• COMMENTARY

    People’s initiative: Our passport to a new Philippines

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    AMONG the many innovations in the 1987 Philippine Constitution, one facet of the fundamental law stands out among the rest, and this is the right given to the people through people’s initiative – (1) in the amendatory process of the Constitution (Article XVII, Section 2), and (2) in directly proposing and enacting laws or approving or rejecting any act or law (Article VI, Section 32).

    Thus was approved by Congress on August 4, 1989, some two years after the ratification of the Constitution, RA 6735 or “An Act Providing for a System of Initiative and Referendum and Appropriating Funds Therefor.” In it are three systems of initiative: (1) initiative on the Constitution, which refers to a petition proposing amendments to the Constitution; (2) initiative on statutes, which refers to a petition proposing to enact a national legislation; and (3) initiative on local legislation, which refers to a petition proposing to enact a regional, provincial, city, municipal, or barangay law, resolution or ordinance.

    Unfortunately, this significant power given to the people has been overlooked, if not at all forgotten.

    More than 27 years have passed and yet people’s initiative in the Philippines has not fulfilled the vision of the framers of the Constitution to serve as a reflection of the empowerment of people’s participation in the political arena.

    While charter change through people’s initiative has been attempted twice – in 1997, when President Ramos’ partisans tried to form a movement to amend the Constitution to allow a second presidential term and, in 2006, when allies of President Arroyo pushed for a shift to a unicameral parliamentary government and the lifting of the Charter’s restrictive economic provisions – both attempts were struck down by the Supreme Court primarily because of failure to comply with the basic requirements provided under the Section 2, Article XVII of the Constitution and the inadequacy of RA 6735 to implement people’s initiative as a mode to amend the Constitution.

    The same Court however also ruled in G.R. 174153, promulgated on October 25, 2006: “A thorough reading of R.A. No. 6735 leads to the conclusion that it covers only initiatives on national and local legislation.  Its references to initiatives on the Constitution are few, isolated and misplaced.  Unlike in the initiatives on national and local legislation, where R.A. No. 6735 provides a detailed, logical, and exhaustive enumeration on their implementation…”

    Clearly, the power to enact laws is not exclusively vested in Congress but can be directly exercised by the people in recognition of the doctrine that the people are the real sovereign and not their elected legislators.

    This was most recently affirmed when on November 27, 2012 the Commission on Elections promulgated En Banc Minute Resolution No. 12-1059, prescribing the form of a Petition for the enactment of a national legislation.

    Herein lies our passport to a new Philippines.

    At the root of our people’s sufferings – from several crises and periods of serious social disruption, widespread breakdown of peace and order, uneven and unfairly distributed economic growth, sluggish investment levels, pitiful support for education or other social programs, a steady disintegration of major infrastructure projects, widespread corruption at all levels of society, a massive outflow of workforce seeking employment overseas, and a steady rise in absolute poverty – is politics.

    Our nation’s problems on one hand may not after all be as complicated as we think it to be – at least 40% of our annual budget (taxpayers’ money) is lost to corruption while 30% is automatically appropriated to debts repayment. Hence, for every peso, only 30 centavos go to public services.

    Thus no solution may be in sight to our demands for free education with more schools, teachers, books; better healthcare benefits for all; improvement in our justice system, world-class public infrastructure; conducive climate for private business hand in hand with jobs creation; and many more unless and first and foremost we confront corruption head on.

    Two structural reforms through people’s initiative come to mind and are independently underway – on the prohibition of political dynasty and the abolition of the pork barrel system. A third initiative on the freedom of information bill could well be forthcoming if and when this present administration and Congress fail to pass one for the nth time.

    But for any people’s initiative to succeed, the active participation of Churches is vital and all the more becomes obligatory if they are to live up to their acknowledged role as agents for change, defenders of the oppressed, and champions for social justice.

    Such necessity resides in the fact that for any signature campaign to succeed and pave the way for a referendum there shall be at least “10% of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least 3% of the registered voters therein.”

    Primarily and particularly for the leaders of the Catholic Church, their words and actions will tell the truth about what they genuinely believe in and stand for. These leaders are sadly on the verge of failure judging on what one observer said: “The CBCP can be described as a big boys club where Bishops are “little popes” in their dioceses that remain intensely independent and where “decisions” or Pastoral Letters and Exhortations coming from the CBCP plenary meetings are mere suggestions that Bishops may or may not observe and/or implement in their respective realm.”

    Indeed, if people’s initiative is our passport to a new Philippines, the Churches are our passport to a successful people’s initiative.

    The first may be difficult to undertake but, if we as a people shall succeed, the next ones should be easy.  What Filipinos need to do is to exercise this right, to make the Constitution and implementing law work for them, and to take affirmative action where Congress has failed, then, now and will in the future.

    Otherwise, expect us to remain what we are today for a long, long, long time – a county with a great number of poor and powerless people.

    Norman V. Cabrera is the president of Kapatiran Party.  He may be reached at nv_cabrera2003@yahoo.com

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