INITIATIVE, SOVEREIGNTY, REVISION
Let me begin with popular sovereignty. The argument of the dissenters focuses on the Declaration of Principles which says that the Philippines is a democratic and republican state and that sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them. From this the argument is drawn that whatever the people want is supreme and that therefore, since initiative is coming from the people, that settles everything.
We must first ask why the Constitutional Commission added the adjective “democratic” to “republican.” Did the Commission wish to convert the Philippine state into a form modeled after the ancient Greek states where matters of highest concern were decided directly by the people? That seems to be the thrust of the argument of the dissenters.
I am afraid that this is at the very least misleading. It is good to remember that describing the Philippines as a “democratic” state is not a rejection of the “republican” character of the state. A republican state is one that is governed by representatives chosen by the people. The people in a republican state normally express their sovereignty through the officials whom they have empowered through election. That the 1987 Costitution calls the Philippines also a “democratic” state is a recognition of the role of the people in the People Power event of 1986. It was, it must be emphasized, a revolutionary event. But the revolutionary character of that event has not been incorporated into the ordinary life of the nation. The Philippines is not a revolutionary state. It is democratic but republican.
“Initiative and referendum” is not an adoption of revolutionary rule as part of the normal life of the nation. We are far from being in a permanent state of revolution. To say that we are would be an invitation to a perpetual state of instability. For this reason, “initiative and referendum” is a vehicle for the expression of popular sovereignty but cribbed and cabined within the constraints set by Article XVII which expresses the abiding will of the people who ratified the 1987 Constitution. Until those constraints are removed by the people themselves through constitutional change, the people must respect the constraints they have imposed upon themselves – unless what they want is to exercise their right of revolution in defiance of the Constitution. But, clearly, the sponsors of initiative are not claiming defiance of the Constitution.
It is also against this background that we must understand the kind of change that is allowed by Section 2 of Article XVII. We can debate about the distinction between amendment and referendum or expend our energy in denying the existence of a distinction until we get blue in the face. But an important question that must be asked is why Section 2 on initiative and referendum has been separated from Section 1.
In Section 1 the agents authorized to propose changes in the Constitution are Congress and a Constitutional Convention. These are deliberative bodies capable in an organized manner of crafting and perfecting what should be proposed for ratification by the people. The deliberative character of Congress and Constitutional Convention gives the initial assurance that what will be presented to the people is already the fruit of the give and take of debates. In other words, “democratic and republican” but not “harebrained.” Congress and Constitutional Convention have been given by the people the authority to perform this preliminary task.
Section 2, on the other hand, was the fruit of a compromise. For reasons of practicality, there was strong objection to empowering the people directly to propose constitutional change not because they are unintelligent but because they are not organized to deliberate. In the end what was decided was to allow the people directly to propose isolated changes whose formulation would not require debate on their meaning and on the possible effects they can have on other provisions. The word used to describe this kind of change was “amendment.” Anything more complicated than that would be considered “revision.”
To my mind, the main thrust of the Supreme Court decision in Lambino v. Comelec is that what was being proposed was not a simple amendment allowed by Section 2 but a revision which should be crafted and perfected by a deliberative body in order to avoid textual conflicts and confusion.
There was no need for the Court to remand this issue to the Comelec because the Court had before it everything needed to decide the nature of what was being proposed. For this reason, what Justice Carpio said about “gigantic fraud” or “grand deception,” even if true, was not needed to kill the petition. The majority did not make its decision on the basis of unproved facts, as the petitioners might say, but on the fact of the document submitted to the Court by the petitioners themselves. The Court, in the exercise of its authority to determine what the Constitution means, decided that the changes being proposed did not satisfy the meaning of “amendment” as found in Section 2. The Court did not usurp the power of the Comelec. It saved the Comelec from unnecessary work.
In the end, the noble thing to do for those who desire a parliamentary form of government is to sponsor its adoption either in Congress as a constituent assembly or in a Constitutional Convention.