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DAVAO, Philippines – Witnesses linked workers of the Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta (PBA) party-list group to the so-called people’s initiative to amend the 1987 Constitution as they testified about the alleged signature-buying and other irregularities that marred the signature campaign in the Davao region and neighboring provinces.
During a public inquiry by the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms and People’s Participation at the Arcadia Event Center in Davao City on Friday, February 2, witnesses also alleged that those who worked for the charter change (Cha-Cha) campaign promised voters at least P4,000 each in exchange for their signatures on documents for submission to the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
Others alleged they were promised government aid through the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) and the Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations (AICS). The TUPAD is an aid program of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), while the AICS is that of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
Rene Estorpe, the barangay chairman of Agdao Centro in Davao, presented a green envelope containing signature campaign papers and claimed these came from a PBA Partylist coordinator identified as Benzar Yap.
Estorpe alleged that Yap had promised to give P4,000 to every signatory in his village, and many residents now wanted to withdraw their signatures because, until lately, they were clueless about the documents they signed.
A PBA party-list group coordinator from Barangay San Antonio told the committee that she distributed coupons for government aid to lure people in her village to sign for the people’s initiative documents.
The PBA party-list group is an organization closely associated with the children of the late House speaker Prospero Nograles, patriarch of one of the prominent political families in Davao City.
The group’s current representative to the Lower House is Margarita Ignacia Nograles whose brother, Jericho, served as an assistant majority leader of the House of Representatives during the Duterte administration. Their brother Karlo Alexei, who served as former president Rodrigo Duterte’s cabinet secretary and acting presidential spokesperson, is presently the chairman of the Civil Service Commission (CSC).
Senator Imee Marcos, the Senate committee chairperson, said, “Ang signature gathering dito sa Davao at sa iba’t ibang lugar dito sa kapuluan, wala namang problema kung tama ang paglikom ng mahahalagang pirma ng sambayanan. Pero bakit may panlilinlang?”
(There’s no problem with the gathering of signatures in Davao and other parts of the country if the process is correct. But why is there deception?)
During the investigation, resource persons from Davao City and Davao del Norte claimed the involvement of monetary incentives to bolster participation.
The Comelec has ordered a halt to the acceptance of signature campaign documents related to the people’s initiative while it reviews and improves existing rules and guidelines. The Comelec office in the Davao region stopped receiving the signatures on Monday, January 29.
Asked by Senator Ronald dela Rosa, Comelec-Davao Director Remlane Tambuang said residents who wish to withdraw their signatures can do so by executing affidavits.
Senator Marcos said the committee would continue with the investigation into the people’s initiative for charter change and look into the P55 million worth of television advertisements for the campaign.
She said senators would also look into the initiative’s sources of funds starting with the list of donors, and a certain Anthony Abad, the man identified to be behind the signature drive.
As the investigation progressed, civil society organizations questioned the legitimacy of the move to amend the 1987 Constitution.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), for one, said people were made to sign without an effort to make them study and understand the proposed amendments through public discussions, making the campaign “deceptive.”
Former chief justice Hilario Davide and former Comelec commissioner Rene Sarmiento have submitted their respective position papers against the initiative to the Senate committee. Both served as members of the 1986 Constitutional Commission (Concom) which drafted the 1987 Constitution.
Davide said the people’s initiative, based on the 1987 Constitution, should be seen as a “sacred sovereign power that must be exercised with absolute good faith and should never be tainted or stained by vice, defect, trickery, deceit, misrepresentation, wickedness, and corruption of any kind.”
Under the 1987 Constitution, citizens are empowered to propose amendments “through [an] initiative upon a petition of at least 12% of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least 3% of the registered voters therein, a mode called people’s initiative.”
As of January 26, petitions from more than 1,000 localities in the country were signed in an attempt to amend the Constitution, according to the Comelec. – Rappler.com