Dancing Cha-cha with Taylor Swift’s craze | Inquirer Opinion
With Due Respect

Dancing Cha-cha with Taylor Swift’s craze

Traditional and social media are ablaze with reports on yet again new attempts for Charter change (Cha-cha) via a new people’s initiative (PI) allegedly led surreptitiously by some representatives, and via constituent assembly (con-ass) or the normal legislative process led openly by Senate leaders.

THE DOCTRINE OF “INSUFFICIENT LAW”—let me clarify at the outset—so mightily and proudly espoused by some advocates opposing PI had been reversed by the Supreme Court and is no longer the controlling jurisprudence on the subject. Let me explain.

In Santiago v. Comelec (March 19, 1997), the Court, voting 8-5, rejected the PI attempt at that time because the law implementing PI, Republic Act No. 6735, was “inadequate to cover the system of initiative on amendments to the Constitution, and to have failed to provide sufficient standard for subordinate legislation.” Though the vote on the motion for reconsideration (MR) later filed by the respondents was tied at 6-6 (some justices somersaulted), the Court stuck to its original holding that RA 6735 was “inadequate or insufficient” because a majority vote is required to overturn a prior decision or ruling. Supremely controversial, indeed, was this case. I should know. I was already an associate justice in 1997 when this case was decided. In fact, I wrote a strong dissent, saying there was “no such thing as an insufficient or inadequate law.”

NINE YEARS LATER WHEN I WAS ALREADY CHIEF JUSTICE, the Court—in Lambino v. Comelec (Oct. 25, 2006), voting 8-7—rejected another PI attempt because the petition failed to comply with Section 2 of Article XVII of the Charter and Section 5 (b) of RA 6735. It held that the full text of the proposed amendment must be shown to the people before they sign both the signature sheets and the petition to the Commission on Elections. However, the signature sheets merely asked the people whether they approved a shift from the bicameral-presidential to the unicameral-parliamentary system. There was no proof that the full text of the proposed changes was shown to the signatories before they signed the signature sheets and the petition itself.

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The ponencia masterfully written by J Antonio T. Carpio (the seven dissenters were led by J Reynato S.Puno who later succeeded me as CJ) ruled that due to this fatal omission, the petition constituted a “grand deception” and a “gigantic fraud.” Further, PI can propose only simple amendments; complicated revisions can be proposed only by a con-ass, or by a constitutional convention. Revision broadly implies a change that alters a basic constitutional principle, like separation of powers or the system of checks and balances. Au contraire, amendment broadly refers to a change that adds, reduces, or deletes words without altering basic principles. I wrote a concurring opinion.

A month later, on Nov. 21, 2006, the Court, by the same vote of 8-7, denied with finality the MR. However, it clarified that RA 6735—portions of which were used in the ponencia to strike down the PI—was, by a more decisive vote of 10-5, “sufficient and adequate to amend the Constitution thru a people’s initiative.”

LATELY, SENATE PRESIDENT MIGZ ZUBIRI, SENATE PRESIDENT PRO TEMPORE LOREN LEGARDA, AND SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE CHAIR SONNY ANGARA filed “Resolution of Both Houses No. 6” proposing three Cha-cha items, via the normal legislative process, by adding the phrase “UNLESS OTHERWISE PROVIDED BY LAW” to three constitutional provision that: (1) limit the operation of public utilities to Filipinos, or to 60 percent Filipino-owned corporations; (2) limit basic education, other than those owned by religious groups, to 60 percent Filipino-owned corporations, and (3) limit advertising agencies to 70 percent Filipino corporations.

In other words, under this con-ass proposal, the nationalistic limits will not ipso facto be changed, unless a new law is passed by Congress altering the percentages. In this way, the proponents claim, with reason and logic, that they can no longer be accused of self-service. The Senate President has publicly announced that their proposal has the blessing of both President Marcos and Speaker Martin Romualdez.

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To be fair, may I add that a similar proposal had been filed 10 years ago by former speaker Sonny Belmonte Jr. However, it failed because then President Noynoy Aquino would not hear of any proposal to alter the 1987 Constitution which he considered the great legacy of his deceased mother, Cory Aquino.

AT BOTTOM, for so many times in the past, our high officials have tried to change our basic law, but our people consistently frowned on them on the suspicion they were merely cheap, self-serving schemes to perpetuate the sponsors in power. Today, old tricks will no longer work. Our officials should be more transparent and limit the changes only to those that do not benefit them in any manner. Perhaps, they should no longer dance with the old Cha-cha rhythm but swing with ABBA, or do the TikTok, or better still, craze with Taylor Swift. Perhaps, just perhaps, our people, especially the young, will begin to believe them.

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TAGS: charter change, constitutional amendments, With Due Respect

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