Senators hit Alvarez over 'self-serving' push for People's Initiative

MANILA, Philippines – Senators strongly oppose House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez's plan to start a People's Initiative to cancel the 2019 midterm elections and speed up the shift to federalism.

Senator Panfilo Lacson called Alvarez's proposal "wrong and self-serving," adding that senators would not allow it to happen.

"It goes without saying, majority of the senators, even those running for reelection, will fight tooth and nail any attempt to cancel the 2019 midterm elections simply because it is wrong and self-serving," Lacson said in a statement on Wednesday, July 18.

Even with a People's Initiative, Alvarez would still not be able to exclude the Senate from the equation, as Lacson said the chamber's participation would be required.

Citing Article 17, Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution, Lacson said it is clear that "nothing escapes the Senate's participation" in such a method.

The provision he cited states that:

Amendments to this Constitution may likewise be directly proposed by the people through initiative upon a petition of at least twelve per centum of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three per centum of the registered voters therein.

No amendment under this section shall be authorized within five years following the ratification of this Constitution nor oftener than once every five years thereafter. The Congress shall provide for the implementation of the exercise of this right.

Alvarez earlier proposed a no-elections scenario to expedite the shift to a federal type of government. (READ: Alvarez proposal on no 2019 elections 'off-tangent, misplaced' – lawmakers)

The 1987 Constitution, however, sets elections every 3 years. For the Speaker's proposal to happen, the Constitution has to be amended.

The 1987 Constitution provides 3 ways to amend it: through both houses of Congress convening into a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass), through registered voters electing a new set of representatives forming a Constitutional Convention (Con-Con), or through a People's Initiative. 

A People's Initiative must be signed by at least 12% of the total number of registered voters nationwide. Among the 12%, at least 3% of every legislative district must be represented.

Any amendments proposed by a Con-Ass, Con-Con, or People's Initiative would have to be approved in a plebiscite, where voters across the country can either approve or reject the proposals.

All roads lead to Supreme Court?

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the opposition bloc is ready to question any attempt at a People's Initiative before the Supreme Court (SC). Drilon, a former justice secretary, said a People's Initiative cannot be used to revise provisions of the Constitution to remove term limits or to allow term extensions.

"Kung babaguhin mo ang termino ng mga officials, iyan po ay revision of the Constitution at hindi puwede through a People's Initiative. Ang People's Initiative ay para lamang sa minor amendments. Ang pagpapalit ng termino ng mga officials ay major amendment," Drilon said.

(If you want to change the terms of office of officials, that is considered a constitutional revision which cannot be done through a People's Initiative. A People's Initiative is only for minor amendments. Changing the terms of office is a major amendment.)

"Mayroong proseso.... Sa akin po, dadalhin natin (minority bloc) sa Korte Suprema. Kukuwestyunin natin kung ang People's Initiative ay puwedeng gamitin na paraan para sa pagbabago ng termino," he added.

(There's a process for that.... For me, we will bring it to the Supreme Court. We will question if a People's Initiative could be used to change the terms of office of elected officials.)

Drilon said Alvarez's agenda is clear: cancel the 2019 elections so politicians can stay in power longer. (READ: Is Alvarez bent on scrapping 2019 polls over fear of losing?)

Reelectionist senators also oppose Alvarez's plan. Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, party mate of Alvarez in PDP-Laban, and Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito both said the proposal would take up too much time.

"Pag-isipan niya 'yan nang mabuti (He should think about it thoroughly). That is too cumbersome a procedure hence time-consuming, plus the question if a law is in place which sufficiently implements [a] People's Initiative. But he is the proper person to lead such an initiative because the procedure involves all the legislative districts of the country," Pimentel said in a message to reporters.

"Mahirap ipaliwanag 'yan (It will be hard to explain)! And there might not be enough time for that. People expect elections already to push through in 2019. That might be a futile effort," Ejercito said. –

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email