What you need to know about people's initiative

The House panel's rejection of ABS-CBN's new franchise put forward several proposals to hold lawmakers accountable and change the system. 

Some remind the public to vote wisely in 2022 while others continue to ask their representatives about their decision to reject the biggest television network's franchise. 

Beyond the two, another idea emerged and went viral on social media, for voters themselves to directly get involved in legislation via people's initiative. But what is people's initiative? How hard or easy is it to do?

What is People's Initiative?

People’s initiative is a way to make laws – beyond the power vested in Congress – provided for by the 1987 Philippine Constitution. 

It is further defined in Republic Act 6735, which states that an initiative is “power of the people to propose amendments to the Constitution or to propose and enact legislations through an election called for the purpose.” 

The law also states that there are 3 systems of initiative: 

  • Initiative on the Constitution which allows for a petition proposing amendments to the Constitution
  • Initiative on statutes which allows proposals for enactment of a national legislation
  • Initiative on local legislation which covers ordinances and resolutions in the regional down to the barangay level 
How can one start a people’s initiative? 

Registered voters are allowed to participate in an initiative and referendum. 

For national legislations, at least 10% of the total registered voters in the Philippines should sign the petition for a new law. It is also requires the signature of at least 3% of registered voters in each legislative district. 

The petition, according to Republic Act 6735, should state the following: 

What happens if number of required signatures is reached? 

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will verify signatures collected once the required number is reached. 

Signatures collected should not just be real, but should also belong to registered voters. The Commission must verify and check the signatures against the list of voters used in the latest elections held. 

Once the petition is determined to be sufficient, the Comelec shall publish it “at least twice” in newspapers for the public to see and understand.

The Comelec shall also determine the date of the national referendum, which should be held not earlier than 45 days but not later than 90 days once the petition is deemed sufficient. 

What’s a national referendum?

A national referendum is when all registered voters in the Philippines vote on the proposal set forth by the initiative. They can either vote yes or no.

The proposition should be approved by a majority of votes cast, according to Republic Act 6735. 

If this is achieved, the national law proposed shall become effective 15 days after its publication in the Official Gazette or a national newspaper.  

Was it already done before? 

Yes. 

In 2014, several groups announced a bid to enact a law that would prohibit the Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel, and penalize violators. This was in the aftermath of the exposé on the pork barrel scam, involving several lawmakers and businesswoman Janet Napoles. (READ: Between 'Million' and today: ‘Pork system still in place’) 

In November 2014, the organizers submitted 10,000 signatures from Quezon City to the Comelec. 

The people's initiative against the pork barrel, however, did not lead to a national referendum.  

Is it even possible for ABS-CBN franchise? 

While a people’s initiative is a legitimate mode of lawmaking, election lawyer Emil Marañon wrote in an explainer for Rappler that “it is impossible to hold it at this point.” (READ: [EXPLAINER] Forget about people’s initiative for ABS-CBN)

He said that there are several things to consider, including the budget and logistics for such act. A people’s initiative, which would lead to a referendum, will cost the Comelec at least P4 billion and will most likely overlap with preparations for the 2022 elections. 

“In the end, as much as I share the anger and frustration of many of our countrymen over the fate of ABS-CBN, I need to douse this suggestion with a pail of cold water,” Marañon wrote.  

“It sounds cool in theory, but it is legally problematic and practically impossible to hold, at least for now,” he added. – Rappler.com

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.

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