Case Digests
Constitutional Law 1 Digests

Case Digest: Defensor Santiago v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 127325, 19 March 1997

Defensor Santiago v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 127325, 19 March 1997

TOPIC: Amendment vs. Revision of the Constitution: Proposal Stage: People’s Initiative and Amendment vs. Revision


On 6 December 1996, private respondent Atty. Jesus S. Delfin filed with public respondent Commission on Elections (hereafter, COMELEC) a “Petition to Amend the Constitution, to Lift Term Limits of Elective Officials, by People’s Initiative” (hereafter, Delfin Petition)5 wherein Delfin asked the COMELEC for an order

  1. Fixing the time and dates for signature gathering all over the country;
  2. Causing the necessary publications of said Order and the attached “Petition for Initiative on the 1987 Constitution, in newspapers of general and local circulation;
  3. Instructing Municipal Election Registrars in all Regions of the Philippines, to assist Petitioners and volunteers, in establishing signing stations at the time and on the dates designated for the purpose.

Delfin alleged in his petition that he is a founding member of the Movement for People’s Initiative,6 a group of citizens desirous to avail of the system intended to institutionalize people power; that he and the members of the Movement and other volunteers intend to exercise the power to directly propose amendments to the Constitution granted under Section 2, Article XVII of the Constitution; that the exercise of that power shall be conducted in proceedings under the control and supervision of the COMELEC; that, as required in COMELEC Resolution No. 2300, signature stations shall be established all over the country, with the assistance of municipal election registrars, who shall verify the signatures affixed by individual signatories; that before the Movement and other volunteers can gather signatures, it is necessary that the time and dates to be designated for the purpose be first fixed in an order to be issued by the COMELEC; and that to adequately inform the people of the electoral process involved, it is likewise necessary that the said order, as well as the Petition on which the signatures shall be affixed, be published in newspapers of general and local circulation, under the control and supervision of the COMELEC.

The Delfin Petition further alleged that the provisions sought to be amended are Sections 4 and 7 of Article VI,7 Section 4 of Article VII,8 and Section 8 of Article X9 of the Constitution. Attached to the petition is a copy of a “Petition for Initiative on the 1987 Constitution” 10 embodying the proposed amendments which consist in the deletion from the aforecited sections of the provisions concerning term limits, and with the following proposition:


According to Delfin, the said Petition for Initiative will first be submitted to the people, and after it is signed by at least twelve per cent of the total number of registered voters in the country it will be formally filed with the COMELEC.

Upon the filing of the Delfin Petition, which was forthwith given the number UND 96-037 (INITIATIVE), the COMELEC, through its Chairman, issued an Order 11 (a) directing Delfin “to cause the publication of the petition, together with the attached Petition for Initiative on the 1987 Constitution (including the proposal, proposed constitutional amendment, and the signature form), and the notice of hearing in three (3) daily newspapers of general circulation at his own expense” not later than 9 December 1996; and (b) setting the case for hearing on 12 December 1996 at 10:00 a.m.


At the hearing of the Delfin Petition on 12 December 1996, the following appeared: Delfin and Atty. Pete Q. Quadra; representatives of the People’s Initiative for Reforms, Modernization and Action (PIRMA); intervenor-oppositor Senator Raul S. Roco, together with his two other lawyers, and representatives of, or counsel for, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), Demokrasya-Ipagtanggol ang Konstitusyon (DIK), Public Interest Law Center, and Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LABAN). 12 Senator Roco, on that same day, filed a Motion to Dismiss the Delfin Petition on the ground that it is not the initiatory petition properly cognizable by the COMELEC.

After hearing their arguments, the COMELEC directed Delfin and the oppositors to file their “memoranda and/or oppositions/memoranda” within five days. 13

On 18 December 1996, the petitioners herein — Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, Alexander Padilla, and Maria Isabel Ongpin — filed this special civil action for prohibition raising the following arguments:

(1) The constitutional provision on people’s initiative to amend the Constitution can only be implemented by law to be passed by Congress. No such law has been passed; in fact, Senate Bill No. 1290 entitled An Act Prescribing and Regulating Constitution Amendments by People’s Initiative, which petitioner Senator Santiago filed on 24 November 1995, is still pending before the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments.

