As the movement to amend the Constitution via the People’s Initiative gains traction, it is understandable that conflicting views arise. This is expected and is in fact encouraged, so long as the discussion on the matter is healthy, productive, and does not resort to false accusations and imputations of crimes when none are committed.
The lively discourse will also bring to the attention of the Filipino people the paramount importance of this undertaking, help dispel the alluded mysteries surrounding the movement, and allay the fears and concerns of initial naysayers.
More importantly, this will also help educate our citizens by giving them the necessary information, empowering the entire country to decide their stand on whether the vote of the Senate and the House of Representatives should be joint or separate when it comes to proposing changes to the Constitution.
The end goal of all these discussions is to obtain an independent and informed vote during the plebiscite, a vote which should not be dictated upon by any individual, organization or sect.
The latest legal luminary who joined the discussion is a renowned Constitutionalist, member of the Constitutional Convention who crafted the present Constitution, and a retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Adolfo S. Azcuna. He was interviewed last Sunday by Radio 630 – Teleradyo Serbisyo of ABS-CBN News. In subsequent news reports, Justice Azcuna was quoted stating that “Yung batas na ‘yun ay hindi puwedeng basehan para sa people’s initiative dahil may pagkukulang.”
What was not noticed was his answer when asked whether the actions of the Court in the Lambino case was correct. He answered, “Opo, dapat ahh….ako, sa palagay ko mali yun pero talo kame, hindi kame nanalo, equal ang voting e. Kaya hindi kame nanalo. Kaya hindi nabago ang Santiago (doctrine)”
It must be recalled that Justice Azcuna was one of the 10 members of the Supreme Court who opined that the Republic Act 6735 is sufficient and adequate to amend the Constitution thru people’s initiative. In his separate opinion, he stated that “when Congress acts under this provision, it acts not as a legislature exercising legislative powers.” He continued by stating that “(t)he rules, therefore, governing the exercise of legislative powers do not apply, or do not apply strictly, to the actions taken under Article XVII.”
Justice Azcuna concluded by stating that “as long as there is a sufficient and clear intent to provide for the implementation of the exercise of the right, it should be sustained, as it is simply a compliance of the mandate placed on Congress by the Constitution”. Finally, he stated that the doctrine in the Santiago vs Comelec should be “re-examined” and “reconsidered in favor of allowing the exercise of this sovereign right”, referring to the people’s initiative to amend the Constitution. His separate opinion in the Lambino case reads:
“Article XVII is the Constitution of Sovereignty.
As a result, the powers therein provided are called constituent powers. So when Congress acts under this provision, it acts not as a legislature exercising legislative powers. It acts as a constituent body exercising constituent powers.
The rules, therefore, governing the exercise of legislative powers do not apply, or do not apply strictly, to the actions taken under Article XVII.
Accordingly, since Article XVII states that Congress shall provide for the implementation of the exercise of the people's right directly to propose amendments to the Constitution through initiative, the act of Congress pursuant thereto is not strictly a legislative action but partakes of a constituent act.
As a result, Republic Act No. 6735, the act that provides for the exercise of the people of the right to propose a law or amendments to the Constitution is, with respect to the right to propose amendments to the Constitution, a constituent measure, not a mere legislative one.
The consequence of this special character of the enactment, insofar as it relates to proposing amendments to the Constitution, is that the requirements for statutory enactments, such as sufficiency of standards and the like, do not and should not strictly apply. As long as there is a sufficient and clear intent to provide for the implementation of the exercise of the right, it should be sustained, as it is simply a compliance of the mandate placed on Congress by the Constitution.
Seen in this light, the provisions of Republic Act No. 6735 relating to the procedure for proposing amendments to the Constitution, can and should be upheld, despite shortcomings perhaps in legislative headings and standards.
For this reason, I concur in the view that Santiago v. Comelec should be re-examined and, after doing so, that the pronouncement therein regarding the insufficiency or inadequacy of the measure to sustain a people's initiative to amend the Constitution should be reconsidered in favor of allowing the exercise of this sovereign right.” (emphasis supplied)
This is the opportune time to revisit the ruling in Santiago vs COMELEC. The country desires change and improvement which is attainable by relaxing the economic provisions of the Constitution; a call stymied by the upper house. The impasse between the two Houses creates this impending need to finally clarify the manner of voting of both Houses when it comes to the Constituent Assembly.
On another matter, I would also like to bring to the minds of the people that, if allowed, this is not the first time that the House of Representatives and Senate vote jointly. This manner of voting is not an anomaly or a new concept in the Constitution. Article VII, Section 18 of our Constitution prescribes joint voting of the two Houses in matters which are considered to be of supreme and paramount importance. These two instances are: 1) when revoking or extending proclamation of the writ of habeas corpus; and 2) when revoking or extending the declaration of martial law.