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MANILA, Philippines – In his first public statement on charter change since the push for a people’s initiative came to light, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. brushed aside allegations of bribery in exchange for signatures.
“Kapag binayaran iyong signature, hindi tatanggapin ng Comelec iyon. Pero sa pagkakaalam ko, wala namang ganoon (If you paid for the signature, the Commission on Elections won’t accept it. But as far as I know, a scheme like that does not exist),” Marcos said in an ambush interview on Tuesday, January 23, when asked about the “vote-buying” allegations in relation to the campaign to amend the Constitution.
He said he was aware of reports that government benefits were being promised to people who would provide their signatures to the charter change campaign, and added that he sought clarity from the legislative branch.
“Sabi ko totoo ba iyan? Hindi naman nagbago iyong mga release namin e, constant pa rin. Sabi ko, the other things para hindi tayo pagdudahan, stop muna natin iyong pagrelease ng mga benepisyo. E hindi naman maganda rin iyon dahil may mga nangangailangan talaga,” he shared with reporters.
(I asked, is it true? Our releases did not change, and are still constant. I suggested that to avoid suspicion, let’s stop the release of benefits for the meantime. But that’s also not good because there are people who are really in need.)
“So we will just let Comelec do their job, do their work, and to validate the signatures, and if there’s suspicion, at may mga ganoon nga, hindi talaga mabibilang ang mga signature na iyon (and something like that happened, those will not be counted),” he added.
It is unclear what benefits the President referred to, although some lawmakers alleged that the Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation (AICS), a government subsidy program, is being weaponized in order to obtain signatures.
Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman also previously alleged that voters in his province were being bribed in exchange for their signatures, but his fellow lawmakers in the region denied this.
Vice President Sara Duterte also earlier alleged “vote-buying” for charter change, calling it a “Pera kapalit ng pirma para sa People’s Initiative (Money in exchange for signatures for people’s initiative), and claimed this was happening in her hometown, Davao City, and in other parts of the country.
The President has yet to make a categorical stance on charter change, although he appears to have changed his tune recently, from once shutting down the idea, to saying that the administration is studying the merits of amendments on economic provisions of the Constitution.
The House of Representatives under Speaker Martin Romualdez’s leadership has been pushing for charter change since last year.
In March 2023, the House passed a bill on charter change via the expensive formation of a constitutional convention, but the proposal languished in the Senate.
In December of the same year, Romualdez unveiled the House’s plan to embark on a people’s initiative to break a procedural impasse between the House and the Senate.
In early January, signature documents began circulating nationwide, seeking to amend the Constitution to allow the House and the Senate to vote as one when a motion to form a constituent assembly is called.
In that scenario, the House can force the Senate’s hand, as the 24-member Senate is essentially outnumbered by the 300-plus-member House.
Under this method, 3% of voters in every legislative district of the Philippines, and 12% of the national voting population, must sign a petition in favor of an amendment in the 1987 Constitution.
As of Tuesday, the Comelec has received signature documents from some 900 out of over 1,600 cities and municipalities across the country.
A supposed timetable leaked by Kabataan, and confirmed by House ways and means chairperson Joey Salceda, revealed that the lower chamber is eyeing to have a charter change-related plebiscite before the President’s third State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July. – Rappler.com