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Nov 25, 2008

G.R. No. 127325, March 19, 1997

  • Constitutional provision on People's Initiative is not self-executory
  • Principle of Non-delegation of Powers, Exceptions


Petitioners in this case sought to amend certain provisions of the Constitution, specifically lifting the limit of terms of elective officials, through people’s initiative. Santiago et al. opposed on the ground that the constitutional provision on people’s initiative to amend the Constitution can only be implemented by law to be passed by Congress. There is no law passed yet and RA 6735, which provides for initiative on statues and local legislation but not initiative on the Constitution.

  • Whether or not RA 6735 adequately provided for people’s initiative on Constitution


Constitutional provision on people’s initiative is not self-executory

Sec. 2 of Art. XVII of the not self-executory. xxx

Bluntly stated, the right of the people to directly propose amendments to the Constitution through the system of initiative would remain entombed in the cold niche of the Constitution until Congress provides for its implementation. Stated otherwise, while the Constitution has recognized or granted that right, the people cannot exercise it if Congress, for whatever reason, does not provide for its implementation.

Has Congress “provided” for the implementation of the exercise of this right?

There is, of course, no other better way for Congress to implement the exercise of the right than through the passage of a statute or legislative act. xxx

We agree that RA 6735 was, as its history reveals, intended to cover initiative to propose amendments to the Constitution.

But is RA 6735 a full compliance with the power and duty of Congress to “provide for the implementation of the exercise of the right?”

A careful scrutiny of the Act yields a negative answer.

First. Contrary to the assertion of public respondents COMELEC, Sec. 2 of the Act does not suggest an initiative on amendments to the Constitution. The said section reads:

SECTION 2. Statement and Policy. – The power of the people under a system of initiative and referendum to directly propose, enact, approve or reject, in whole or in part, the Constitution, laws, ordinances, or resolutions passed by any legislative body upon compliance with the requirements of this Act is hereby affirmed, recognized and guaranteed.

The inclusion of the word “Constitution” therein was a delayed afterthought. That word is neither germane nor relevant to said section, which exclusively relates to initiative and referendum on national laws and local laws, ordinances, and resolutions. That section is silent as to amendments on the Constitution. As pointed out earlier, initiative on the Constitution is confined only to proposals to AMEND. The people are not accorded the power to “directly propose, enact, approve, or reject, in whole or in part, the Constitution” through the system of initiative. They can only do so with respect to “laws, ordinances, or resolutions.”


Second. It is true that Sec. 3 (Definition of Terms) of the Act defines initiative on amendments to the Constitution and mentions it as one of the three systems of initiative, and that Sec. 5 (Requirements) restates the constitutional requirements as to the percentage of the registered voters who must submit the proposal. But unlike in the case of the other systems of initiative, the Act does not provide for the contents of a petition for initiative on the Constitution. Sec. 5, paragraph (c) requires, among other things, statement of the proposed law sought to be enacted, approved or rejected, amended or repealed, as the case may be. It does not include, as among the contents of the petition, the provisions of the Constitution sought to be amended, in the case of initiative on the Constitution.


Third. While the Act provides subtitles for National Initiative and Referendum (Subtitle II) and for Local Initiative and Referendum (Subtitle III), no subtitle is provided for initiative on the Constitution. This conspicuous silence as to the latter simply means that the main thrust of the Act is initiative and referendum on national and local laws. If Congress intended RA 6735 to fully provide for the implementation of the initiative on amendments to the Constitution, it could have provided for a subtitle therefor, considering that in the order of things, the primacy of interest, or hierarchy of values, the right of the people to directly propose amendments to the Constitution is far more important than the initiative on national and local laws.


The foregoing brings us to the conclusion that RA 6735 is incomplete, inadequate, or wanting in essential terms and conditions insofar as initiative on amendments to the Constitution is concerned. Its lacunae on this substantive matter are fatal and cannot be cured by “empowering” the COMELEC “to promulgate such rules and regulations as may be necessary to carry out the purposes of the Act.”

Principle of non-delegation of power

The rule is that what has been delegated, cannot be delegated or as expressed in a Latin maxim: potestas delegata non delegari potest. The recognized exceptions to the rule are as follows:

  1. Delegation of tariff powers to the President under Sec. 28(2), Art. VI;
  2. Delegation of emergency powers to the President under Sec. 23(2), Art. VI;
  3. Delegation to the people at large;
  4. Delegation to local governments; and
  5. Delegation to administrative bodies.

Empowering the COMELEC, an administrative body exercising quasi-judicial functions, to promulgate rules and regulations is a form of delegation of legislative authority under no. 5 above. However, in every case of permissible delegation, there must be a showing that the delegation itself is valid. It is valid only if the law (a) is complete in itself, setting forth therein the policy to be executed, carried out, or implemented by the delegate; and (b) fixes a standard – the limits of which are sufficiently determinate and determinable – to which the delegate must conform in the performance of his functions. A sufficient standard is one which defines legislative policy, marks its limits, maps out its boundaries and specifies the public agency to apply it. It indicates the circumstances under which the legislative command is to be effected.

Insofar as initiative to propose amendments to the Constitution is concerned, RA 6735 miserably failed to satisfy both requirements in subordinate legislation. The delegation of the power to the COMELEC is then invalid.


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