EN BANC

 

G. R. No. 174153 – RAUL L. LAMBINO and ERICO B. AUMENTADO together with 6,327,952 REGISTERED VOTERS, petitioners, versus THE COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, respondent.

 

G. R. No. 174299 – MAR-LEN ABIGAIL BINAY, SOFRONIO UNTALAN, JR. and RENE A.Q. SAGUISAG, petitioners, versus THE COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, Represented by Chairman BENJAMIN S. ABALOS, SR., and Commissioners RESURRECCION Z. BORRA, FLORENTINO A. TUASON, JR., ROMEO A. BRAWNER, RENE V. SARMIENTO, and John Doe and Peter Doe, respondents.

 

                                                Promulgated: October 25, 2006

 

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DISSENTING OPINION

 

 

CORONA, J.:

 

        The life of the law is not logic but experience.[1] Our collective experience as a nation breathes life to our system of laws, especially to the Constitution. These cases promise to significantly contribute to our collective experience as a nation. Fealty to the primary constitutional principle that the Philippines is not merely a republican State but a democratic one as well behooves this Court to affirm the right of the people to participate directly in the process of introducing changes to their fundamental law. These petitions present such an opportunity. Thus, this is an opportune time for this Court to uphold the sovereign rights of the people.

 

        I agree with the opinion of Mr. Justice Reynato Puno who has sufficiently explained the rationale for upholding the people’s initiative. However, I wish to share my own thoughts on certain matters I deem material and significant. 

 

Santiago Does Not Apply to This Case But Only to the 1997 Delfin Petition

 

The COMELEC denied the petition for initiative filed by petitioners purportedly on the basis of this Court’s ruling in Santiago v. COMELEC[2] that: (1) RA 6753 was inadequate to cover the system of initiative regarding amendments to the Constitution and (2) the COMELEC was  permanently enjoined from entertaining or taking cognizance of any petition for initiative regarding amendments to the Constitution until a sufficient law was validly enacted to provide for the implementation of the initiative provision.

 

However, Santiago should not apply to this case but only to the petition of Delfin in 1997. It would be unreasonable to make it apply to all petitions which were yet unforeseen in 1997. The fact is that Santiago was focused on the Delfin petition alone.

 

Those who oppose the exercise of the people’s right to initiate changes to the Constitution via initiative claim that Santiago barred any and all future petitions for initiative by virtue of the doctrines of stare decisis and res judicata. The argument is flawed.

 

The ponencia of Mr. Justice Puno has amply discussed the arguments relating to stare decisis.  Hence, I will address the argument from the viewpoint of res judicata.    

 

Res judicata is the rule that a final judgment rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction on the merits is conclusive as to the rights of the parties and their privies and, as to them, constitutes an absolute bar to a subsequent action involving the same claim, demand or cause of action.[3] It has the following requisites: (1) the former judgment or order must be final; (2) it must have been rendered by a court having jurisdiction of the subject matter and of the parties; (3) it must be a judgment or order on the merits and (4) there must be identity of parties, of subject matter, and of cause of action between the first and second actions.[4]

 

There is no identity of parties in Santiago and the instant case. While the COMELEC was also the respondent in Santiago, the petitioners in that case and those in this case are different. More significantly, there is no identity of causes of action in the two cases. Santiago involved amendments to Sections 4 and 7 of Article VI, Section 4 of Article VII and Section 8 of Article X of the Constitution while the present petition seeks to amend Sections 1to 7 of Article VI and Sections 1 to 4 of the 1987 Constitution. Clearly, therefore, the COMELEC committed grave abuse of discretion when it ruled that the present petition for initiative was barred by Santiago and, on that ground, dismissed the petition.

 

The present petition and that in Santiago are materially different from each other. They are not based on the same facts.  There is thus no cogent reason to frustrate and defeat the present direct action of the people to exercise their sovereignty by proposing changes to their fundamental law.

 

 

People’s Initiative Should Not

Be Subjected to Conditions

 

People’s initiative is an option reserved by the people for themselves exclusively. Neither Congress nor the COMELEC has the power to curtail or defeat this exclusive power of the people to change the Constitution. Neither should the exercise of this power be made subject to any conditions, as some would have us accept.

