BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
“People’s initiative is an idea that comes from the people, it is not an idea imposed on (them),” lawyer Mejol Sadain, who retired from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) last February, said in an interview with Bulatlat. “This thing they now call people’s initiative is actually a Palace initiative.”
A former commissioner of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has scored the ongoing campaign for charter change through the so-called people’s initiative, saying what is being carried out is actually a “Palace initiative” – referring to Malacañang Palace which is the highest seat of political power in the Philippines.
“People’s initiative is an idea that comes from the people, it is not an idea imposed on (them),” lawyer Mejol Sadain, who retired from the Comelec last February, said in an interview with Bulatlat. “This thing they now call people’s initiative is actually a Palace initiative.”
The Philippine Constitution allows charter change through people’s initiative.
Sigaw ng Bayan (People’s Clamor), which describes itself as a non-government organization, started the campaign for charter change through “people’s initiative” late last month. The organization, led by lawyer Raul Lambino, aims to gather five million signatures of voters in favor of charter change. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo supported this campaign.
Sigaw ng Bayan’s campaign generated controversy as a result of reports that some local government officials are gathering signatures from their constituents in exchange for food or money. In interviews with Bulatlat provincial correspondents, selected local government officials and voters admitted that bribery indeed took place in the gathering of signatures.
Sadain also criticized Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez who said that the poll body could validate signatures gathered for the so-called people’s initiative. Under the Constitution, Sadain said that people’s initiative would require the creation and filing of a petition to which signatures from the electorate would be attached for validation by the Comelec. “The Comelec, acting on the petition, will ask the petitioners to verify if these are really the signatures of the electorate or voters,” Sadain explained.
He said that the Comelec cannot entertain any petition for charter change through people’s initiative without an enabling law. He cited the case of Santiago v. Commission on Elections, in which the Supreme Court ruled that Republic Act No. 6735 – which some “people’s initiative” proponents have cited as a possible enabling law –is inadequate.
“The decision in Santiago v. Commission on Elections is very clear: it is for amendments to the Constitution, not revisions of the Constitution,” Sadain pointed out. “So with that alone we already have a problem. You have to present to the people amendments for them to react on, whether they are for or against it. You don’t present revisions of the entire Constitution to them, that’s too broad for the people to really digest.”
Sadain’s position is in consonance with an earlier analysis written by Neri Javier Colmenares, spokesperson of the broad-based Counsels for the Defense of Liberties (Codal).
Jimenez, however, argued that while the Comelec cannot entertain petitions for charter change through people’s initiative, it can verify the signatures.
Sadain scoffed at this. “If, as the Comelec states, it cannot entertain a petition because Santiago v. Commission on Elections specifies that there is no enabling law to allow it to entertain such petition, why is it verifying the signatures?” he said.
“They acknowledged that they cannot accept the petition but at the same time they’re saying they can verify the petition,” he added. “What is the purpose of verifying signatures when in the ultimate analysis it cannot even accept such a petition? Why persist in an activity which cannot have fruition?” (Bulatlat.com)