What People’s Initiative is Not

For forms of government let fools contest;
whatever is best administered is best.– Alexander Pope

Photo from adweek.blogs.comARE WE CHANGING the Constitution because the People want it or because Congress wants it? This article will discuss some political misgivings regarding the much debated issue on Charter Change with emphasis on theories considered relevant to the topic.

It is clear that the highest officials of the Government are campaigning towards changing the 1987 Constitution. We can see the active involvement of the President and all the king’s men from the cabinet to the Batasan concerning their efforts to square with the opposition so that charter change can become a reality. With the constant bickering in the political arena of this country, one may wonder on what authority and power are their actions based. That becomes a basic question which must be faithfully addressed because if the Constitution permits of any moves for its revision or amendment, it is by all means exclusive and no attempt whatsoever other than what its provisions have mandated can be legally sanctioned.

A revision or amendment of the Constitution may be made either by the Congress upon a vote of three-fourths of all its members; by a constitutional convention; or directly by the People themselves thru initiative. However, it is of paramount relevance that we only limit our discussion to the third mode as it is the mode being currently pursued vigorously by our esteemed officials in the Government.

Of course, apparently, there is no problem with Congress lobbying people’s initiative as a mode of changing the constitution. But looking deeper into the picture, how can the People have any initiative when it is the Congress who lobbies for it at the very outset? Thus, a People’s initiative actually turns out to be a Congress’ initiative. To illustrate, the ideal situation is that first, the People clamors for change and thereafter the People initiates the changing of the Constitution by complying with the provisions of Republic Act 6735 without any hint of political pressure from the Congress. Because, precisely, People’s initiative is an affair which the Congress should refrain from meddling with as a gesture of respect to the People from whom their legislative powers were delegated from due to the fact that this is one of the areas where the People have not surrendered to Congress their powers to act. Sadly, the common misconception is that the Congress represents the will of their constituents – the People, without realizing that there are areas in Constitutional law such as the People’s initiative where Congress could use some rest as the People does not need any representatives dealing on with this matter.

We have to be reminded that People’s initiative is not just an empty two-word promise contained in the Constitution. Rather, above all, it is an affirmation of the existence of direct democracy. In this type of Republican government we have, hardly is there a chance for the People to directly decide and act for its own other than the usual elections. Lest we forget, it is worthy to note that the Constitution announces our government to be both republican and democratic. The processes of initiative, referendum and recall comprise our cherished democratic aspirations in this representative democracy we are all trying to establish. Again, these processes are “instances where the People would act directly, and not through their representatives” and which adds emphasis to People power at the same time recognizing the “participation of the People in policy-making.”

Modern democratic governments such as ours equally recognize the power of initiative to be a “fundamental right of citizens within a representative democracy.” And in this representative democracy emphasizing the power of initiative, no one is authorized to determine which convictions and moral judgments are that of the People itself. Through a constitutionally designed process, the People deliberate and decide. And whatever the majority wills shall be respected as representative of the whole. Thus, majority rule is a necessary principle in this democratic governance.

Similarly significant is the right of the People to be informed “as a predicate to an informed judgment” to every question that they are called upon to resolve. But it is my strong belief that the Filipino People does not need any further predicate to arrive at an informed judgment on this charter change issue. The Filipino People’s indifference, apathy and passive attitude towards charter change makes a clear point of non-consent to it. For the Filipino People is never ignorant of the very want that they maintain mustered in their hearts and in their minds – a want not for a charter change but for a true national development without sacrificing or trampling upon the very Constitution that sparked that seed of hope upon each and every one of us. Truly, how can a reasonable man initiate something which he is not interested to pursue or that which he does not consent to realize? The sovereign will is not a mere business investment which misfortune can later depict as a losing venture rolling the dice for another chance. For there is absolutely no reason why the People should authorize a “revamping of the government, prone to provoke unnecessary political complications, uncertainty and uneasiness in public service, and give rise to understandable machinations, each and all of which are not conducive to the bolstering of public interest but, on the contrary, are highly detrimental” to their general well-being.

Still, the stigma remains that is Congress making People’s initiative a mere truce in the middle of senseless word wars between the squabbling elected servants of the People. It is purely a by-product of continuing power struggles in the ranks of Congress. And this creates a situation where the People have to play the role of involuntary peacekeepers between their servants in this shoddily-written script of Philippine politics.

