On Jan. 29, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairperson George Garcia announced that the commissioners, sitting en banc, had decided to suspend indefinitely the acceptance of any signature sheets for the people’s initiative to amend the 1987 Constitution until they are able to review, enhance, and add something to Comelec Resolution 10650, the revised rules and regulations governing the conduct of an initiative related to the Constitution. He said, “This is necessary to avoid problems, conflicts and misunderstandings in the interpretation of the provision of the rules.”

The Comelec had been receiving signature sheets from the 253 legislative districts for the people’s initiative, a mechanism provided in the Constitution that empowers Filipinos to directly propose amendments to the Constitution. The petition in the signature sheets is to allow members of Congress to jointly vote on the proposed amendments in a constitutional assembly. However, allegations of “signature buying” have put the authenticity of the signature drive as a people’s initiative in doubt.

I find strange the passive, nay, compliant reaction of the people to the suspension of the signature drive, which according to Albay Rep. Joey Salceda has gathered the required number of signatures from all the 253 districts of the country. That is at least eight million signatures collected. The gathering those signatures — from all over the country, from Batanes to Tawi Tawi from Jan. 9, when the initiative was launched, to Jan. 23, when proponents of the initiative claimed that they had met the minimum number of signatures — entailed enormous expense, tremendous effort, and remarkable coordination.

The production of the TV infomercial that kicked off the undertaking cost P55 million alone. Its placement in the top three television channels — ABS-CBN, GMA, and TV 5 — cost several millions more. Then there was the cost of producing millions of signature sheets, distributing them all over the country, and collecting the signed sheets for submission to the Comelec.

Seeking out a certain number of registered voters in each of the 253 congressional districts and explaining to countryfolk what the signature campaign is all about required an army of trained signature solicitors. Training and deploying hundreds of signature solicitors all over the country and coordinating their work demanded a nationwide organization and communication system.

But all that expense, all that effort, has now gone to waste because of the Comelec decision. Yet, no march, no rally in protest of that decision has been staged. If they could spend millions for an information campaign and mobilize hundreds of people to gather signatures from all over the country, they certainly can afford to mount a march of a thousand men to the Comelec building in Intramuros to denounce the poll body’s decision.

If the proponents of the people’s initiative think the issue is legal, they can seek the help of lawyers’ associations that readily render their legal counsel pro bono to marginalized folks and the downtrodden. There is the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, which, as it names says, is a union of lawyers committed to render competent legal services to the marginalized sectors for the upholding and promotion of their rights and freedoms. There is the Public Attorney’s Office, which was created by law to provide the indigent sector access to legal counsel at the time of need and free access to courts, due process, and equal protection of the laws. There is also the oldest human rights lawyers’ network in the Philippines, the Filipino Lawyers Assistance Group, better known as FLAG, which advocates for the promotion and defense of human rights. But the proponents of the initiative did not seek their help.

And if the people’s initiative were indeed thwarted by the Comelec, many individual human rights lawyers would have come to its defense. The deans and the professors of constitutional law of the most prestigious schools of Law would have quickly volunteered their counsel to the people behind the initiative as they have done in the past when people’s rights were violated.

But none of the above took up the cudgels for the people behind the petition.

Strangely, it was members of the House of Representatives who protested the suspension of the proceedings related to the people’s initiative.

Just hours after Comelec Chairperson Garcia announced the suspension, Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Salceda said that the Comelec does not have the power to stop the act of the people unilaterally. “The Commission cannot unilaterally defeat or delay an act of the people by simply refusing to implement the provisions of the Constitution, the law, and the rules and regulations Comelec itself issued under Resolution No. 10650 s. 2020,” Mr. Salceda said. “The provisions of the rules Comelec itself issued regarding RA 6735 is that the Election Officer will issue a certification upon receipt of signatures from petitioners. The only delay that the Comelec can do, en banc, is to withhold the order to verify gathered signatures,” he added.

Quezon Rep. David Suarez called the suspension the “blatant disregard” for, and an “egregious violation” of, the democratic process and of people’s right to seek constitutional reforms. Former Ako Bicol Party-list Representative Alfredo Garbin, Jr. told the Comelec to lift the suspension. He declared, “I now implore the Comelec to lift the suspension immediately and respect the inherent and constitutional right of the people to directly propose amendments to the Constitution.”

It is apparent from the apathy of the people towards the suspension of the initiative to amend the 1987 Constitution, and the angry reaction of a number of ranking members of the House of Representatives, that the initiative is not of the people. It is by the politicians and for the benefit of politicians.

The people showed their true sentiments last Sunday. Several peoples’ organizations converged on EDSA to commemorate the 38th anniversary of the People Power Revolution and to denounce the move to discard the legacy of that revolution — the 1987 Constitution.


Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. has been a keen observer of Philippine politics since the 1950s.