Political Law

Miriam Defensor Santiago et al vs Commission on Elections (March 1997)

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G.R. No. 127325 – 270 SCRA 106 – Political Law – Constitutional Law – Amendment to the Constitution

On 6 December 1996, Atty. Jesus S. Delfin filed with the COMELEC a Petition to Amend the Constitution to Lift Term Limits of elective Officials by People’s Initiative. The COMELEC then, upon its approval, a.) set the time and dates for signature gathering all over the country, b.) caused the necessary publication of the said petition in papers of general circulation, and c.) instructed local election registrars to assist petitioners and volunteers in establishing signing stations. On 18 December 1996, MD Santiago et al filed a special civil action for prohibition against the Delfin Petition. Santiago argues that 1.) the constitutional provision on people’s initiative to amend the constitution can only be implemented by law to be passed by Congress and no such law has yet been passed by Congress, 2.) The Initiative and Referendum Act (RA 6735) indeed provides for three systems of initiative namely, initiative on the Constitution, on statues and on local legislation. The two latter forms of initiative were specifically provided for in Subtitles II and III thereof but no provisions were specifically made for initiatives on the Constitution. This omission indicates that the matter of people’s initiative to amend the Constitution was left to some future law – as pointed out by former Senator Arturo Tolentino.

ISSUE: Whether or not RA 6735 was intended to include initiative on amendments to the constitution and if so whether the act, as worded, adequately covers such initiative.

HELD: RA 6735 is intended to include the system of initiative on amendments to the constitution but is unfortunately inadequate to cover that system. Sec 2 of Article 17 of the Constitution provides: “Amendments to this constitution may likewise be directly proposed by the people through initiative upon a petition of at least twelve per centum of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least there per centum of the registered voters therein. . . The Congress shall provide for the implementation of the exercise of this right”. This provision is obviously not self-executory as it needs an enabling law to be passed by Congress. Joaquin Bernas, a member of the 1986 Con-Con stated “without implementing legislation, Section 2, Art 17 cannot operate. Thus, although this mode of amending the constitution is a mode of amendment which bypasses Congressional action in the last analysis is still dependent on Congressional action.” Bluntly stated, the right of the people to directly propose amendments to the Constitution through the system of initiative would remain entombed in the cold niche of the constitution until Congress provides for its implementation. The people cannot exercise such right, though constitutionally guaranteed, if Congress for whatever reason does not provide for its implementation.

***Note that this ruling has been “reversed” on November 20, 2006 when ten justices of the SC ruled that RA 6735 is adequate enough to enable such initiative. HOWEVER, this was a mere minute resolution which reads in part:

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.

As such, it is insisted that such minute resolution did not become stare decisis. See discussion here 

See also Lambino vs COMELEC.

Read other versions of this digest here:

Separation of Powers

Revision vs Amendment to the Constitution

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