Press Release
September 26, 2006


Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, a constitutional law expert, shocked administration stalwarts by predicting that the Supreme Court will declare unconstitutional for lack of legal basis the peoples initiative for charter change, which she called dead on arrival.

Using the words of an old decision, the peoples initiative petition is a patent illegality which, when it rears its ugly head, should be slain on sight, Santiago said.

The senator said that the present peoples initiative is illegal on three grounds: it defies judicial precedent; it is not limited to an amendment but constitutes a revision which is prohibited by the present charter; and it has no budgetary appropriation for the necessary plebiscite.

The first fatal flaw of the peoples initiative is that it defies the Supreme Court ruling in the 1997 case of Defensor Santiago v. Comelec, where the Court required that there should first be a law passed by Congress providing for a peoples initiative on charter change, said Santiago.

Congress until now has failed to act on the bill filed by Santiago, who won the 1997 case by personally arguing it in the Supreme Court.

To support her first argument, Santiago cited the legal principle stare decisis et non quieta movere, which means to adhere to judicial precedents, or prior decided cases.

According to the doctrine of stare decisis, when the court has once laid down a principle of law as applicable to a certain state of facts, it will adhere to that principle and apply it to all future cases, where the facts are substantially the same, regardless of whether the parties are the same. The facts are the same: there is still no law passed by Congress for a peoples initiative on charter change, Santiago said.

The senator said that a split vote in the Supreme Court is not a ground for disturbing a precedent.

Defensor Santiago v. Comelec is an authority or binding precedent in the Supreme Court, because the very point is again in controversy. The split voting is immaterial. This doctrine is grounded on the theory that security and certainty require that an accepted and established legal principle should be followed. The Supreme Court should not depart from precedent, she said.

To support her second argument, Santiago said that the Constitution explicitly limits a peoples initiative to an amendment of the Constitution, which necessarily excludes the power to revise the charter.

The present proposal of certain talkative administration stalwarts constitutes an entire revision and is not a mere amendment. It will replace our presidential with a parliamentary system. It will abolish the Senate and create a unicameral parliament. It will transfer executive powers from a nationally elected president to a prime minister elected by members of parliament. These measures together constitute a revision and not a mere amendment, she said.

The peoples initiative advocates are long on enthusiasm but short on law. They are also very economical with the legal truth, she scoffed.

To support her third argument, Santiago said that the Constitution requires that even if the peoples initiative is upheld by the Supreme Court, there should still be a plebiscite, which has to be supported by a budgetary appropriation.

Assuming that the plebiscite is held next year, then there should be an appropriation for it in the 2007 budget, which Congress is now debating. But there is no such provision, and the Senate will never approve it, said Santiago, who is also vice-chair of the Senate finance committee.

Santiago said that after reading the gushing, puerile, and unintelligent press releases by peoples initiative advocates, she could no longer hold my peace and started to boil over and would have wanted to argue personally in the Supreme Court against the petition, but is prevented by illness.

The senator underwent endoscopy at the Philippine General Hospital last Monday, and is scheduled for a CAT scan this Friday, because of anorexia apparently caused by an ulcer.

Dennis Legaspi, the senators press relations officer, said Santiago plans to attend Senate session on Monday next week.

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