What is worse? Some pro-charter change minions want the determination of the People’s choice to be simultaneously held with the national elections this coming May 2007. Why is it stupendously worse? Because by doing so, we are not only determining whether the People want a charter change but also electing a new set of members of the Congress in the fashion of the 1987 Constitution – the very Constitution that Congress wants to change. It is as if invoking a document and at the same time repudiating it. More absurdity comes into play when, after a successful national elections, the People’s choice turned out to be in favor of charter change. It is, to me, both a perfect waste of time and an irony. Furthermore, why defer the changing of the constitution after the People’s will have been determined? There must be some reason why this new set of elected members of the Congress will have to take their seats first and then later on change the Constitution.

Congress, in trying to push the People to exercise an “initiative”, is everything but wrong. John Locke cannot be any clearer when he expounded that the “legitimate political power amounts to a form of trust, a contract among members of society anchored on their own consent, and seeks to preserve their lives, liberty and property.” In our current situation, Congress is trying to do something which is not anchored on the People’s consent making the act an exercise of political power in the forbidden sense. Congress cannot arrogate upon itself a power which does not belong to them either expressly or impliedly.

Sometimes the water rises higher than its source. However, there is absolutely no chance in this democracy that Congress can validly exercise a power which has not been delegated to it. Admittedly, they can sometimes lure the People to buy their jokes. But this time, the People is not laughing.

The availment of the other two modes of changing the Constitution (constitutional convention or constituent assembly) particularly rests with Congress. In this representative democracy that we have, Congress is viewed as the representative of the people. Thus, pursuant to this concept, Congress speaks for the People and the intent of the people may only be gathered from the acts of Congress. It may be interpreted as saying that the “intent of Congress” is the “intent of the People,” both being “indistinguishable for all practical purposes.”

It may be argued, thus, with legal propensity that it is “absurd, impractical, and against the realities of all experience to mention the intent of the People as something different from and in opposition to the intent of their own representatives.” But again, this argument is never an absolute one. The existence of safeguards and remedies against unconstitutional laws or acts of Congress affirms the fact that the “intent of Congress” may sometimes be against the “intent of the People.” Now, what may be acceptable is that the “intent of Congress” must always concur with the “intent of the People” by acting within the scope of their permissible authorities as expressed or implied in their powers or is necessary for the exercise thereof. Thus, in the availment of the other modes of charter change, the “intent of Congress ” must concur with the “intent of the People.” In other words, if the People does not want any change in the Constitution whatsoever, no mode may be availed by Congress otherwise its intent will run against the “intent of the People.” And how may the People’s intent be determined? It may be determined through the usual process of election or if that is not available, the People may always opt to exercise revolution as a direct state action to which no civilized Constitution can ever prohibit.

If fiction must sway to reality, where must it bend? How far can we stretch our imaginations so that it may tickle a hint of approbation to what Congress has just done to the political theory on People’s initiative? Ours is a government of laws and not of men. And by men we mean personal interests and arbitrary whims and caprices of many of our servants in the government. If the general will be the ruler of our government, then, theories must bend in favor of the common good. The Constitution is conclusively the expression of the general will residing in the sovereign People. The sovereign’s general will can never do harm to itself. Theory must bend to the fact that People’s initiative should never be compromised by personal interests of many of our high officials. Thus, therefore, ours is a government of general wills and not of personal ones. Sacred as it should always be, the theory on People’s initiative should never be altered to conform to dreary political ambitions of many elected servants.

These and many more perversions of political theories paint an insult to our Filipino idiosyncrasy. We were made out of a legitimate revolution of the masses that later on evolved into People power. We are not mouthpieces of our Congress. Instead, Congress is “the mouthpiece of the People.” With only the Constitution that barred the tyranny of the Marcos dictatorship on our minds, with only this Constitution which liberated us to truly become a nation of one, let us once again be united to conscientiously assert our duties of allegiance to this very Constitution even when our elected servants have forgotten all their vows to preserve and defend it! This coming May 2007 Elections, let us revitalize our commitment to the 1987 Constitution and vote according to our conscience and for the welfare of the Filipino People and never to the dictates of some selfish short-lived reasons.

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