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MANILA, Philippines – Lawmakers have turned to the public for support in their latest bid to amend the supreme law of the land.
But the movement to get the people’s initiative running has been marred by allegations of bribery and corruption.
Lawmakers also quietly added P12 billion to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) budget for plebiscites this year. The poll body said only two electoral exercises are on the calendar for 2024 and admitted that the added funds can be used for charter change-related activities.
In several provinces, the call for signatories to the petition to amend the Constitution have been ongoing since the first few days of January. Bayan Muna chairman Neri Colmenares said they noted that some of the efforts began as early as the holidays, with some reportedly distributing aid while collecting signatures.
Kabataan Partylist has collected reports that the movement has been brought down to the barangay-level, allegedly involving even the barangay kagawad, which Rappler obtained. In a statement, the partylist said organizers of the people’s initiative campaign have listed Monday, January 15, as the deadline for collecting signatures.
“This movement is apparently nationwide as congressmen belonging to various political parties have been sent the necessary forms,” said Liberal Party president Edcel Lagman, Albay’s 1st District Representative.
For the People’s Initiative to succeed, signatures of at least 3% of registered voters of every congressional district should be collected. It should also account for 12% of the country’s registered voters, or nearly 8 million signatures based on August 2022 numbers.
Here are some areas where the petition has reportedly already started:
Agusan del Sur
A resident of Barangay Taglatawan in Bayugan City reported to Kabataan Partylist that their purok president or someone who leads their area supposedly “obtained a mandate from the barangay” to do a house-to-house campaign for the petition for charter change.
“It’s evident that the petition lacks clarity regarding its purpose,” the resident said.
Mayors and local officials were allegedly given instructions to collect signatories for the petition in a January 5 meeting, Lagman said. The lawmaker also bared that funds for a P100 bribe per registered voter were supposedly distributed during the meeting, but the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP)-Albay Chapter already denied this.
“We pledged to help gather as much signatures in support of charter amendments, especially after learning from experts how the Constitution’s restrictive provisions hampered our progress as a nation,” said LMP-Albay chapter president Adrian Salceda, who is also mayor of Polangui.
Kabataan Partylist has collected several reports that the signature campaign has reached Bulacan. One report noted that it was the barangay councilor who supposedly sent out orders to collect signatures, but no one clearly explained what the petition was for.
“Ang sinasabi lang galing Comelec (They just said it’s from Comelec),” a resident from Dakila in Malolos said. “I did not [sign] the petition pero marami na silang napapirma dito sa barangay namin (but they already gathered a lot of signatures in our barangay).”
Kabataan also cited a Bulacan resident who said those who collected their signatures said it was from the Office of the Congressman, leading the public to think it was for aid. “Para daw po mapabilis ang talaan ng serbisyo sa aming lugar (They said this is to hasten the documentation of services in our area).”
The People’s Initiative has reached Davao and PBA Partylist Representative Margarita Nograles was named as the one heading the petition in the region, according to Davao 1st District Representative Paolo Duterte. Meanwhile, 3rd District Representative Isidro Ungab said there have been many reports that point to the partylist’s leaders and organizers as “the ones behind the signature campaign.”
Nograles has yet to directly address these allegations.
Ungab said those who signed the petition forms are reportedly given stubs worth around P2,000 to P3,000.
Meanwhile, Duterte warned his constituents that the people’s initiative is “the voice of a few who wanted to perpetuate themselves in power.”
“Do not sell your soul for a mere P100 to P10,000 in exchange for your signature,” Duterte said.
A Northern Samar resident from UEP Zone 2 in Catarman told Kabataan that the one allegedly collecting signatures is the barangay healthcare worker.
“Ang paliwanag nila about sa form ay para daw po masali sa TUPAD ang family members na ilalagay dun, kaya naman ‘yung mom ko nagtiwala agad sa kanila and di na talaga inaral ‘yung mga nakasulat sa form (They explained that the form is so that our family members who will sign it can benefit from TUPAD, so my mom who knows them already trusted them and did not really think much about the form),” the resident said.
TUPAD is one of the programs of the Department of Labor and Employment that provides aid and other opportunities for workers who were displaced because of the pandemic.
In Palawan, 3rd District Representative Jose Alvarez admitted that he is leading the signature campaign, and has expressed confidence that his district has surpassed the 3% threshold.
“We are ready to file this [with the election officer]. Only 3% is needed, but I urged 20% of the voting population to sign,” he told Rappler.
“I met with [local] leaders, gave them the [papers]. Then they asked their sub-leaders to explain to the community. People won’t sign if you don’t explain it to them,” Alvarez added.
In Sorsogon, the Save Gubat Bay Movement (SGBM), a local chapter of fisherfolk group PAMALAKAYA, said those in the coastal areas were allegedly being forced to sign the petition for charter change via people’s initiative. In one incident in Cota na Daco town, PAMALAKAYA noted that three government officials along with a lawyer from the provincial government were making the rounds.
“Pinapapirma ang mga mangingisda na hindi man lang ipinaliliwanag kung bakit o ano ang dahilan o ano ang mga dapat baguhin sa Saligang Batas ng Pilipinas at ano ang magiging kapakinabangan nito,” SGBM said.
(Fisherfolk were being forced to sign the petition without even explaining why or what should be amended in the country’s Constitution and how these changes will be benefit them.)
Surigao del Sur
Surigao del Sur 2nd District Representative Johnny Pimentel confirmed to Rappler that in his district, the signature campaign has begun.
He insisted, however, that nongovernmental organizations are the ones doing the heavy lifting.
“We consulted with the NGOs, they supported it, but they’re the ones moving. We told them that Congress wants to amend the Constitution to open up the economic provisions, but the movement must come from the people itself, whether they want to amend it or not,” said Pimentel, who headed the PDP-Laban contingent in the House until he resigned from the party in November.
He said the goal is to get 15% of registered voters in his district to sign, five times higher than the 3% threshold.
“The nongovernment groups should submit the signatures between January 14 to 16,” Pimentel said, but claimed that the House had no definite timetable.
An alleged timetable leaked by Kabataan Partylist claimed that the lower chamber is eyeing to have the charter change-related plebiscite by June 17 or ahead of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s 3rd State of the Nation Address. – Rappler.com