Sunday, April 09, 2006

GOVERNMENT ATTACK ON CBCP LETTER AS LEFTIST INSPIRED: Additional danger to anti-initiative advocates and civil liberties

CODAL hails the recent Pastoral Letter of the CBCP decrying government fast-tracking of moves to revise the Constitution through a ‘people’s initiative’. CODAL on the other hand expresses concern over the Arroyo government’s statements through Sec. Raul Gonzalez, that the CBCP Letter is a handiwork of leftists and that the said letter is an insult to the intelligence of the Filipino people.

By charging the CBCP letter as influenced by ‘leftists’ in the church, Pres. Arroyo has virtually accused the CBCP as a leftist controlled organization composed of unthinking bishops. The CBCP has basis to question whether the Filipino people understand the proposed revisions of Art. VI, Art. VII and the transitory provisions, all of which contain 82 provisions under the 1987 Constitution. Even lawyers have difficulty understanding the complexity of the proposed shift, and it is not farfetched for many to believe that the signatories to the initiative do not understand the nature and implications of the proposals.

Considering that government forces have been relentless in harassing dissenters as ‘destabilizers’ and therefore the target of raids, violence, warrantless arrests and arbitrary detention, CODAL is concerned that this baseless attack on the church for expressing its views on the ‘initiative’ may be a signal for attacking anti-initiative advocates including church workers.

TRO on ‘no permit no rally policy’

Based on the advice of the CBCP, Pres. Gloria Arroyo should allow more people to come out with their views whether for or against charter change to encourage exchange of information and lively discussion on the issues. After all, she herself promised to ‘let the great debate begin’. CODAL hopes that the Supreme Court will issue a Temporary Restraining Order on the ‘no permit, no rally’ policy and the CPR in order to ensure full play of expression and sentiments by the people. BP 880 and the CPR policy are stumbling blocks to the full discussion of the issues against the so called ‘peoples initiative’ and charter change.

The forms being circulated by barangay officials for signature provide that the signatories approve the proposal to amend Article VI, Article VII and the Transitory Provisions of the 1987 Constitution. Article VI contains thirty-two (32) sections, Art. VII contains twenty-three (23) sections and Art. XVIII of the 1987 Constitution on Transitory Provisions contain twenty-seven (27) sections, making it almost impossible for the signatories to approve such massive revision of eighty-two (82) constitutional provisions, especially if they have not read the actual proposed changes.

People’s Initiative is Unconstitutional and Illegal

Section 2, Art.XVII of the 1987 Constitution which is used as a basis by supporters of the current people’s initiative, provides that “Amendments to this Constitution may likewise be directly proposed by the people through initiative… The Congress shall provide for the implementation of this right.” This means that no people’s initiative may be valid absent a law passed by Congress. The Supreme Court has said so in Santiago vs. Comelec when it declared the ‘Pirma’ initiative unconstitutional due to the absence of a law sufficient to regulate people’s initiative. It has even ‘permanently enjoined’ the Comelec from entertaining any petition on people’s initiative without the passage of the said law. Since no law on people’s initiative has been passed until now, taking official cognizance of an initiative petition is both unconstitutional and illegal.

Furthermore, the Constitution only allows a people’s initiative to amend, not to ‘revise’ the Constitution, since the power to revise is only given to a Constitutional Convention or a Constituent Assembly as mandated by Sec. 1, Art. XVII of the 1987 Constitution. The current people’s initiative to revise a total of eighty-two (82) Sections of the Constitution is therefore unconstitutional and its signatures invalid, particularly if the proposed 82 amendments are not included in the signature form of the petition.

Criminal and Administrative Liability

Public officials organizing the people’s initiative and Comelec election officers verifying the signatures of such, are criminally liable under Article 231 and Article 241 of the Revised Penal Code, for openly disobeying the orders of the Constitution and the Supreme Court:

Art. 231. Open disobedience. - Any judicial or executive officer who shall openly refuse to execute the judgment, decision or order of any superior authority made within the scope of the jurisdiction of the latter and issued with all the legal formalities, shall suffer the penalties of arresto mayor in its medium period to prision correccional in its minimum period, temporary special disqualification in its maximum period and a fine …

Art. 241. Usurpation of judicial functions. - The penalty of arresto mayor in its medium period to prision correccional in its minimum period shall be imposed upon any officer of the executive branch of the Government who shall assume judicial powers or shall obstruct the execution of any order or decision rendered by any judge within his jurisdiction

Comelec and DILG personnel who allot public funds for the campaign or verification of the signatures therein are also guilty of misappropriating public funds under Art. 220 of the Revised Penal Code which provides that:

Art. 220. Illegal use of public funds or property. - Any public officer who shall apply any public fund or property under his administration to any public use other than that for which such fund or property were appropriated by law or ordinance shall suffer the penalty of prision correccional in its minimum period or a fine ranging from one-half to the total of the sum misapplied, if by reason of such misapplication, any damage or embarrassment shall have resulted to the public service. In either case, the offender shall also suffer the penalty of temporary special disqualification.

Injunction and TRO in Provinces and Districts

CODAL calls on concerned lawyers throughout the country to file an action for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on the peoples initiative within their respective cities or districts. Considering the constitutional requirement that a valid initiative must have the signatures of at least 3% of the voters in each district, a TRO in only one district will immediately destroy the current initiative. CODAL requests lawyers not to file a petition with the Supreme Court for the moment, but rather focus on local courts or at most with the Court of Appeals. Lastly, the current initiative must be stopped not only because it is unconstitutional but also because it does not benefit the interest nor stem from the will of the people. If only for this, we must ensure that this illegal, unconstitutional, anti-people and anti-Filipino scheme will fail.

Reference : Atty. Neri Javier Colmenares—Spokesperson
Date : 9 April 2006


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