(2) It is true that R.A. No. 6735 provides for three systems of initiative, namely, initiative on the Constitution, on statutes, and on local legislation. However, it failed to provide any subtitle on initiative on the Constitution, unlike in the other modes of initiative, which are specifically provided for in Subtitle II and Subtitle III. This deliberate omission indicates that the matter of people’s initiative to amend the Constitution was left to some future law. Former Senator Arturo Tolentino stressed this deficiency in the law in his privilege speech delivered before the Senate in 1994: “There is not a single word in that law which can be considered as implementing [the provision on constitutional initiative]. Such implementing provisions have been obviously left to a separate law.

(3) Republic Act No. 6735 provides for the effectivity of the law after publication in print media. This indicates that the Act covers only laws and not constitutional amendments because the latter take effect only upon ratification and not after publication.

(4) COMELEC Resolution No. 2300, adopted on 16 January 1991 to govern “the conduct of initiative on the Constitution and initiative and referendum on national and local laws, is ultra vires insofar as initiative on amendments to the Constitution is concerned, since the COMELEC has no power to provide rules and regulations for the exercise of the right of initiative to amend the Constitution. Only Congress is authorized by the Constitution to pass the implementing law.

(5) The people’s initiative is limited to amendments to the Constitution, not to revision thereof. Extending or lifting of term limits constitutes a revision and is, therefore, outside the power of the people’s initiative.

(6) Finally, Congress has not yet appropriated funds for people’s initiative; neither the COMELEC nor any other government department, agency, or office has realigned funds for the purpose.


  1. Whether R.A. No. 6735, entitled An Act Providing for a System of Initiative and Referendum and Appropriating Funds Therefor, was intended to include or cover initiative on amendments to the Constitution; and if so, whether the Act, as worded, adequately covers such initiative.


  1. Section 2 of Article XVII of the Constitution provides:

Sec. 2. Amendments to this Constitution may likewise be directly proposed by the people through initiative upon a petition of at least twelve per centum of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three per centum of the registered voters therein. No amendment under this section shall be authorized within five years following the ratification of this Constitution nor oftener than once every five years thereafter.

The Congress shall provide for the implementation of the exercise of this right.

This provision is not self-executory. In his book, 29 Joaquin Bernas, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, stated:

Without implementing legislation Section 2 cannot operate. Thus, although this mode of amending the Constitution is a mode of amendment which bypasses congressional action, in the last analysis it still is dependent on congressional action.

Bluntly stated, the right of the people to directly propose amendments to the Constitution through the system of initiative would remain entombed in the cold niche of the Constitution until Congress provides for its implementation. Stated otherwise, while the Constitution has recognized or granted that right, the people cannot exercise it if Congress, for whatever reason, does not provide for its implementation.

This system of initiative was originally included in Section 1 of the draft Article on Amendment or Revision proposed by the Committee on Amendments and Transitory Provisions of the 1986 Constitutional Commission in its Committee Report No. 7 (Proposed Resolution No. 332). 30 That section reads as follows:

Sec. 1. Any amendment to, or revision of, this Constitution may be proposed:

(a) by the National Assembly upon a vote of three-fourths of all its members; or

(b) by a constitutional convention; or

(c) directly by the people themselves thru initiative as provided for in Article___ Section ___of the Constitution.

The conclusion then is inevitable that, indeed, the system of initiative on the Constitution under Section 2 of Article XVII of the Constitution is not self-executory.


Has Congress “provided” for the implementation of the exercise of this right? Those who answer the question in the affirmative, like the private respondents and intervenor Senator Roco, point to us R.A. No. 6735.


There is, of course, no other better way for Congress to implement the exercise of the right than through the passage of a statute or legislative act. This is the essence or rationale of the last minute amendment by the Constitutional Commission to substitute the last paragraph of Section 2 of Article XVII then reading:


The Congress 45 shall by law provide for the implementation of the exercise of this right.




The Congress shall provide for the implementation of the exercise of this right.


