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Passing a law using People's Initiative and Referendum

The Philippine Constitution is known as the People's Power Constitution not just because it was born of the 1986 People Power Revolution. And because of People Power, it put into place a framework so the people can directly pass laws, and even constitutional amendments. Passing a law using People's Initiative and Referendum became a reality with the passage of Republic Act No. 6736, known as The Initiative and Referendum Act.


RA 6736 allows people's initiative to craft laws, both on the national and local level. It may even be used to amend the constitution. The process for this is found in the law and in the various implementing rules and regulations issued by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC).





People's Initiative in crafting national laws


In theory, initiative is easy to do. With regard to the petition itself and the voting, it will be quite easy to coordinate. The law was passed in 1989. And during that time, there were attempts to pass laws and even a constitutional amendment.


It should be easier now because of the technological advances and the almost instantaneous ability to send information through text messaging and social media. However, there are now obstacles because of privacy law. Information on voters will not be available to volunteers. They would have to get the information from the voters themselves.



The petition or proposal.


A people's Initiative to pass a law starts with the Petition. It should contain the following:

  1. The contents or text of the proposed law sought to be enacted, approved or rejected, amended or repealed, as the case may be;

  2. The proposition;

  3. The reason or reasons for the proposed law;

  4. The proposed law should not be one falling under the exceptions for people's initiative;

  5. The signatures of the petitioners or registered voters; and

  6. An abstract or summary in not more than one hundred (100) words which shall be legibly written or printed at the top of every page of the petition.

After writing drafting the petition, a copy should be should be sent to every legislative district in the Philippines for taking of signatures of registered voters.


That's the easy part. The hard part is obtaining the signatures.


To exercise the power of initiative or referendum, the petition should at least obtain the signatures of at least 10% of the total number of the registered voters nationwide. But that's isn't the only qualification.


Every single legislative district in the Philippines should have a petition signed by at least 3% of its registered voters. In the current congress (18th Congress), there are 243 legislative districts.


The easy part is getting copies of the petition into the hands of volunteers who can get the signatures in each of the 243 legislative districts. The problem is making sure that only registered voters of the district sign on the petition.


The COMELEC will require proof that the signatories are in fact registered voters. This is hard because the volunteer will have no list to follow because of our privacy law. The volunteer may even have to go house-to-house or conduct signature drives in public places where people congregate.


The people who sign should not just write their name and sign, but also that have to to write down their COMELEC Voter ID Number, and ensuring that the signature is the same as that in the COMELEC ID, otherwise, they may not be counted.


Once the required numbers are in, the copies of the petition and their respective signature sheets should be consolidated and brought before the COMELEC. The COMELEC will review the signatures and determine sufficiency. If the number of signatures are sufficient, then the COMELEC will publish the petition and set the date for a Referendum where the electorate will vote approve or reject the law.


Again, there is a problematic element here - time and funding. This will be more or less like a national election, so a referendum cannot be held so near elections. Also, the COMELEC needs funds to conduct such an exercise.


Assuming the election is conducted, if the measure is approved by a majority of the votes cast by registered voters, then it becomes a a law.



Limits


Section 10 of RA No. 6735 lists prohibits the following:

1. No petition embracing more than one (1) subject shall be submitted to the electorate; and
2. Statutes involving emergency measures, the enactment of which are specifically vested in Congress by the Constitution, cannot be subject to referendum until ninety (90) days after the Statute's effectivity.

But these are not the only limits. The Constitution also sets limits to referendum with regard to what laws can be passed. This is what the 1987 Constitution provides:

"ARTICLE VI, SECTION 24. All appropriation, revenue or tariff bills, bills authorizing increase of the public debt, bills of local application, and private bills shall originate exclusively in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments."

This means that laws which affect the budget, taxes, customs duties, laws allowing the increase of public debt, bills of local application, and private laws cannot be the subject of People's Initiative and Referendum. They must all originate from the House of Representatives.


Note "private bill" in the section. A law starts out as a bill. A private bill becomes a private law. And what is a private law? It is one that affects the States' relationship with only one person. An example of these are contracts between the State and a private person like a corporation.

A legislative franchise is a private law. So is a law bestowing citizenship. So, can People's Initiative be used to grant a legislative franchise or citizenship? Based on Article 6, Section 24, it cannot. The wordings clearly state that such bills shall originate only in the House of Representatives.

A counter-argument here is that the law governing people's initiative (RA 6735) does not include that in its prohibitions (see section 10 of RA 6735). But the counter-argument to that counter-argument is that the Constitution is superior to a law passed by the Legislature, and that any law passed by Congress should not be against what is written by the Constitution, or it would be void due to unconstitutionality.

Of course, the Supreme Court has final say on this, but it can only declare something if there is an actual case or controversy before it.