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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Political doctrine resurrected?

Editorial: Malaya
FRIDAY OCTOBER 20, 2006 PHILIPPINES

‘The Panganiban court, we would like to believe, is made up of men and women of courage and principle.’

Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban has said the members of the Supreme Court are under pressure on the people’s initiative petition to amend the 1987 Constitution. He said the pressure is understandable because many will be affected whichever way the decision goes. He said, however, the members have learned to live with the pressure that goes with their jobs. He gave the assurance extraneous influences would not affect the decision of the justices.

Panganiban gave no hint as to where the pressure is coming from. But there’s no need to guess. The anti-charter change groups have absolutely no leverage. Only the Palace is in a position to bend the ears of the justices.

Talks are that a close ally of President Arroyo has been approaching senior members of the tribunal, dangling the post of Panganiban who is retiring in December as the prize for delivering the case. The fly in the ointment is that the justices have been exchanging notes and at least five have admitted before their colleagues they had been offered the chief justice post.

We are not surprised. The case of the Cha-cha advocates faces practically insurmountable obstacles. First they have to show that the Commission on Elections committed a grave abuse of discretion in throwing out the people’s initiative petition, an act which is in consonance with an SC prohibition against entertaining such petitions in the absence of an enabling legislation.

Second, they have to show that they have met the requirement that 12 percent of voters nationwide and 3 percent of voters in all legislative districts had signed their petition. Third, they have to convince the Supreme Court to revisit its 1997 decision on Santiago vs Comelec.

And, finally, they have to show that their initiative for a shift to the parliamentary system of government constitutes a simple amendment and not a wholesale revision of the charter.

Lately there has been a perceptible shift in the propaganda of the advocates of people’s initiative. At the start they were insisting on the legality and constitutionality of their campaign. Probably realizing their petition is doomed, their line now is that whatever the jurisprudence, the Supreme Court cannot ignore the purported overwhelming call to change the Constitution.
The issue, they say, is the sovereign power of the people. If they want the Constitution changed, then the high court cannot stand in their way.

Their initiative, they say, is a direct exercise of "People Power," a political act that the court should recognize and uphold.

If we remember right, the last time this "political doctrine" was raised before the Supreme Court was during the challenge mounted to the 1973 Marcos Constitution.

The court bowed to the superior power of the martial law regime. To its eternal shame. The Panganiban court, we would like to believe, is made up of men and women of courage and principle.

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