This substitute amendment was an investiture on Congress of a power to provide for the rules implementing the exercise of the right. The “rules” means “the details on how [the right] is to be carried out.” 46


We agree that R.A. No. 6735 was, as its history reveals, intended to cover initiative to propose amendments to the Constitution. The Act is a consolidation of House Bill No. 21505 and Senate Bill No. 17. The former was prepared by the Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms of the House of Representatives on the basis of two House Bills referred to it, viz., (a) House Bill No. 497, 47 which dealt with the initiative and referendum mentioned

in Sections 1 and 32 of Article VI of the Constitution; and (b) House Bill No. 988, 48 which dealt with the subject matter of House Bill No. 497, as well as with initiative and referendum under Section 3 of Article X (Local Government) and initiative provided for in Section 2 of Article XVII of the Constitution. Senate Bill No. 17 49 solely dealt with initiative and referendum concerning ordinances or resolutions of local government units. The Bicameral Conference Committee consolidated Senate Bill No. 17 and House Bill No. 21505 into a draft bill, which was subsequently approved on 8 June 1989 by the Senate 50 and by the House of Representatives. 51 This approved bill is now R.A. No. 6735.


But is R.A. No. 6735 a full compliance with the power and duty of Congress to “provide for the implementation of the exercise of the right?”


A careful scrutiny of the Act yields a negative answer.


First. Contrary to the assertion of public respondent COMELEC, Section 2 of the Act does not suggest an initiative on amendments to the Constitution. The said section reads:


Sec. 2. Statement and Policy. — The power of the people under a system of initiative and referendum to directly propose, enact, approve or reject, in whole or in part, the Constitution, laws, ordinances, or resolutions passed by any legislative body upon compliance with the requirements of this Act is hereby affirmed, recognized and guaranteed. (Emphasis supplied).


The inclusion of the word “Constitution” therein was a delayed afterthought. That word is neither germane nor relevant to said section, which exclusively relates to initiative and referendum on national laws and local laws, ordinances, and resolutions. That section is silent as to amendments on the Constitution. As pointed out earlier, initiative on the Constitution is confined only to proposals to AMEND. The people are not accorded the power to “directly propose, enact, approve, or reject, in whole or in part, the Constitution” through the system of initiative. They can only do so with respect to “laws, ordinances, or resolutions.”


The foregoing conclusion is further buttressed by the fact that this section was lifted from Section 1 of Senate Bill No. 17, which solely referred to a statement of policy on local initiative and referendum and appropriately used the phrases “propose and enact,” “approve or reject” and “in whole or in part.” 52


Second. It is true that Section 3 (Definition of Terms) of the Act defines initiative on amendments to the Constitution and mentions it as one of the three systems of initiative, and that Section 5 (Requirements) restates the constitutional requirements as to the percentage of the registered voters who must submit the proposal. But unlike in the case of the other systems of initiative, the Act does not provide for the contents of a petition for initiative on the Constitution. Section 5, paragraph (c) requires, among other things, statement of the proposed law sought to be enacted, approved or rejected, amended or repealed, as the case may be. It does not include, as among the contents of the petition, the provisions of the Constitution sought to be amended, in the case of initiative on the Constitution. Said paragraph (c) reads in full as follows:


(c) The petition shall state the following:


c.1 contents or text of the proposed law sought to be enacted, approved or rejected, amended or repealed, as the case may be;


c.2 the proposition;


c.3 the reason or reasons therefor;


c.4 that it is not one of the exceptions provided therein;


c.5 signatures of the petitioners or registered voters; and


c.6 an abstract or summary proposition is not more than one hundred (100) words which shall be legibly written or printed at the top of every page of the petition. (Emphasis supplied).


The use of the clause “proposed laws sought to be enacted, approved or rejected, amended or repealed” only strengthens the conclusion that Section 2, quoted earlier, excludes initiative on amendments to the Constitution.


Third. While the Act provides subtitles for National Initiative and Referendum (Subtitle II) and for Local Initiative and Referendum (Subtitle III), no subtitle is provided for initiative on the Constitution. This conspicuous silence as to the latter simply means that the main thrust of the Act is initiative and referendum on national and local laws. If Congress intended R.A. No. 6735 to fully provide for the implementation of the initiative on amendments to the Constitution, it could have provided for a subtitle therefor, considering that in the order of things, the primacy of interest, or hierarchy of values, the right of the people to directly propose amendments to the Constitution is far more important than the initiative on national and local laws.




We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

You may also like...