Monday, July 4, 2016

My amendment proposals re the Initiative and Referendum Act (RA 6735)

DESPITE my being a part of the convenors' team of ePIRMA (the Empowered People's Initiative and Reform Movement Alliance) that later joined forces with the Cebu Catholic hierarchy-backed Cebu Coalition and the Makabayan Coalition in a largely evolutionary effort to draft the 2014 People's Initiative Against Pork Barrel, my reservations on the viability of the initiative process in the country as avowed by the existing initiative-enabling law (RA 6735) has proven itself to be correct. Watch from 1:46:

     I am not, of course, Joey de Veyra (I'm Jojo de Veyra), and I was not trying to "batikos" (criticize) the proposition campaign during the time of this news clip. In fact, despite my being identified as the convenor of a different group (the Facebook group called Forum for Direct Democracy), I (and FDD's cause) was right among those very individuals trying to convene more people to join in ePIRMA's efforts (efforts which culminated in a "people's congress" held at the Asian Institute of Management convention center), and if you listen to my entire speech at that forum in the news clip---and my answer to a journalist's question on how ePIRMA proposed to do the signature-gathering realistically---you'd see where I stood in that whole affair, despite my ambiguity. But that's immaterial now. The point is that I did express my reservations about the potential of the effort to succeed, which was a reservation shared by many in the group that also pushed the group to join forces with the Cebu Coalition (which was then loudly doing a parallel campaign in the Visayas) for a more united front.
     In August, 2014, the initiative was formally launched in Cebu City. I was there as part of ePIRMA. But as regards to what happened soon after the launch, I'd here confess that the signature gathering was mostly left to certain parishes of the more organized Catholic Church, the primary backing of the Cebu Coalition. Sporadic rallies of support were organized by the Makabayan group and provincial groups. Other members of ePIRMA were seen to have moved on to various other national concerns. Manny SD Lopez---ePIRMA's leading convenor and most active campaigner on the road---would also busy himself with organizing the Christian Peace Alliance, one of the groups advocating for a drastic review of some provisions of the then-in-its-final-thrust Bangsamoro Basic Law. Lopez would also form the EdlSA 2.22.15 Coalition, a group that called for President Benigno Aquino III's resignation after the Mamasapano mishap. I submit that in this latter period I was not privy anymore to how the signature-gathering for the initiative on the pork barrel was progressing. I did hear of some pockets of resistance to the initiative, as well as the Comelec's seeming lack of enthusiasm towards verifying the signatures, but that's about it. I soon became part of an online art magazine. . . .
     Then came the various noises leading to the 2016 general election, within which news concerning the initiative's progress were nowhere anymore to be found on Google.
     Then came the elections. And, guess what: Rody Duterte became our new President, and Leni Robredo our new Vice President. What do these names mean? Or, rather, what---ideally---should these names mean to us?

DUTERTE belongs to the PDP-Laban, a political party that claims to be for popular democracy and participatory democracy. Robredo, in turn, is the wife of the late Jesse Robredo, who made a name for himself as a stalwart of participatory governance in his capacity as mayor of Naga City before he became the Interior Secretary of Noynoy Aquino. Robredo, as Jesse's widow, was soon drafted by the Liberal Party to run for Congress; she won and became a vocal campaigner for participatory democracy and, as a priority, participatory budgeting (you can read my worldview on Robredo's decorative role within the Liberal Party government by clicking here).
     What this all means is this: that perhaps the time is ripe for a more realistic RA 6735, one that would provide the people a usable initiative instrument in lieu of the existing one that simply provides a semblance of direct democracy that ultimately ends up as short (because near impossible to fulfill the requirements of).
     Thus, for us to truly provide a usable instrument for a participatory government of the people, by the people and for the people (as against the continuance of our present purely-representative democratic governance by the prescriptive representatives of the people, of the prescriptive representatives of the people and ultimately for these representatives of the people), let me now propose the following amendments to RA 6735 (even before that new federal-parliamentary Constitution being proposed by the Duterte government arrives). My proposed amendments are here below, in red, which a lawyer out there could more properly articulate:
Section 5. Requirements. — (a) To exercise the power of initiative or referendum, at least ten per centum (10%) of the total number of the registered voters, of which every legislative district is represented by at least three per centum (3%) of the registered voters thereof in the case of Constitutional amendment, and of which every region is represented by at least three per centum (3%) of the registered voters in the case of national statute initiatives, shall sign a petition for the purpose and register the same with the Commission.
(b2) A petition for an initiative on a new national statute, or one on an initiative seeking to amend an existing statute, must have at least twelve per centum (12%) of the total number of registered voters as signatories, of which every region must be represented by at least three per centum (3%) of the registered voters therein. Initiative seeking to amend an existing national statute may be exercised only after three (3) years from the ratification of the same and only once every three (3) years thereafter.
Section 7. Verification of Signatures. — The Election Registrar is obligated to verify the signatures on the basis of the registry list of voters, voters' affidavits and voters identification cards used in the immediately preceding election within twenty (20) days from receipt of the petition.
SECTION 8. Conduct and Date of Initiative or Referendum. — The Commission shall call and supervise the conduct of initiative or referendum.
     Within a period of thirty (30) days from receipt of the petition, the Commission shall, upon determining the sufficiency of the petition within fifteen (15) days from receipt of the same, publish the same in Filipino and English at least twice in newspapers of general and local circulation and set the date of the initiative or referendum which shall not be earlier than forty-five (45) days but not later than ninety (90) days from the determination by the Commission of the sufficiency of the petition.
     My arguments-cum-reasons for these amendments, should they appear to be not so obvious, I shall provide later. For now let me here say that the signature requirement of 3% of the registered voting population per legislative district is, while required by the Constitution for Constitutional amendments, is just too steep for the creation of new statutes and amendments to existing statutes via initiatives. Furthermore, with that requirement, it is possible for one legislative district to hostage the national interest, which definitely runs counter to the tenets of democracy and plurality. . . . [S / -I]