Petition for People’s Initiative dismissed

The Supreme Court dismissed the recent petition (Lambino, et al. vs. COMELEC) seeking to revise the Constitution through people’s initiative. In a 52-page decision, the SC ruled in part that the proposal to shift the present bicameral-presidential system to a unicameral-parliamentary system is contrary to the Constitution. The SC ruled that the initiative petition does not comply with, and violates, Section 2, Article XVII of the Constitution on direct proposal by the people.

Ruling of the court

Section 2, Article XVII requires that the people must first see the full text of the proposed amendments before they sign, and that the people must sign on a petition containing such full text. In the case of the Lambino Group’s petition, the petition is not signed by the people and the attached signature sheets do not show that the people were shown the draft of the proposed changes before they were asked to sign.

The same provision also limits the exercise of a people’s initiative to change the Constitution only to amendments, not revisions. The proposed shift from the present bicameral-presidential system to a unicameral-parliamentary system is a revision – not merely an amendment – of the Constitution.

In sum, the SC sustained the COMELEC’s decision to deny due course to the petition for initiative. The current initiative is void and unconstitutional. (Read the decision’s digest or full text).

Revisiting Santiago vs. COMELEC

With the ruling that the initiative is void and unconstitutional, it’s unnecessary to revisit Santiago vs. COMELEC. In said case, the SC declared Republic Act 6735, also known as the Initiative and Referendum Act, “incomplete, inadequate or wanting in essential terms and conditions” to cover the system of initiative to amend the Constitution. This is based on the long-standing rule in constitutional law that courts will not pass upon the constitutionality of a statute if the case can be resolved on some other grounds – an affirmation or reversal of Santiago will not change the outcome of the petition.

(Otherwise stated, courts will not touch the issue of constitutionality unless it is truly unavoidable and is the very lis mota or crux of the controversy – like in the cases involving E.O. 464 and the impeachment of Chief Justice Davide. As an aside, it’s interesting to note that we’ve previously discussed this matter in March this year. Still, this case does not preclude the Santiago ruling from being scrutinized in future petitions for people’s initiative that complies with Section 2, Article XVII of the Constitution. This issue will most probably rise again, as petitions for people’s initiative usually surface a year before scheduled national elections. As to the reason why is this so, your guess is as good as mine.)

A divided court

Out of the 15 Justices who participated in the deliberations, 8 Justices voted to dismiss the petition (Justice Carpio, the ponente, is joined by Chief Justice Panganiban and Justices Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Austria-Martinez, Carpio Morales, Callejo, Sr., and Azcuna).

The 7 Justices who dissented are Senior Associate Justice Puno, and Justices Quisumbing, Corona, Tinga, Chico-Nazario, Garcia, and Velasco, Jr.

(For some, attention is focused on the respective opinions of Chief Justice Panganiban and Justice Puno, who are the only members of the incumbent Supreme Court that had the opportunity to participate – both dissenting – in the Santiago case.

Justice Puno retains his stand that RA 6735 is sufficient. He also believes that the proposed changes are mere amendments. In the final analysis, the people should be allowed to speak and decide on this matter through a plebiscite.

The first principle enthroned by blood in our Constitution is the sovereignty of the people. We ought to be concerned with this first principle, i.e., the inherent right of the sovereign people to decide whether to amend the Constitution. x x x If there is any principle in the Constitution that cannot be diluted and is non-negotiable, it is this sovereign right of the people to decide.

This Court should always be in lockstep with the people in the exercise of their sovereignty. Let them who will diminish or destroy the sovereign right of the people to decide be warned. Let not their sovereignty be diminished by those who belittle their brains to comprehend changes in the Constitution as if the people themselves are not the source and author of our Constitution. Let not their sovereignty be destroyed by the masters of manipulation who misrepresent themselves as the spokesmen of the people.

Chief Justice Panganiban, on the other hand, took pains in distinguishing this case from the previous cases, in all of which he vigorously dissented. In the epilogue of his concurring opinion, Chief Justice Panganiban forcefully notes:

The Constitution is a sacred social compact, forged between the government and the people, between each individual and the rest of the citizenry. Through it, the people have solemnly expressed their will that all of them shall be governed by laws, and their rights limited by agreed-upon covenants to promote the common good. If we are to uphold the Rule of Law and reject the rule of the mob, we must faithfully abide by the processes the Constitution has ordained in order to bring about a peaceful, just and humane society. Assuming arguendo that six million people allegedly gave their assent to the proposed changes in the Constitution, they are nevertheless still bound by the social covenant — the present Constitution — which was ratified by a far greater majority almost twenty years ago. I do not denigrate the majesty of the sovereign will; rather, I elevate our society to the loftiest perch, because our government must remain as one of laws and not of men.

Upon assuming office, each of the justices of the Supreme Court took a solemn oath to uphold the Constitution. Being the protectors of the fundamental law as the highest expression of the sovereign will, they must subject to the strictest scrutiny any attempt to change it, lest it be trivialized and degraded by the assaults of the mob and of ill-conceived designs. The Court must single-mindedly defend the Constitution from bogus efforts falsely attributed to the sovereign people.

The opposing views of both Magistrates, however, seem to agree on the “ill-conceived designs”, the “bogus efforts falsely attributed to the sovereign people”, and the “masters of manipulation who misrepresent themselves as the spokesmen of the people”. Who/what are they speaking of/about? Again, your guess is as good as mine.)

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