SC Dismisses People’s Initiative to Amend 1987 Constitution

By Jay B. Rempillo
Supreme Court Public Information Office

The Supreme Court, voting 8-7, today dismissed the petition for a People’s Initiative to amend the 1987 Constitution by shifting the present Bicameral-Presidential system to a Unicameral-Parliamentary form of government.

In a 52-page decision penned by Justice Antonio T. Carpio, the Court affirmed the Commission on Elections’ August 31, 2006 resolution denying due course to an initiative petition to amend the Constitution by petitioners Raul Lambino, et al.

“This Court cannot betray its primordial duty to defend and protect the Constitution. The Constitution, which embodies the people’s sovereign will, is the bible of this Court. This Court exists to defend and protect the Constitution. To allow this constitutionally infirm initiative, propelled by deceptively gathered signatures, to alter basic principles in the Constitution is to allow a desecration of the Constitution. To allow such alteration and desecration is to lose this Court’s raison d’etre,” the Court said.

Joining Justice Carpio in the majority vote were 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. Chief Justice Panganiban, Justices Santiago, Gutierrez, Callejo, and Azcuna wrote separate concurring opinions.

“Verily, the Supreme Court is now on the crossroads of history. By its decision, the Court and each of its members shall be judged by posterity. Ten years, fifty years, a hundred years — or even a thousand years — from now, what the Court did here, and how each justice opined and voted, will still be talked about, either in shame or in pride. Indeed, the hand-washing of Pontius Pilate, the abomination of Dred Scott, and the loathing of Javellana still linger and haunt to this day….Let not this case fall into the same damnation. Rather, let this Court be known throughout the nation and the world for its independence, integrity, industry and intelligence,” Chief Justice Panganiban said.

The dissenters led by Senior Associate Justice Reynato S. Puno argued for a remand of the Lambino Petition to the Comelec for verification of the over six million signatures for an initiative petition to change the 1987 Constitution. No one voted to grant the Lambino prayer to reverse the Comelec and subject the proposed constitutional changes to a plebiscite.

Aside from Justice Puno, those who dissented were Justices Leonardo A. Quisumbing, Renato C. Corona, Dante O. Tinga, Minita V. Chico-Nazario, Cancio C. Garcia, and Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr. Justices Quisumbing, Tinga, Corona, and Nazario also wrote separate dissenting opinions.

The Court said that Lambino Group’s initiative is a revision and not an amendment. As such, it violated sec. 2, Art. XVII of the Constitution limiting the scope of a people’s initiative to “Amendment to this Constitution.”

The Court ruled that “the Lambino Group’s initiative is void and unconstitutional because it dismally fails to comply with the requirement of Section 2, Article XVII of the Constitution that the initiative must be ‘directly proposed by the people through initiative upon a petition.’”

It noted that the Lambino Group itself admitted that their ‘people’s’ initiative is an ‘unqualified support to the agenda’ of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to change the Constitution. It stressed that the ULAP Resolution No. 2006-02, which the Lambino Group used as basis in their petition, specified that “ULAP maintains its unqualified support to the agenda of Her Excellency PGMA for constitution reforms.”

The Court noted that the Lambino group submitted to the Court a copy of the paper that the people signed as their initiative petition only after the September 26 oral arguments when they subsequently filed their memorandum. It stressed that the signature sheet did not show to the people the draft of the proposed changed before they are asked to sign the signature sheet. “Clearly, the signature sheet is not the ‘petition’ that the framers of the Constitution envisioned when they formulated the initiative clause in Section 2, Article XVII of the Constitution,” it said.

The Court further ruled that the present initiative violated sec. 5(b) of RA 6735 which requires that the ‘petition for an initiative on the 1987 Constitution must have at least 12 per centum of the total number of registered voters as signatories. It noted that the over six million signatories did not sign the petition nor the amended petition filed with the Comelec.

In contrast, the Court noted that the an overwhelming majority — 16,622,111 voters comprising 76.3 percent of the total votes cast — approved our Constitution in the 1987 plebiscite. “That approval is the unmistakable voice of the people, the full expression of the people’s sovereign will. That approval included the prescribed modes for amending or revising the Constitution,” the Court said.

The Court said that the Comelec did not abuse its discretion when it dismissed the Lambino Group’s initiative on the basis of the Court’s ruling in Santiago and People’s Initiative for Reform, Modernization and Action v. Comelec.

The Court stressed that the Constitution being the fundamental law of the land deserves the utmost respect and obedience of all the citizens of this nation, adding that “no one can trivialize the Constitution by cavalierly amending or revising it in blatant violation of the clearly specified modes of amendment and revision laid down in the Constitution itself.”

The Court further stressed that 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.”

The Court said that “incantations of ‘people’s voice,’ ‘people’s sovereign will,’ or ‘let the people decide’ cannot override the specific modes of changing the Constitution as prescribed in the Constitution itself. 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. Then, the Constitution ceases to be the bedrock of the nation’s stability.” (GR No. 174153, Lambino and Aumentado v. Comelec; GR No. 174299, Binay, et al. v. Comelec, et al.; October 25, 2006)

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