Sarmiento: Limit charter change to economic provisions
Sarmiento favors amendments to the Constitution provided these are strictly limited to economic provisions


MANILA, Philippines – Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said on Wednesday, July 25, he favors amendments to the Constitution provided these are strictly limited to economic provisions.

He also indicated openness to the Bernas formula (after constitutionalist Joaquin Bernas, SJ) which proposes that amendments be initiated and approved by the House of Representatives before they are elevated to the Senate for confirmation, after which they are presented to the people for approval.

Given a choice between a constituent assembly and a constitutional convention, Sarmiento said he favors a constituent assembly.

Citing the United States, he pointed out that from 1979 to the present, the US Constitution has been amended 27 times. Changes were made through Congress without a constitutional convention having to be convened. All in all, there have been 11,000 proposed amendments, with two-thirds of the US Congress voting for approval before they were ratified.

Ideally, the House and Congress should be voting separately because if they voted jointly the Senate would be put at a disadvantage.

A former member of the 1986 constitutional commission that drafted the country’s 1987 charter, Sarmiento said the 60-40 equity sharing principle enshrined in the Constitution for ownership of land is outmoded.

Because of globalization trends, a 50-50 sharing to bring in investments would be more ideal, Sarmiento added.

He clarified that during deliberations in the constitutional commission, the preference was for a unicameral legislature but that during a plenary session, the resolution lost by only one vote. This resulted in the country having a bicameral legislature.

Judicial power

On the constitutional provision on judicial power, Sarmiento told JBC presiding officer Diosdado Peralta it should not be replaced.

The provision allows the High Tribunal to check on the abuses of the executive and legislative branches of government.

The High Court had been accused of grave abuse of discretion in relation to the trial of convicted chief justice Renato Corona. It was perceived as protecting Corona against the dictates of the executive that seemed bent on his conviction.


He made a case for his independence, citing instances when he ruled against the interests of the appointing authority, former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. For instance, in the Comelec, he voted against the recognition of Mikey Arroyo as representative of partylist Ang Galing Pinoy.

Arroyo had to prove that he was an advocate of security guards, the sector he claimed to represent. Sarmiento said he is of the belief that a partylist nominee should “belong” to the sector.

He has led efforts to finetune the partylist provision, spelling out who is marginalized and what sector is under-represented.

Sarmiento has been accused of abetting alleged fraud in the 2007 polls in Mindanao. Another involved an election protest in Imus, Cavite.

Sen Alan Peter Cayetano alleged that Sarmiento and other members of the Comelec did nothing to prevent cheating and failed to act swiftly in disqualifying his namesake, Joselito Pepito Cayetano, for being a nuisance candidate. Sarmiento refuted the allegations.

TOTALLY UNEXPECTED. Manuel Siayngco Jr takes offense at the 'hoodlums in robes' stereotype of lower court judges.

Siayngco: totally unexpected

Meanwhile, 62-year-old retired Malolos judge Manuel Siayngco Jr — the last candidate interviewed for chief justice on Wednesday — said the nomination was “totally unexpected,” but an honor.

Siayngco highlighted his position as an RTC judge, and said he takes strong offense at the stereotype of lower court judges as “hoodlums in robes.” 

“We know that most of the judges there are straight, honest, efficient,” he said. “We are at the front lines of the judiciary and we receive the brunt of threats, sometimes efforts at bribery, but we hold our ground.”

He also said that lower court judges are not rewarded enough, although he didn’t say he would change that if he were to be chosen as chief justice.

“The sentiment of lower court judges is, especially those who receive administrative cases left and right… it’s somewhat unfair, there is not enough system of rewards and merits system that would encourage lower court judges to aspire for higher court positions.”

Most of the JBC panelists opted not to ask Siayngco questions, but when asked about his achievement, Siayngco said he was deserving of the post because he has been consistent and regular in the performance of duty.

The former seminarian added that his experiences as a lower court judge was something unique he could bring to the court.

“I would like to believe that my background, my spiritual foundations, my having been a judge of the lower court gives me not an edge or an advantage but a certain viewpoint of having a heart,” he said.

“It’s not only moral integrity, probity, competence and independence that should be the characteristics of the next chief justice, he should also have a heart that bleeds with the miseries of our people but also rejoices for their victories.” –


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