Can Filipinos use a “People’s Initiative” to take government back from the corrupt?

Better to have an empty Supreme Court than one that can’t tell a quo warranto petition from impeachment. [Photo source:]

By JoeAm

The Problem

The Philippines is a corrupt land. It is corrupt in matters of finance and in matters of deed. It is corrupt of values.

Legislators plaster their annual budget with lavish funds they can use to gain kickbacks. Local governments hold local construction projects hostage to commissions. Corrupt officials are not fired or jailed. They are given another job where their talents can be deployed making their bosses rich. Independent branches and agencies of government have been wrapped within Executive’s persuasive means, involving everything from murder to generous rewards. Ethics is a dead discipline.

It is a bought government, and taxpayers are doing the paying.

“The Initiative and Referendum Act.”

The nation has a law that gives the People an opportunity to initiate laws on their own. It was signed into law in 1989 and is known as the “The Initiative and Referendum Act.”

This article will consider whether the law is practical, and how it might be used. We are mainly referring to initiative a.2:

a.2. Initiative on statutes which refers to a petition proposing to enact a national legislation

Other initiatives are for Constitutional amendments and local laws.

Registered voters or local governments can take the initiative to get a law passed. (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, shall sign a petition for the purpose and register the same with the Commission.

There is a format to follow in making the presentation. The paperwork, with signatures of petitioners attached, is submitted to the Commission on Election and an Election Registrar certifies the petition is in good standing by comparing signatures to registration roles from the prior election.

If it is approved, the Commission on Election handles the referendum.

There is an appeal process for those objecting to the Election Registrar’s findings. Appeals must be filed with the Supreme Court within 30 days of the Registrar’s finding.

The referendum can only deal with one subject. Not multiple initiatives.


There’s more to the law, but we can see at this point there are two huge hurdles. One is the number of signatures required. There are roughly 63.5 million registered voters. That means someone must collect over 6 million certifiable signatures to get the measure to a vote. Certifying them would be a nightmare and time-consuming given that the Philippines does not have sophisticated or trustworthy voting systems.

Second, the right of appeal means the initiative can get tied up in in the Supreme Court, which is one of the branches of government captured by corruption. Justice there is political, not factual or law-based. The Court could just quo-warranto that referendum baby back to the bath water. Or use some other trick to keep their benefactor happy.


The alternatives are to do a better job next election electing honest people. And then supporting them against the venom that will come their way from the corrupt.

Or do a Hong Kong, protest, which I do not recommend. But that’s a choice, too.

Or do an Egypt and convince the military to take over. I don’t recommend that, either, but it’s been done before.

Subject of the Referendum

We could brainstorm if there is a way to write a law that would yank corruption from Philippine government.

Subordinate issues don’t accomplish that. A referendum could be held to compel the Duterte Administration to adhere to the UN arbitration win and take steps to get China out of Philippine seas. But corruption would remain supreme. Same with an initiative to stop the brutal, failed drug war.

These worthy projects don’t represent the omnibus solution needed to root corruption out of government. Indeed, both of those initiatives can be seen as symptoms of the corrupt thinking that puts the well-being of Filipino voters last and the riches of the entitled first.

I suppose, in a dream, one could develop an initiative aimed at forming a People’s Anti-Corruption Authority that would be empowered to do what the Legislature, Supreme Court, Ombudsman, or any other agency seem unable to do. Put honesty, ethics, and fair dealing into the work done by government officials.

It would have the power to declare the Supreme Court as out of compliance for its Sereno Quo Warranto concoction. It would be able to declare President Duterte out of compliance with the Constitution for his intelligence funds, his failure to report on deaths during drug operations, his abandonment of an international law favoring the nation, the arbitration finding, and other matters. It would have the authority to suspend the House of Representatives and replace it with a Committee as an interim way to get the People back into first consideration on laws. It would have the power to declare Panelo’s lies as “official bullshit”.

