On 15 February 2006, the group of Raul Lambino and Erico Aumentado (“Lambino Group”) commenced gathering signatures for an initiative petition to change the 1987 Constitution. On 25 August 2006, the Lambino Group filed a petition with the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to hold a plebiscite that will ratify their initiative petition under Section 5(b) and (c) and Section 7 of Republic Act No. 6735 or the Initiative and Referendum Act. The proposed changes under the petition will shift the present Bicameral-Presidential system to a Unicameral-Parliamentary form of government.
The Lambino Group claims that: (a) their petition had the support of 6,327,952 individuals constituting at least 12% of all registered voters, with each legislative district represented by at least 3% of its registered voters; and (b) COMELEC election registrars had verified the signatures of the 6.3 million individuals.
The COMELEC, however, denied due course to the petition for lack of an enabling law governing initiative petitions to amend the Constitution, pursuant to the Supreme Courtâ€™s ruling in Santiago vs. Commission on Elections. The Lambino Group elevated the matter to the Supreme Court, which also threw out the petition.
1. The initiative petition does not comply with Section 2, Article XVII of the Constitution on direct proposal by the people
Section 2, Article XVII of the Constitution is the governing provision that allows a peopleâ€™s initiative to propose amendments to the Constitution. While this provision does not expressly state that the petition must set forth the full text of the proposed amendments, the deliberations of the framers of our Constitution clearly show that: (a) the framers intended to adopt the relevant American jurisprudence on peoples initiative; and (b) in particular, the people must first see the full text of the proposed amendments before they sign, and that the people must sign on a petition containing such full text.
The essence of amendments “directly proposed by the people through initiative upon a petition” is that the entire proposal on its face is a petition by the people. This means two essential elements must be present.
First, the people must author and thus sign the entire proposal. No agent or representative can sign on their behalf.
Second, as an initiative upon a petition, the proposal must be embodied in a petition.
These essential elements are present only if the full text of the proposed amendments is first shown to the people who express their assent by signing such complete proposal in a petition. The full text of the proposed amendments may be either written on the face of the petition, or attached to it. If so attached, the petition must state the fact of such attachment. This is an assurance that every one of the several millions of signatories to the petition had seen the full text of the proposed amendments before – not after – signing.
Moreover, “an initiative signer must be informed at the time of signing of the nature and effect of that which is proposed” and failure to do so is “deceptive and misleading” which renders the initiative void.
In the case of the Lambino Group’s petition, there’s not a single word, phrase, or sentence of text of the proposed changes in the signature sheet. Neither does the signature sheet state that the text of the proposed changes is attached to it. The signature sheet merely asks a question whether the people approve a shift from the Bicameral-Presidential to the Unicameral- Parliamentary system of government. The signature sheet does not show to the people the draft of the proposed changes before they are asked to sign the signature sheet. This omission is fatal.
An initiative that gathers signatures from the people without first showing to the people the full text of the proposed amendments is most likely a deception, and can operate as a gigantic fraud on the people. That’s why the Constitution requires that an initiative must be “directly proposed by the people x x x in a petition” – meaning that the people must sign on a petition that contains the full text of the proposed amendments. On so vital an issue as amending the nation’s fundamental law, the writing of the text of the proposed amendments cannot be hidden from the people under a general or special power of attorney to unnamed, faceless, and unelected individuals.
2. The initiative violates Section 2, Article XVII of the Constitution disallowing revision through initiatives
Article XVII of the Constitution speaks of three modes of amending the Constitution. The first mode is through Congress upon three-fourths vote of all its Members. The second mode is through a constitutional convention. The third mode is through a people’s initiative.
Section 1 of Article XVII, referring to the first and second modes, applies to “any amendment to, or revision of, this Constitution.” In contrast, Section 2 of Article XVII, referring to the third mode, applies only to “amendments to this Constitution.” This distinction was intentional as shown by the deliberations of the Constitutional Commission. A people’s initiative to change the Constitution applies only to an amendment of the Constitution and not to its revision. In contrast, Congress or a constitutional convention can propose both amendments and revisions to the Constitution.
Does the Lambino Group’s initiative constitute an amendment or revision of the Constitution? Yes. By any legal test and under any jurisdiction, a shift from a Bicameral-Presidential to a Unicameral-Parliamentary system, involving the abolition of the Office of the President and the abolition of one chamber of Congress, is beyond doubt a revision, not a mere amendment.
Courts have long recognized the distinction between an amendment and a revision of a constitution. Revision broadly implies a change that alters a basic principle in the constitution, like altering the principle of separation of powers or the system of checks-and-balances. There is also revision if the change alters the substantial entirety of the constitution, as when the change affects substantial provisions of the constitution. On the other hand, amendment broadly refers to a change that adds, reduces, or deletes without altering the basic principle involved. Revision generally affects several provisions of the constitution, while amendment generally affects only the specific provision being amended.
Where the proposed change applies only to a specific provision of the Constitution without affecting any other section or article, the change may generally be considered an amendment and not a revision. For example, a change reducing the voting age from 18 years to 15 years is an amendment and not a revision. Similarly, a change reducing Filipino ownership of mass media companies from 100% to 60% is an amendment and not a revision. Also, a change requiring a college degree as an additional qualification for election to the Presidency is an amendment and not a revision.
