New justice says SC may allow people’s initiative
- Jose Rodel Clapano () - April 8, 2006 - 12:00am
The Supreme Court (SC) may reverse its position on a 1997 ruling and allow a people’s initiative being pushed by President Arroyo’s allies to amend the Constitution provided there are sufficient legal grounds, according to newly appointed Supreme Court Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco.

Velasco said the high tribunal’s decisions are not permanent since it may reverse its own rulings depending on the prevailing facts of the case.

"Of course, the high court can abandon an existing doctrine and come up with a new one. The Supreme Court can abandon its ruling in new ways," Velasco told reporters in an interview during cocktails in Makati City Friday night hosted by his law school fraternity Sigma Rho for his appointment to the bench by Mrs. Arroyo.

"It would have to depend on the factual setting surrounding that case. So, if it is different in the factual circumstances, then a different decision might be issued, might be rendered," he said.

Velasco pointed out that even the US Supreme Court occasionally reverses its own rulings.

"The US Supreme Court allows abortion. But there are now attempts in US court to overturn that ruling. It can be applied to any ruling. It will affect the peculiarity of the ruling. It can happen to any case," he explained.

Velasco pointed out the high court’s recent decision on the 1995 mining industry law, which it had earlier ruled as unconstitutional.

The President wants to amend the Constitution and replace the country’s US-style presidential form of government with a parliamentary system, which she said would speed up the passage of legislation needed for economic recovery.

But her initiative has run into opposition from senators who are questioning the legality of the people’s initiative being pushed by her allies.

They cited a 1997 Supreme Court ruling that pointed out the lack of a law allowing a people’s initiative and warned that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) could be cited for contempt if it entertains the people’s initiative of Mrs. Arroyo’s allies, who are hoping for a Supreme Court reversal.

In Quezon City, thousands of youth activists gathered at Amoranto Stadium to declare support for the people’s initiative and a shift to a parliamentary system of government.

"We are here to inform the youth on the benefits, particularly on educational reforms, if we change our Constitution," Richard Belmonte, president of Lakas Metro Manila, told The STAR.

The demonstrators also held a torch parade in the evening to dramatize their cause.

Malacañang officials insist that the Comelec may verify the millions of signatures gathered for the people’s initiative without incurring the ire of the Supreme Court or before a legal challenge questioning its legality is made.
Santiago vs Comelec
On June 10, 1997, the court ruled that the people’s initiative law, or Republic Act 6735, "was inadequate to cover the system of initiative on amendments to the Constitution, and failed to provide sufficient standard for subordinate legislation."

The court decision followed a complaint filed by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago seeking to stop the Comelec from entertaining a people’s initiative being pushed by the People’s Initiative for Reform, Modernization and Action.

The initiative was aimed at lifting the constitutional one-term limit on the president. Had it succeeded, it would have allowed then President Fidel Ramos to seek a second term.

The one-term limit was put in place when the Constitution was rewritten in 1986 to avoid a repeat of the brutal Marcos dictatorship.

So far, opposition groups have not challenged the current people’s initiative in court.

"Unless it is presented to us and we come to know what are the contents of the petition and what the Comelec will do about the petition, then and only then can we come up with our judgment on that," Velasco said.

Velasco agreed with the observation made earlier by former Supreme Court associate justice Vicente Mendoza that the tribunal’s decisions may change depending on the facts and circumstances.

Mendoza was one of the justices who deliberated on the 1997 Santiago vs Comelec case and dissented from the majority opinion.

"No SC decision is permanent. It is always subject to overruling, subject to the wisdom of times" he explained. "If the Supreme Court committed mistakes in its previous decisions — though I am not saying that the Supreme Court made the mistake — it should be allowed to correct itself."

Santiago, a former Quezon City trial court judge, earlier said a Supreme Court reversal is unlikely.

"In reversing a previous ruling, the Supreme Court is not bound by the number of justices voting for or against the issue in the prior case, but by the issue of whether the facts have changed. The facts have not changed: there is still no law on (constitutional amendments via) people’s initiative," she pointed out.

"The doctrine involved says in Latin: stare decisis et non quieta movere. It means that justices should adhere to precedence, and not unsettle things that are already established," Santiago explained. "The doctrine called stare decisis means that rules or principles of law on which a court rested a previous decision are authoritative on all future cases in which the facts are substantially the same."

Amendments to the Constitution may be directly proposed by the citizenry in a plebiscite through a people’s initiative if they muster the backing of at least 12 percent of the electorate.

If successful, the current people’s initiative would skirt the impasse between the opposition-controlled Senate and the administration-dominated House on the move to amend the Constitution.

Senators contend that the House’s preferred method, via a constituent assembly, may be seen as self-serving because lawmakers would make up the body.

They prefer amendments made via a constitutional convention, composed of elected delegates.

Past attempts to amend the Constitution failed mainly because of fears that limits on elected officials’ terms would be lifted.

Crossing party lines, 21 senators issued a resolution last month questioning the role of the Department of the Interior and Local Government in calling for barangay assemblies to discuss the people’s initiative.

They argued that the people’s initiative should come directly from the people without influence from the government or any other party.

Citing the 1997 court ruling, they added that the Comelec is "permanently enjoined from entertaining or taking cognizance of any petition for initiative on amendments on the Constitution until a sufficient law shall have been validly enacted to provide the implementation of the system."

They emphasized that only minor revisions to the Constitution may be made through a people’s initiative.With Perseus Echeminada

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