“IT’s a sweet victory,” said former elections chair Christian Monsod, following yesterday’s historic Supreme Court ruling that dismissed the administration-backed people’s initiative petition. But Monsod, spokesperson of the anti-Charter change group One Voice Inc., added “it’s just the first of many battles” as the administration will still push for the amendment of the 19-year-old Constitution through other means.
At the moment, Monsod said pro-amendment groups are still left with three options: file for a motion for reconsideration before the High Court; push for a Constituent Assembly; or call for a Constitutional Convention.
“We don’t know what they’ll do next but we’re prepared,” said Monsod.
On August 26, 2006, the group filed a petition before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to hold a plebiscite that will ratify the initiative petition. The group, headed by Sigaw spokesperson Raul Lambino, alleged the petition had the support of over six million Filipinos, constituting at least 12 percent of all registered voters. Comelec dismissed the petition, as a Supreme Court ruling bars it from entertaining a system of initiative for lack of an enabling law. The group raised the matter before the High Court.
Along with Justice Antonio Carpio, the assigned ponente, Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban, Justices Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez, Conchita Carpio Morales, Romeo J. Callejo, Sr., and Adolfo S. Azcuna voted to throw out the petition.
Senior Associate Justice Reynato Puno, along with six other justices dissented.
- Justice Artemio Panganiban
- Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago
- Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez
- Justice Romeo Callejo Sr.
- Justice Adolfo Azcuna
- Justice Reynato Puno
- Justice Leonardo Quisumbing
- Justice Renato Corona
- Justice Dante Tinga
- Justice Minita Chico-Nazario
- Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr.
Senator Sergio Osmeña III said the vote was “too close for comfort,” leaving the Supreme Court “vulnerable to pressure.”
“In a motion for reconsideration, (President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) only has to pressure one justice to change his or her vote,” Osmeña told reporters yesterday.
It may be a close vote, with Ynares-Santiago’s vote reportedly as the most crucial, but Monsod said it was “still an institutional decision.”
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Floor Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. hailed the decision as the “best news of the century.”
“The Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, once again has demonstrated highest sense of judicial responsibility by striking down the Sigaw ng Bayan-ULAP assault upon the rule of law and constitutional order,” Pimentel said in a statement.
In its decision, the Supreme Court said the Charter change proponents “miserably failed to comply with the basic requirements of the Constitution for conducting a people’s initiative.”
The tribunal struck down the people’s initiative petition on four points.
One, the Court said the initiative is “void and unconstitutional” because it “dismally fails to comply” with the requirement of Section 2, Article XVII of the Constitution which states that an initiative must be “directly proposed by the people.”
The ruling stated that an amendment is “directly proposed by the people through initiative upon a petition” only if the people sign on a petition that contains the full text of the proposed amendments.
The Court said the framers of the 1987 Constitution, who borrowed the concept of people’s initiative from the United Sates, intended that the people “must first see the full text of the proposed amendments before they sign to signify their assent.”
The justices said the signature sheets circulated during the campaign merely contained one question: whether the people approved of a shift from a presidential to a parliamentary form of government. “The sheet does not show to the people the draft of the proposed changes” embodied in the petition the Lambino group submitted before the Comelec.
During the oral arguments, the Court said Lambino admitted he was only able to produce 100,000 copies of the draft petition. In fact, in her concurring opinion, Ynares-Santiago said Lambino said he “merely assumed” that the text was actually attached to the signature sheets.
In failing to show the proposed changes to the “great majority,” the Supreme Court said those who signed could not have known the nature and effect of the proposed changes, among which are:
- The term limits on members of the legislature will be lifted and thus members of the parliament can be re-elected indefinitely;
- The interim Parliament can continue to function indefinitely until its members, who are almost all the present members of Congress, decide to call for new parliamentary elections. Thus, the members of the interim Parliament will determine the expiration of their own term of office;
- Within 45 days from the ratification of the proposed changes, the interim Parliament shall convene to propose further amendments or revisions to the Constitution.
The Court found the last point, inserted under the Transitory provisions of the proposal, a “surprise” as it is a matter “totally unrelated to the shift from a bicameral to the unicameral system of government.” This method, which American jurisprudence refers to as “logrolling,” forces the people “to sign a petition that effectively contains two propositions, one of which they may find unacceptable.”
“Certainly, such an initiative is not ‘directly proposed by the people’ because the people do not even know the nature and effect of the proposed changes,” the Court said.
Secondly, the Supreme Court said the initiative is void and unconstitutional because it violates another point under Section 2, Article XVII of the Constitution which limits “the scope of a people’s initiative to amendments.”
The ruling stated that the initiative is a “revision” and not merely an “amendment” as it proposes to change some 105 provisions in the entire Constitution. The Court asserted that a change in the system of government, even by abolishing the Office of the President alone, constitutes a “revision” since it alters the separation of powers provided in the Charter.
Thirdly, the tribunal declared that there was no need to revisit its ruling in 1997 declaring Republic Act 6735 or the law on initiative and referendum “incomplete, inadequate” to cover the system of initiative. The Court said an affirmation or reversal of the ruling will not change the outcome of the Lambino petition.
“To be valid, the present initiative must first comply with Section 2 (of the Constitution) even before complying with RA 6735.”
As a last point, the Court said Comelec did not commit a grave abuse of discretion in dismissing the initiative as it merely followed the Court’s ruling in Santiago and PIRMA v. Comelec in 1997, declaring RA 6735 inadequate.
In a dissenting opinion, Puno said the Comelec’s reliance on the Santiago case “constitutes grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction.”
“The Santiago case did not establish the firm doctrine that RA 6735 is not a sufficient law to implement the constitutional provision allowing people’s initiative,” Puno said.
He explained that while eight justices in the Santiago case voted that it wasn’t a sufficient law, only six reiterated their vote when the Court decided on the motion for reconsideration. The final vote resulted in 6-6, Puno said, with one just inhibiting himself and another justice refusing to rule on the ground that “the issue was not ripe for adjudication.”
“It ought to be beyond debate that the six justices who voted that RA 6735 is an insufficient law failed to establish a doctrine that could serve as a precedent. The jurisprudence that an equally divided Court can never set a precedent is well-settled,” Puno said, “This right of the people to make decisions is the essence of sovereignty, and it cannot receive any minimalist interpretation from this Court.”
Meanwhile, Panganiban stated in his concurring opinion that while he also maintains his firm legal position that RA 6735 is adequate to cover initiatives on the Constitution, “there is a right way to do the right thing at the right time and for the right reason.”
“The right to amend through initiative belongs only to the people — not to the government and its minions,” he wrote, “Unfortunately, the right thing is being rushed in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons.”
Further, the High Court declared that even incantations of “people’s voice, “people’s sovereign will,” or “let the people decide” cannot override the modes of amending the Constitution as prescribed in the Constitution. “Otherwise, the Constitution — the people’s fundamental covenant that provides enduring stability to our society — becomes easily susceptible to manipulative changes by political groups gathering signatures through false promises.”
In major broadsheets yesterday, the League of Municipalities of the Philippines and a group called Aguman Pilipino International ran full-page ads demanding that “the people’s voice should be heard” on the issue of Charter change.
“To allow such change in the fundamental law is to set adrift the Constitution in unchartered waters, to be tossed and turned by every dominant political group of the day. If this Court allows today a cavalier change in the Constitution outside the constitutionally prescribed modes, tomorrow the new dominant political group that comes will demand its own set of changes in the same cavalier and unconstitutional fashion. A revolving-door constitution does not augur well for the rule of law in this country,” it added.