa na rin natin itong Article XVIII!” Yet, the proponents of the Peoples’ Initiative would have us believe that some five million people all over the country have in fact made this cry.

Though it truly boggles the mind, that fact will, in any case, be formally verified by the Comelec. That verification process — assuming that the Supreme Court first reverses itself and lifts the permanent injunction against the Comelec entertaining such a Peoples’ Initiative in the absence of an enabling law — must ascertain three things: 1) that the signatory of a specific petition is a registered voter; 2) that it is this registered voter’s signature on the petition; and 3) that this particular registered voter is petitioning for exactly the same things as the other petitioners.

The first item requires no discussion. On the second item, I submit that determining if the signature on a particular voter’s registration card is the same as the signature on another piece of paper can only be assured in one of two ways: 1) if a certified handwriting expert certifies, after proper analysis, that this is so; or 2) if the voter is made to appear before the Comelec verifier and he/she swears that, indeed, that is his/her signature.

Regarding the third item, this may actually be the most crucial because Article VI of our Constitution (‘Legislative Department’) consists of 32 sections, Article VII (`Executive Department’) consists of 23 sections, and Article XVIII (‘Transitory Provisions’) consists of nine sections (in the House of Representatives-approved draft). Each of these sections concerns a different subject matter, ranging from the qualifications of candidates to the distribution of powers to the functions of various positions to prescribed procedures for different situations to the postponement of the 2007 elections to 2010. It is clearly imperative that — for this process of verification to be at all credible — each petitioner be asked what amendments exactly did he/she want in each and every one of these sections. Answers of course must be duly recorded in writing so that there will be no confusion about what anybody means. Constitution-changing is, after all, a serious matter.

One thing, though, is clear. The changes being proposed by some 170 or so members of the House of Representatives mean more power for the politikos. The main attraction of a parliamentary system for our politikos is that executive power and legislative power are fused into a single body — Parliament — which basically allows the same set of people — the Prime Minister and his ruling gang — to decide on, appropriate the funds for, and implement their desired programs and projects. This means that the controls provided by the `check and balance’ built into the presidential system where executive power and legislative power are wielded by different sets of people in two separate and independent branches of government will be eliminated. That means that the parliamentary system will be easier to abuse, and graft and corruption will be that much more possible. The entire national budget (except of course for certain fixed expenditures like debt servicing and salaries) becomes the pork barrel.

So, who benefits from the shift to a parliamentary system? The fusion of executive and legislative power in the parliamentary form puts more power in the hands of politikos. They can do virtually anything to promote their special and vested interests. Thus, if we are now disturbed by the way many politikos are wielding somewhat restricted powers, what do we imagine will happen after we’ve given them unrestricted powers? A shift to the parliamentary form is the completely wrong reaction to the country’s present political and economic realities.

Yet, if we are to believe the proponents of the so-called sigaw ng bayan, then the Filipino people want to give their politikos more power. In effect, we are being asked to conclude that the experience that the Filipino people have had with their politikos thus far has been wonderful.

Ay, naku…sigaw nino, kamo?

4 Responses to People’s initiative: Two contrasting views
from former Con-Com members

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Manuel L. Quezon III » Filipino sense of shame

April 7th, 2006 at 8:39 am

[…] The PCIJ blog has two former Constitutional Commission members offering contrasting views on amendments. […]

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lokalokang matino

April 7th, 2006 at 9:00 am

Who is Alex Magno anyway? Azuriin is absolutely right, it is ” SIGAW NG POLITIKO”
Sigaw ng Bayan, kaninong bayan?

Extending the term limits of PUBLIC SERVANTS /POLITICOS is grossly, highly immoral.
Maniniwala pa siguro ang taong bayan, if instead extending, they cut short their term as a form of sacrifice for the good of the country.

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Para sa Kanto Mama

April 7th, 2006 at 11:36 am

Who is Alex Magno anyway? Beterano daw ng First Quarter Storm. Anong Dekada kaya?

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ifeelakki

April 7th, 2006 at 12:04 pm

“SIGAW NG BAYAN”????

FEELS MORE LIKE…

“SIGAW NG BAYAD”!!!!!

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