Lawmakers flag 'vote-buying' in Charter change signature campaign

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
Lawmakers flag 'vote-buying' in Charter change signature campaign
The House of Representatives plenary hall on October 13, 2020.
House of Representatives / Release

MANILA, Philippines — Local executives have allegedly been tasked with carrying out a people's initiative signature drive for Charter change that involves P100 payouts to each constituent who signs the petition, House lawmakers said over the weekend. 

Rep. Edcel Lagman (Albay, 1st District) said on Saturday that mayors of his represented district in the province of Albay were given “mobilization funds” to clinch the signatures of their constituents in support of allowing Congress to vote on changes to the Constitution jointly. 

A copy of the alleged petition that Lagman showed reporters stated that it wants to amend the 1987 Constitution to allow the Senate and the House to vote as one instead of convening separately when deciding on possible changes to the 1987 Constitution. This would effectively give the House an upper hand in Cha-cha talks as the 315-member lower chamber outnumbers the Senate.

“This movement is apparently nationwide as Congressmen belonging to various political parties have been sent the necessary forms,” said Lagman, who showed reporters a copy of the form.

Three mayors from Albay who informed Lagman of the arrangement were reportedly given a 50% advance payment for the signature campaign that covers the cost of clinching 3% of the voters in each district — the minimum requirement for a successful people’s initiative campaign for Cha-cha.

Lagman said that the meeting with Albay mayors for the distribution of the signature campaign was attended by past and present lawmakers of the Ako Bicol partylist.

“Former Ako Bicol Party-List Congressman Pido Garbin is expected to deny that the various municipal mayors present during the meeting in the afternoon of 05 January 2024 at Ellis Hotel in Legazpi City received from Ako Bicol coordinators 50% of the total amount of P100/voter constituting 3% of the total voters per municipality compromising their legislative districts," the lawmaker said.

During the said meeting, incumbent Ako Bicol congressman Rep. Raul Angelo "Jil" Bongalon was also present at Ellis Hotel, which is reportedly owned by partymate Rep. Elizaldy Co, said Lagman.

In a statement, League of Municipalities of the Philippines - Albay Chapter President Raymond Adrian Salceda said that Lagman’s vote-buying allegation was "false and utterly ridiculous.” 

Salceda, who is also the mayor of the municipality of Polangui in Albay, also said that 15 of the province’s 18 mayors had “vowed to extend all assistance to civic leaders, people's organization and individuals” spearheading the signature campaign for Charter change.

Salceda added that Bongalon and Garbin were also present during the event as they were invited as “resource speakers.”

On January 5, Rep. Raoul Manuel (Kabataan Partylist) also flagged the distribution of a similar-looking petition and uploaded a picture of the form on X (Twitter) with the caption: “Marami ang nagpadala nitong form na pinapapirmahan daw sa brgy nila (Many people have sent us this form that they were allegedly asked to sign in their barangay).”

“In the first place, whose initiative is this really? Is it really from the people? Is this the immediate answer to the main problems of the people?” Manuel said in Filipino.

Similarly, Lagman criticized the use of alleged vote-buying for the Cha-cha campaign, saying that this violates the Omnibus Election Code, where vote-buying among other acts is considered an election offense.

“If the campaign for people’s initiative to amend the Constitution is inspired by noble and patriotic motives, then why buy the people’s will?” Lagman said.

The Liberal Party president also warned that the next step would be to get people to support the liberalization of the economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution — the focus of the lower chamber’s Cha-cha attempt in 2023, which senators except Sen. Robin Padilla refused to seriously consider, citing other legislative priorities.

While President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was previously lukewarm to changing the 1987 Constitution — which is brought up in nearly every administration, including that of his predecessor former President Rodrigo Duterte  — he has since ordered a study of the Charter to relax its restrictions on foreign investments.

RELATED: Philippines to study charter change for investment push — Marcos  

Talks of Cha-cha were revived at the tail end of 2023 after House Speaker Martin Romualdez announced that the lower chamber would be studying possible changes to the Charter during the Congress’ break until Jan. 21, 2024.

This was followed by remarks made by House senior deputy speaker Rep. Dong Gonzales (Pampanga, 3rd District) to reporters that lawmakers were considering the people’s initiative route to take off their Cha-cha plans off the ground this time. 

RELATED: House can't exclude Senate from Charter change talks — Pimentel  

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