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MANILA, Philippines – In the final stretch of 2023, House leaders said that amending the 1987 Constitution would be among their priorities in the new year.
Just a week into 2024, however, corruption allegations hounded a public petition calling for charter change.
Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman alleged that some mayors in his province had received “mobilization funds” for a people’s initiative for charter change. It was allegedly given by Ako Bicol party-list coordinators in a supposed bid to spur public support for the petition, at least in his province.
Ako Bicol Representative Jil Bongalon and Raymond Adrian Salceda, president of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines-Albay Chapter, both denied that funds were distributed during a meeting last week.
Changes in the constitution can be done through Congress, a constitutional convention, or via a people’s initiative.
Involving the public entails two things:
- At least 3% of registered voters per legislative district should sign the petition
- At least 12% of total registered voters should be in favor of charter change
With over 65.7 million registered voters as of August 2022, Rappler estimates that at least 7.884 million registered voters are needed to kickstart charter change through people’s initiative.
According to Lagman, Albay’s League of Mayors called for a general meeting on Friday, January 5, without telling the mayors about the specific agenda. It was held at Ellis Hotel, which is allegedly owned by Ako Bicol Representative Zaldy Co, in Legazpi City.
“Voters who would sign the petition or people’s initiative will be given P100 each,” Lagman said in a statement on January 6.
He claimed that coordinators of Ako Bicol had already distributed half of the funds to the municipal mayors and coordinators who were in attendance. Three of Lagman’s constituent mayors planned to return the money, the opposition lawmaker said.
Vote buying is against the country’s Omnibus Election Code.
While Bongalon’s statement on Monday confirmed that he met with Albay mayors last week, he denied the “vote-buying” allegations.
In a separate statement, Salceda dismissed the allegation as “false and utterly ridiculous.”
“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,” Salcedo said, adding that they invited Bongalon and former congressman Alfredo Garbin as resource persons for the meeting.
Template forms, cash incentives?
The rumor surrounding the January 5 Albay meeting is not the only one that alleged vote-buying to bolster charter change via people’s initiative.
Kabataan Partylist said they had also received reports that a “template form” was being used to collect signatures at the barangay level.
“No clear organization claims the petition drive,” the partylist said in a statement on Sunday, January 7.
Meanwhile, Senator Imee Marcos cited other supposed activities related to the charter change bid, some allegedly done in the guise of financial assistance from government agencies.
“P20 million total kada distrito ang inaalok, meron pa akong narinig ‘nung malalaking siyudad na pinapromise-an din ng ganoon at ang sabi magproduce kayo ng 20,000 signatures by January 13,” Marcos said on Monday, January 8.
(Districts were offered P20 million each, and I also heard that bigger cities were also promised the exact same amount and were told to produce 20,000 signatures by January 13.)
Cha-Cha in Davao?
On Tuesday night, January 9, Davao City 1st District Representative Paolo Duterte said in a statement posted on his Facebook page that the bid for charter change via people’s initiative has reached his city. He said he does not support it as “it is not the people’s voice but the voice of a few who wanted to perpetuate themselves in power.”
He said he was told that PBA Representative Margarita Nograles was supposedly spearheading the move in Davao City.
“To all Dabawenyos, do not sell your soul for a mere P100 or 10,000 in exchange for your signature. If you want to follow the MINIONS of the person DREAMING TO BE GREAT in Congress to perdition that is your choice,” the congressman said.
Based on a Facebook post, Nograles is currently in the United States where she said she “met with US law enforcement and Filipino-American advocacy groups to discuss possible areas of cooperation in the fight against child pornography and livelihood generation for women in the Davao region.”
Nograles has yet to address her House colleague’s statement.
Push for amendments
In March 2023, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution to call for a constitutional convention.
Albay 2nd District Representative Joey Salceda, who also chairs to House committee on ways and means, noted that there is a “need for urgent revisions in the constitution, particularly on the economic front.”
“The House has tried several times in the past to initiate charter change,” Salceda said on Monday.
“Such attempts have languished in the Senate,” he added. “Being nationally elected representatives of the people, it should be more encouraging to senators to heed the electorate’s call via people’s initiative.”
Bayan Muna Chairman Neri Colmenares warned against the renewed attempts to amend the Constitution.
“The people can kiss good-bye any semblance of checks and balance, as well as healthy debates and deliberations in the ConAss as it grants the House an overwhelming superiority to impose its will,” Colmenares said.
“This will have disastrous consequences on our Constitution,” he added.
Should the petition succeed, or if the nearly 8 million signatures of registered voters are collected from at least 3% of every legislative district, voting for changes in the Constitution would be done by lawmakers in a constituent assembly. This would include members of both houses of Congress.
In this scenario, with over 300 House members and just 24 senators, the votes of House members would easily sway decisions on amendments. In past discussions on a constituent assembly, senators pushed for the House and the Senate to vote separately. – Rappler.com