Republic Act 6735 now sufficient?

Dean Jorge Bocobo has an interesting observation on the Supreme Court’s Resolution denying the motions to reconsider the dismissal of the petition for people’s initiative. The “minute resolution” pertinently reads:

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.

Now, does this single sentence constitute a reversal of the ruling in Santiago vs. COMELECincomplete, inadequate, or wanting in essential terms and conditions insofar as initiative on amendments to the Constitution is concerned?

A “minute resolution”. The Supreme Court is not compelled to adopt a definite and stringent rule on how its judgment shall be framed. It has long been settled that the Supreme Court has discretion to decide whether a “minute resolution” should be used in lieu of a full-blown decision in any particular case. Depending on the tenor, a minute resolution has the same effect as any decision.

Stare decisis. Under the doctrine of stare decisis, once a point of law has been established by the court, that point of law will, generally, be followed by the same court and by all courts of lower rank in subsequent cases where the same legal issue is raised. Stare decisis proceeds from the first principle of justice that, absent powerful countervailing considerations, like cases ought to be decided alike.

The Santiago vs. COMELEC doctrine. The ruling in Santiago vs. COMELEC may be summarized in this manner: RA 6735, also known as the “People’s Initiative and Referendum Ac”, is “incomplete, inadequate, or wanting in essential terms and conditions insofar as initiative on amendments to the Constitution is concerned”. Santiago was decided by the Supreme Court en banc, which means that it may be overturned only in another en banc decision and only when necessary.

The Lambino vs. COMELEC ruling. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Lambino vs. COMELEC, in contrast to the Santiago ruling, states that there is no need to revisit the sufficiency of R.A. 6735. In the words of the Supreme Court:

There is no need to revisit this Court’s ruling in Santiago declaring RA 6735 “incomplete, inadequate or wanting in essential terms and conditions” to cover the system of initiative to amend the Constitution.

In other words, any discussion on the sufficiency of RA 6735 is an obiter, and the subsequent “reiteration” of the separate opinions of the 10 members of the Supreme Court does not change that fact.

Still, the Supreme Court left the door wide open for future proponents of people’s initiative. It can be argued that the reiteration of the 10 votes in favor of the sufficiency of RA 6735 has the effect of overturning the Santiago ruling. In any case, with or without such “reiteration”, the Supreme Court is not precluded from revisiting the Santiago ruling in future controversies.

One of the effects of the “reiteration” is this: When a petition for people’s initiative is filed in the future, the COMELEC can grant the petition on the basis of the “reiteration” of the sufficiency of RA 6735. In other words, proponents of future moves for a Charter Change have a better fighting chance.