The people staffing the Authority might be selected by a five-person panel named in the petition. One member from the House, one from the Senate, one from the Supreme Court, one from Executive, and one from the People. The single most important qualification would be honesty. For Example, from Executive, the obvious choice would be Leni Robredo.

It might have to be proposed as a Constitutional amendment to rise above other government branches and agencies on matters of corruption.

It should also have a drop-dead date of 10 years at which point the Authority would end. Presumably, by then, honesty would be regularized as government practice.

Likelihood of getting it done? Almost zero.

Better start ramping up for 2022 elections now.


15 Responses to “Can Filipinos use a “People’s Initiative” to take government back from the corrupt?”
  1. Nick Tajale says:

    Thank you JoeAm for the thoughts


    On Thu, Oct 3, 2019, 8:02 AM The Society of Honor: the Philippines wrote:

    > The Society of Honor posted: ” By JoeAm The Problem The Philippines is a > corrupt land. It is corrupt in matters of finance and in matters of deed. > It is corrupt of values. Legislators plaster their annual budget with > lavish funds they can use to gain kickbacks. Local governmen” >

  2. A few things that may help.
    1. The Comelec should change the procedure and incorporate the national I’d when that is available. That would greatly reduce the complexity given that there are biometric data that can be used.

    2. When I was in high school I believe people tried to do this with clean air act legislation. They probably failed but I believe this helped push the clean air act from being a bill to a law.

  3. arlene says:

    The problem is we let them. No one is brave enough to stand up. I also believe the Comelec is a useless agency going with what the dirty old man dictates.

  4. karlgarcia says:

    If they think multiple petitions is more costly and difficult, they should think again.
    But the Filipinos have a version of”If there is a will there are heirs I mean a way”
    The tagalog version is Kung gusto may paraan, at kung ayaw madaming dahilan”
    We are full of excuses.

    I am getting so cynical of pinoys.
    Even in Switzerland, power to the people may not mean full participation.

  5. chemrock says:

    Some good thoughts Joe, but as you said before closing the door, its just wishful thinking.

    These are stuff that stones dream of.
    But yes, we can all dream. As Shakespeare said, we are what dreams made us.

    Philippines actually has some very good laws in place but it is the Filipino way to pet themselves on the shoulders when all the signatures are in place and congratulate themselves for a job well done. The fact that executing the laws does’nt matter is demonstrated by the fact that there is required another Implementing Law to implement the legislation that was passed.

    The US is a ‘thick rule’ law regime which is rights-based ideology. This tends to be adversarial and requires very strong democratic institutions and a judiciary that is ready to do judicial reviews or proportionality reviews — which means they review the equity of the legislation before the court. This thrives well in a society with brilliiant judicial minds.

    The polar of ‘thick rule’ law is ‘thin rule’ law which is procedural-based. ‘Thin rule’ regime basically has judiciary giving deference to the executive because the court hold the view that they do not have the expertise on the running of a country. They are only concerned if the legislation is passed correctly, not whether it is fair or not. Do not look to the court to remedy a bad law. Do that with the ballot box.

    Which is better to organise a society? Debatable. ‘Thin rule’ regimes like Singapore and China has proven that millions can be lifted out of poverty. Personally, I think the equity in ‘thin rule’ is tolerable only when we have benevolent dictators.

    Where do we place the courts in Philippines. I think nether here nor there. The court here is more a ‘money rule’ regime.

    The problem of the courts is a central problem of the Philippines.

    This is the first time I hear of “The Initiative and Referendum Act.”. Good or not I have no idea. But the fact it, after thousands of hours of legislative time and money, this law has never ever been invoked. It is strange to me that Philippines require a law to give people the initiative.

    As regards your valued suggestions, I suspect any initiative along the lines suggested in the blog may constitute destabilisation efforts by ther current admin.

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  1. […] We have already discussed here at The Society of Honor the intricaies and the next to impossible to implementation of the Peoples’ Initiative. […]

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