Friday, January 06, 2006

People's Initiative

This is probable the best case there is on the question of the people's right to directly propose amendments to the constitution through the system of initiative.

Nature: Petition for prohibition; the right of the people to directly propose amendments to the constitution through the system of initiative.

Miriam Defensor Santiago, Alexander Padilla, Ma. Isabel Ongpin – petitioners
Jesus Delfin, Alberto & Carmen Pedrosa (PIRMA), COMELEC – respondents
Raul Roco, DIK, MABINI, IBP, LABAN – petitioners/intervenors

Atty. Delfin filed with the COMELEC a petition to amend the constitution by People’s initiative. His proposal is to lift the term limits of elective officials and thus amending Sections 4 and 7 of Art VI, Section 4 of Art VII and Section 8 of Art X of the 1987 Philippine Constitution. In his petition, Delfin asked the COMELEC to issue an order (1) fixing the time and dates for signature gathering all over the country; (2) cause the publication of such order in newspaper of general and local circulation; and (3) instructing municipal election registrars in all regions of the Philippines to assist him and his volunteers in establishing signing stations. The COMELEC then issued an order directing Delfin to cause the publication of the petition and set the case for hearing.

At the hearing, Senator Roco filed a motion to dismiss the Delfin Petition on the ground that it is not the initiatory petition properly cognizable by the COMELEC. Thereafter, Senator Santiago, et al., filed a special civil action for prohibition before the Supreme Court.

The issues in the instant petition are the following:

(1) Whether it is proper for the Supreme Court to take cognizance of the petition when there is a pending case before the COMELEC.

(2) Whether R.A. No. 6735, entitled An Act Providing for a System of Initiative and Referendum and Appropriating Funds Therefore, was intended to include or cover initiative on amendments to the Constitution; and if so, whether the Act, as worded, adequately covers such initiative.

(3) Whether that portion of COMELEC Resolution No. 2300 (In re: Rules and Regulations Governing the Conduct of Initiative on the Constitution, and Initiative and Referendum on National and Local Laws) regarding the conduct of initiative on amendments to the Constitution is valid, considering the absence in the law of specific provisions on the conduct of such initiative.

(4) Whether the lifting of term limits of elective national and local officials, as proposed in the draft "Petition for Initiative on the 1987 Constitution," would constitute a revision of, or an amendment to, the Constitution.

(5) Whether the COMELEC can take cognizance of, or has jurisdiction over, a petition solely intended to obtain an order (a) fixing the time and dates for signature gathering; (b) instructing municipal election officers to assist Delfin's movement and volunteers in establishing signature stations; and (c) directing or causing the publication of, inter alia, the unsigned proposed Petition for Initiative on the 1987 Constitution.

Rulings of the Court:
The Supreme Court held that:

(1) The instant petition is viable despite the pendency in the COMELEC of the Delfin Petition. The COMELEC has no jurisdiction to take cognizance of the petition filed by Delfin and that it becomes imperative to stop the COMELEC from proceeding any further. The SC said that despite the pendency of the Delfin Petition in the COMELEC, the SC had jurisdiction over the Defensor-Santiago petition because the petition may be treated as a special civil action for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, given the Roco motion filed with the COMELEC seeking dismissal of the Delfin petition on the ground of lack of jurisdiction.

(2) RA 6735 is inadequate to cover the system of initiative to amend the constitution because while Sec 3 mentions initiative on the Constitution and Sec 5 restates the constitutional requirements as to the percentage of registered voters needed for a proposal, the law does not provide for the contents of a petition for initiative on the Constitution; while there are subtitles for national and local initiatives, there is no subtitle for the initiative on the Constitution; thus, the law is incomplete, and this inadequacy cannot be cured by empowering the COMELEC to promulgate implementing rules and regulations.

(3) It logically follows that the COMELEC cannot validly promulgate rules and regulations to implement the exercise of the right of the people to directly propose amendments to the Constitution through the system of initiative. It does not have that power under R.A. No. 6735. Reliance on the COMELEC's power under Section 2(1) of Article IX-C of the Constitution is misplaced, for the laws and regulations referred to therein are those promulgated by the COMELEC under (a) Section 3 of Article IX-C of the Constitution, or (b) a law where subordinate legislation is authorized and which satisfies the "completeness" and the "sufficient standard" tests.

(4) Santiago’s petition contend that the people's initiative is limited to amendments to the constitution, not to revision thereof. Extending or lifting of term limits constitutes a revision and is, therefore, outside the power of the people's initiative. Delfin in his memoranda contend that the lifting of the limitation on the term of office of elective officials provided under the 1987 constitution is not a "revision" of the constitution. It is only an amendment. "Amendment envisages an alteration of one or a few specific provisions of the constitution. Revision contemplates a re-examination of the entire document to determine how and to what extent it should be altered. The Office of the Solicitor General opined that extension of term of elected officials constitute a mere amendment to the Constitution, not a revision thereof. In its amended petition in intervention DIK and MABINI contend that the Delfin proposal does not involve a mere amendment to, but a revision of, the Constitution because, in the words of Fr. Joaquin Bernas it would involve a change from a political philosophy that rejects unlimited tenure to one that accepts unlimited tenure; and although the change might appear to be an isolated one, it can affect other provisions, such as, on synchronization of elections and on the State policy of guaranteeing equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibiting political dynasties. A revision cannot be done by initiative which, by express provision of Section 2 of Article XVII of the Constitution, is limited to amendments.

(5) COMELEC acted without jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion in entertaining the Delfin Petition. It was held that COMELEC is without jurisdiction to entertain the Delfin Petition because it did not contain the signatures of the required number of voters as required by the Constitution.
The petition therefore is granted; R. A. No. 6735 is declared inadequate to cover the system of initiative on amendments to the Constitution, and for failure to provide sufficient standard for subordinate legislation; Those parts of Resolution No. 2300 of the Commission on Elections prescribing rules and regulations on the conduct of initiative or amendments to the Constitution is declared void; and the Commission on Elections is ordered to dismiss the DELFIN petition.
Word of the Day:
Initiative is a form of direct legislation by the people consisting of two parts: petition and election. It does not become effective until passed by voters and its availability does not remedy the denial of the right to referendum.

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