The changes in these examples do not entail any modification of sections or articles of the Constitution other than the specific provision being amended. These changes do not also affect the structure of government or the system of checks-and-balances among or within the three branches.
However, there can be no fixed rule on whether a change is an amendment or a revision. A change in a single word of one sentence of the Constitution may be a revision and not an amendment. For example, the substitution of the word “republican” with “monarchic” or “theocratic” in Section 1, Article II of the Constitution radically overhauls the entire structure of government and the fundamental ideological basis of the Constitution. Thus, each specific change will have to be examined case-by-case, depending on how it affects other provisions, as well as how it affects the structure of government, the carefully crafted system of checks-and-balances, and the underlying ideological basis of the existing Constitution.
Since a revision of a constitution affects basic principles, or several provisions of a constitution, a deliberative body with recorded proceedings is best suited to undertake a revision. A revision requires harmonizing not only several provisions, but also the altered principles with those that remain unaltered. Thus, constitutions normally authorize deliberative bodies like constituent assemblies or constitutional conventions to undertake revisions. On the other hand, constitutions allow people’s initiatives, which do not have fixed and identifiable deliberative bodies or recorded proceedings, to undertake only amendments and not revisions.
In California where the initiative clause allows amendments but not revisions to the constitution just like in our Constitution, courts have developed a two-part test: the quantitative test and the qualitative test. The quantitative test asks whether the proposed change is so extensive in its provisions as to change directly the substantial entirety of the constitution by the deletion or alteration of numerous existing provisions. The court examines only the number of provisions affected and does not consider the degree of the change.
The qualitative test inquires into the qualitative effects of the proposed change in the constitution. The main inquiry is whether the change will â€œaccomplish such far reaching changes in the nature of our basic governmental plan as to amount to a revision.â€ Whether there is an alteration in the structure of government is a proper subject of inquiry. Thus, â€œa change in the nature of [the] basic governmental planâ€ includes change in its fundamental framework or the fundamental powers of its Branches. A change in the nature of the basic governmental plan also includes changes that jeopardize the traditional form of government and the system of check and balances.
Under both the quantitative and qualitative tests, the Lambino Group initiative is a revision and not merely an amendment. Quantitatively, the Lambino Group proposed changes overhaul two articles – Article VI on the Legislature and Article VII on the Executive – affecting a total of 105 provisions in the entire Constitution. Qualitatively, the proposed changes alter substantially the basic plan of government, from presidential to parliamentary, and from a bicameral to a unicameral legislature.
A change in the structure of government is a revision of the Constitution, as when the three great co-equal branches of government in the present Constitution are reduced into two. This alters the separation of powers in the Constitution. A shift from the present Bicameral-Presidential system to a Unicameral-Parliamentary system is a revision of the Constitution. Merging the legislative and executive branches is a radical change in the structure of government. The abolition alone of the Office of the President as the locus of Executive Power alters the separation of powers and thus constitutes a revision of the Constitution. Likewise, the abolition alone of one chamber of Congress alters the system of checks-and-balances within the legislature and constitutes a revision of the Constitution.
The Lambino Group theorizes that the difference between â€œamendmentâ€ and â€œrevisionâ€ is only one of procedure, not of substance. The Lambino Group posits that when a deliberative body drafts and proposes changes to the Constitution, substantive changes are called â€œrevisionsâ€ because members of the deliberative body work full-time on the changes. The same substantive changes, when proposed through an initiative, are called â€œamendmentsâ€ because the changes are made by ordinary people who do not make an â€œoccupation, profession, or vocationâ€ out of such endeavor. The SC, however, ruled that the express intent of the framers and the plain language of the Constitution contradict the Lambino Groupâ€™s theory. Where the intent of the framers and the language of the Constitution are clear and plainly stated, courts do not deviate from such categorical intent and language.
3. A revisit of Santiago vs. COMELEC is not necessary
The petition failed to comply with the basic requirements of Section 2, Article XVII of the Constitution on the conduct and scope of a peoples initiative to amend the Constitution. There is, therefore, no need to revisit this Courts 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. An affirmation or reversal of Santiago will not change the outcome of the present petition. It settled that courts will not pass upon the constitutionality of a statute if the case can be resolved on some other grounds.
Even assuming that RA 6735 is valid, this will not change the result here because the present petition violates Section 2, Article XVII of the Constitution, which provision must first be complied with even before complying with RA 6735. Worse, the petition violates the following provisions of RA 6735:
a. Section 5(b), requiring that the people must sign the petition as signatories. The 6.3 million signatories did not sign the petition or the amended petition filed with the COMELEC. Only Attys. Lambino, Donato and Agra signed the petition and amended petition.
b. Section 10(a), providing that no petition embracing more than one subject shall be submitted to the electorate. The proposed Section 4(4) of the Transitory Provisions, mandating the interim Parliament to propose further amendments or revisions to the Constitution, is a subject matter totally unrelated to the shift in the form of government.
Read the decision’s full text here.