New initiative push: Perilous, dangerous | Inquirer Opinion

New initiative push: Perilous, dangerous

/ 04:20 AM January 15, 2024

Twice, in our constitutional history, the system of initiative as a mode to amend the 1987 Constitution was repudiated by the Supreme Court. The first, in 1997, was initiated by the People’s Initiative for Reform, Modernization, and Action (Pirma), and the second, in 2006, was undertaken by Raul L. Lambino, Erico B. Aumentado, and Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (Ulap).

The Supreme Court, in the first initiative push, ruled in Miriam Defensor Santiago, et al. v. Commission on Elections, et al., G.R. No. 127325, March 19, 1997, that the choice of initiative to lift term limits of all elective government officials is not appropriate because lifting term limits is revision and initiative is only for amendment. Moreover, Republic Act No. 6735, which is intended to cover the initiative to propose amendments to the Constitution is “incomplete, inadequate, or wanting in essential terms and conditions insofar as initiatives or amendments to the Constitution is concerned” and this deficiency is fatal.

The Supreme Court, in the second initiative push, ruled in Raul L. Lambino et al. v. the Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 174153, Oct. 25, 2006, that the initiative petition to amend the 1987 Constitution is without merit because the signature sheet containing the proposal did not show that the people authored and thus signed the proposal; the initiative power reserved by the people is for the amendment of the Constitution and not revision and lifting the term limits of members of the legislature by changing the form of government from a bicameral-presidential to a unicameral-parliamentary system of government is revision; and, RA 6735 still does not comply with the requirements of the Constitution to implement the initiative clause on amendments to Charter.

Like the first and second initiative pushes, the present initiative push, initially launched by several local chief executives and supported by the same Pirma of the first initiative push through a television advertisement, is likewise fundamentally flawed. For one, it is not the Filipino people behind the initiative as author of the proposal, and they would simply be asked to sign the signature sheet without the benefit of understanding the nature and implications of the proposal. For another, changing the transitory provisions is a revision because it is a significant and substantial provision of the Constitution. Under Section 1, Article XVII, the Senate and the House of Representatives shall vote separately, not jointly in amending or revising the Constitution. To vote jointly will be fatal to the Senate because of the formidable number of congressmen vis-à-vis the small number of senators.


Historically, the transitory provision in the United States Constitution was introduced to give the American people a peaceful avenue to change government via constitutional change without resorting to violence or revolution. It was not intended to favor or to benefit a few, the privileged, the powerful.

Stripped of its disguise, the third initiative push is a Trojan horse that can be employed as a preliminary step to change substantial provisions in the Constitution covering economic, political, judicial, human rights, and social justice provisions.

Relevant to this third initiative push as a preliminary step to further amend or revise the Constitution, the words of the Supreme Court in Lambino v. Comelec is insightful and instructive:

“Thus, the present initiative appears merely a preliminary step for further amendments or revisions to be undertaken by the interim Parliament as a constituent assembly. The people who signed the signature sheets could not have known that their signature would be used to propose an amendment mandating the interim Parliament to propose further amendments or revisions to the Constitution.”


Constitutions, though imperfect, are fragile democratic instruments that must be protected and safeguarded with vigilance at all times. With numerous challenges facing the country today, internationally and domestically, what is needed at this time is for us and for our elected public officers to take heed of the advice of Claro M. Recto when he wrote that the “best amendment of the Constitution would be the amendment of our lives, the amendment of our attitudes, outlook, and actions, the realization that we are free men, and the resolution to live and act as free men.”

Yes, attitudes, outlooks, and attributes that uphold the principle that “public office is a public trust,” that affirm social justice and human rights, that seek to promote the common good of Filipinos.


Rene V. Sarmiento was a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission.

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TAGS: charter change, Commentary, constitutional amendments

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