Friday, October 28, 2011


Courts have long recognized the distinction between an amendment and a revision of a constitution. One of the earliest cases that recognized the distinction described the fundamental difference in this manner:

[T]he very term "constitution" implies an instrument of a permanent and abiding nature, and the provisions contained therein for its revision indicate the will of the people that the underlying principles upon which it rests, as well as the substantial entirety of the instrument, shall be of a like permanent and abiding nature. On the other hand, the significance of the term "amendment" implies such an addition or change within the lines of the original instrument as will effect an improvement, or better carry out the purpose for which it was framed.35 (Emphasis supplied)

Revision broadly implies a change that alters a basic principle in the constitution, like altering the principle of separation of powers or the system of checks-and-balances. There is also revision if the change alters the substantial entirety of the constitution, as when the change affects substantial provisions of the constitution. On the other hand, amendment broadly refers to a change that adds, reduces, or deletes without altering the basic principle involved. Revision generally affects several provisions of the constitution, while amendment generally affects only the specific provision being amended.

In California where the initiative clause allows amendments but not revisions to the constitution just like in our Constitution, courts have developed a two-part test: the quantitative test and the qualitative test. The quantitative test asks whether the proposed change is "so extensive in its provisions as to change directly the 'substantial entirety' of the constitution by the deletion or alteration of numerous existing provisions."36 The court examines only the number of provisions affected and does not consider the degree of the change.

The qualitative test inquires into the qualitative effects of the proposed change in the constitution. The main inquiry is whether the change will "accomplish such far reaching changes in the nature of our basic governmental plan as to amount to a revision."37 Whether there is an alteration in the structure of government is a proper subject of inquiry. Thus, "a change in the nature of [the] basic governmental plan" includes "change in its fundamental framework or the fundamental powers of its Branches."38 A change in the nature of the basic governmental plan also includes changes that "jeopardize the traditional form of government and the system of check and balances."39

Under both the quantitative and qualitative tests, the Lambino Group's initiative is a revision and not merely an amendment. Quantitatively, the Lambino Group's proposed changes overhaul two articles - Article VI on the Legislature and Article VII on the Executive - affecting a total of 105 provisions in the entire Constitution.40 Qualitatively, the proposed changes alter substantially the basic plan of government, from presidential to parliamentary, and from a bicameral to a unicameral legislature.

A change in the structure of government is a revision of the Constitution, as when the three great co-equal branches of government in the present Constitution are reduced into two. This alters the separation of powers in the Constitution. A shift from the present Bicameral-Presidential system to a Unicameral-Parliamentary system is a revision of the Constitution. Merging the legislative and executive branches is a radical change in the structure of government.

The abolition alone of the Office of the President as the locus of Executive Power alters the separation of powers and thus constitutes a revision of the Constitution. Likewise, the abolition alone of one chamber of Congress alters the system of checks-and-balances within the legislature and constitutes a revision of the Constitution.

By any legal test and under any jurisdiction, a shift from a Bicameral-Presidential to a Unicameral-Parliamentary system, involving the abolition of the Office of the President and the abolition of one chamber of Congress, is beyond doubt a revision, not a mere amendment. On the face alone of the Lambino Group's proposed changes, it is readily apparent that the changes will radically alter the framework of government as set forth in the Constitution. Father Joaquin Bernas, S.J., a leading member of the Constitutional Commission, writes:

An amendment envisages an alteration of one or a few specific and separable provisions. The guiding original intention of an amendment is to improve specific parts or to add new provisions deemed necessary to meet new conditions or to suppress specific portions that may have become obsolete or that are judged to be dangerous. In revision, however, the guiding original intention and plan contemplates a re-examination of the entire document, or of provisions of the document which have over-all implications for the entire document, to determine how and to what extent they should be altered. Thus, for instance a switch from the presidential system to a parliamentary system would be a revision because of its over-all impact on the entire constitutional structure. So would a switch from a bicameral system to a unicameral system be because of its effect on other important provisions of the Constitution

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