 

Oppositors to the people’s initiative point out that this Court ruled in Santiago that RA 6735 was inadequate to cover the system of initiative on amendments to the Constitution and, thus, no law existed to enable the people to directly propose changes to the Constitution. This reasoning is seriously objectionable.

 

The pronouncement on the insufficiency of RA 6735 was, to my mind, out of place. It was unprecedented and dangerously transgressed the domain reserved to the legislature.

 

While the legislature is authorized to establish procedures for determining the validity and sufficiency of a petition to amend the constitution,[5] that procedure cannot unnecessarily restrict the initiative privilege.[6] In the same vein, this Court cannot unnecessarily and unreasonably restrain the people’s right to directly propose changes to the Constitution by declaring a law inadequate simply for lack of a sub-heading and other grammatical but insignificant omissions. Otherwise, the constitutional intent to empower the people will be severely emasculated, if not rendered illusory.

 

People’s Right and Power to Propose Changes to the Constitution Directly   Should not be Unreasonably Curtailed  

 

 

If Congress and a constitutional convention, both of which are mere representative bodies, can propose changes to the Constitution, there is no reason why the supreme body politic itself – the people – may not do so directly. 

 

Resort to initiative to amend the constitution or enact a statute is an exercise of “direct democracy” as opposed to “representative democracy.” The system of initiative allows citizens to directly propose constitutional amendments for the general electorate to adopt or reject at the polls, particularly in a plebiscite. While representative government was envisioned to “refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations,”[7] the exercise of “direct democracy” through initiative reserves direct lawmaking power to the people by providing them a method to make new laws via the constitution, or alternatively by enacting statutes.[8] Efforts of the represented to control their representatives through initiative have been described as curing the problems of democracy with more democracy.[9]  

 

The Constitution celebrates the sovereign right of the people and declares that “sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.”[10] Unless the present petition is granted, this constitutional principle will be nothing but empty rhetoric, devoid of substance for those whom it seeks to empower.

 

The right of the people to pass legislation and to introduce changes to the Constitution is a fundamental right and must be jealously guarded.[11] The people should be allowed to directly seek redress of the problems of society and representative democracy with the constitutional tools they have reserved for their use alone.

 

Accordingly, I vote to GRANT the petition in G.R. No. 174513.

 

RENATO C. CORONA

                                                    Associate Justice

             



[1]               Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616.

[2]               336 Phil. 848 (1997).

[3]               Santos v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 134787, 15 November 2005, 475 SCRA 1.

[4]               Feria and Noche, Civil Procedure Annotated, vol. I, 2001 edition, p. 419.

[5]               Sec. 30, Petitions and initiatives by the people, 16 Am Jur 2d 380, citing State ex rel. Stenberg v. Beermann, 240 Neb. 754, 485 N.W. 2d 151 (1992).

[6]               Id. citing Coalition for Political Honesty v. State Board of Elections, 83 Ill. 2d 236, 47 Ill. Dec. 363, 415 N.E. 2d 368 (1980).

[7]               Balitzer, Alfred, The Initiative and Referendum: A Study and Evaluation of Direct Legislation, The California Roundtable 13 (1981). The American Founding Fathers recognized that direct democracy posed a profound threat to individual rights and liberty. The U.S. Constitution was “designed to provide a system of government that would prevent either a tyranny of the majority or a tyranny of the few.” James Madison "warned against the power of a majority or a minority of the population ‘united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interest of the community.’

[8]               Gilbert Hahn & Steven C. Morton, Initiative and Referendum – Do They Encourage or Impair Better State Government? 5 FLA. ST. U. L. REV. 925, 927 (1977).

[9]               Florida Advisory Council on Intergovernmental Relations, Initiatives and Referenda: Issues in Citizen Lawmaking (1986).

[10]             Sec. 1, Article II, Constitution.

[11]             In re Initiative Petition No. 362 State Question 669, 899 P.2d 1145 (Okla. 1995).