Monday, October 09, 2006

Avoiding, Voiding Santiago

Malaya's editorial on October 9, 2006 in part reads:

During the hearing conducted by the Supreme Court, the justices did not fall for the line that the tribunal is limited to settling the issues of law. They pointedly grilled Sigaw and Ulap counsels on the authenticity of the signatures. Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban said in open court that if it could be shown that the signatures were fake and their gathering was attended [by] irregularity, then there would be no need to revisit Santiago vs Comelec. The Sigaw and Ulap petition would be dismissed outright.

I am uncomfortable with the fact that the Supreme Court is assuming what is technically the function of the Commission on Elections. The verification of the signatures that accompany a petition for initiative is not a judicial function. But the Court evidently directed the parties to show if the collection of signatures was conducted properly and if it meets the requirements of the law.

The Supreme Court's decision and the thrust of the tenor of the oral arguments suggest an impending compromise on the resolution of the case. Let us speculate:

If the collection of signatures is irregular or if it otherwise fails to meet the minimum number of signatures required for a petition for initiative, the Court can avoid the issue of whether Santiago should be overruled. The Court deflects political heat by dismissing the petition on another ground. This course of action, however, will only prolong the resolution of the issues raised in the Lambino case. Proponents of constitutional change will continue pressing for amendments or revisions to alter the Constitution through a petition for initiative.

It is more likely that the Court will reverse Santiago and still dismiss the case.

The Supreme Court can rule that Republic Act No. 6735 is in fact sufficient for purposes of amending the constitution through peoples’ initiative. The Court will reason that it is not compelled to follow prior decisions especially when it is infused with new members and when the earlier decisions are delivered by a divided court marked by strong dissents. There are 13 new members of the Court who are reviewing a decision issued by a deeply divided court. Santiago is clearly vulnerable to a reversal.

A majority of the Justices may reverse Santiago but they can still dismiss the case on any or a combination of the following grounds:

1. the manner in which the signatures were gathered was irregular or falls short of the minimum required by law; or

2. people’s initiative cannot be used to revise the Constitution but only to amend it. It can rule that the proposed shift to a parliamentary form of government constitutes a revision of the Constitution; or because

3. it will become evident to the Court that the initiative is driven by the Arroyo administration not the people.

This compromise will allow both parties to claim victory: the administration’s drive to revise the Constitution will be sustained although it will suffer a setback.

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