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Comelec probes alleged vote buying for Cha-cha

Mayen Jaymalin - The Philippine Star
Comelec probes alleged vote buying for Cha-cha
George Erwin Garcia Chairman, COMELEC.
STAR / File

‘P13 billion needed for Charter change plebiscite’

MANILA, Philippines —  The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will look into reports of  “vote buying” for a people’s initiative pushing for Charter change or Cha-cha.

“We will have the local Comelec look into this once they receive signatures from proponents of the people’s initiative,” Comelec Chairman George Garcia said yesterday.

The people’s initiative or the “power of the people” is a constitutional provision empowering the public to propose amendments to the Constitution by lodging a petition signed by at least 12 percent of registered voters.

Garcia stressed that buying signatures for such initiative is technically illegal and thus the petition must not be accepted.

“It means that the signing was not voluntary. But of course, this needs to be proven,” Garcia noted.

Should a people’s initiative for Cha-cha be verified by the Comelec, Garcia said that around P13 billion will be required to conduct a national plebiscite to determine if the Filipino people will favor or reject a proposed constitutional amendment.

Meanwhile, Sen. Imee Marcos is seeking a Senate investigation into the alleged P20-million payoffs and misrepresentations in the signature campaign for a people’s initiative.

Marcos filed Senate Resolution 902 directing the appropriate Senate committee to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, into the alleged payoffs and misrepresentations in the signature campaign.

In an online article, Marcos said that certain lawmakers claim that coordinators of a certain party-list group received an unspecified amount of money to ensure that their constituents will provide the required three percent of total voters per municipality for a people’s initiative to amend the Constitution to gain ground.

She said according to Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman, Albay’s League of Mayors was called for a general meeting at Ellis Hotel in Legazpi City, allegedly owned by Ako Bicol Rep. Zaldy Co, on Jan. 5 without telling the mayors about the specific agenda.

Lagman further stated that voters who would sign the petition or people’s initiative will be given P100 each.

“These reported payoffs in the signature campaign for a People’s Initiative to amend the Constitution and the blatant manner by which ordinary citizens, particularly those in need of government aid, are being misled and exploited, are unconscionable acts of corruption which are inimical to the very concept of democracy,” the resolution added.

Yesterday, the Department of Labor and Employment and Department of Health belied allegations that funds for the government’s medical and emergency employment programs are being used for the people’s initiative.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government also denied any participation in the supposed initiative, with Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos saying the DILG is prohibited from such campaigns.

Signatures

Reliable sources told The STAR that barangay officials in La Union were being utilized to gather signatures of at least 20 qualified voters in their respective purok to sign the form urging the Marcos administration to revise the Constitution through people’s initiative.

The signature campaign started Jan. 10 and was done through the initiative of La Union Reps. Paolo Ortega (1st District) and Dante Garcia (2nd District).

Some of the residents unaware of the purpose of the campaign were obliged to sign the documents after the kagawads explained that it is to survey those who are eligible to vote in the presidential elections.

However, those knowledgeable of the Cha-cha issue and are in favor of its revision signed the document, while those who are against it have abstained.

A source said that a majority of the respondents were in favor of Cha-cha, not only its economic provision but also some other aspects of the Constitution.

In an interview conducted by News 5, one resident of Quezon City admitted that she attended a meeting of solo parents on Jan. 6 where she was made to sign a document on the pretext it was for the distribution of aid in the amount of P3,000, which later turned out to be for a people’s initiative for Cha-cha.

Another report showed that personnel of the media outfit were able to observe an alleged employee of Quezon City Hall going house-to-house to obtain the signatures and the voting precinct numbers of residents in the area.

Some of the residents reportedly signed the document being peddled in the belief that it was for the distribution of government aid.

Fisher’s group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said its members in Bicol reported that on Jan. 7 three government officials, including a lawyer from the provincial government, arrived in Barangay Cota na Daco, Gubat, Sorsogon urging residents to sign the petition for Charter change through a people’s initiative.

Pamalakaya chairman Fernando Hicap said their members declined to sign the petition due to lack of clear explanation from the officials regarding the purpose and benefits to the people of the signature campaign.

‘EDSA-pwera’

The group behind the People’s Initiative for Reform, Modernization and Action or PIRMA during the administration of late former president Fidel Ramos yesterday said it was behind the “EDSA-pwera” television ads pushing for amendments to the 1987 Constitution.

Lawyers Alex Avisado of the Gana Atienza Avisado Law Offices confirmed that it was his group behind the pro-Charter change ads that aired on major TV networks GMA, TV5 and ABS-CBN this week.

Avisado denied government funds were used to fund the ads and claimed that the money came from donations.

Meanwhile, Lagman alleged that the Marcos family has something to do with the “EDSA-pwera” advertisement.

“The EDSA-pwera Charter change ad campaign is part of the Marcos family’s continuing demonization of the EDSA People’s Power Revolution which ousted the Marcos dictatorship and helped install the present 1987 Philippine Constitution,” Lagman said.

“Using EDSA-pwera as a catch phrase, the ad also misleads viewers by saying that it was farmers, students and local businessmen who were the ones disadvantaged by the 1987 Constitution, but what the voiceover and the placards are saying is that more foreigners should wholly own land, businesses and even schools in our country,” House Deputy Minority leader and ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro said.

‘Not voice of the people’

Davao City 1st District Rep. Paolo Duterte yesterday strongly opposed the people’s initiative for Cha-cha, saying that it is not the voice of the people but the voice of a few who want to perpetuate themselves in power.

Duterte also alleged that he got information that PBA party-list Rep. Margarita Nograles is leading the initiative in Davao City.

“To all Dabawenyos, do not sell your soul for a mere P100 or P10,000 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,” he said.

Meanwhile, Nationalist People’s Coalition chairman Vicente Sotto III said the NPC is not behind the reported people’s initiative and that it will not support or endorse anything.

Labor group Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) urged the public, including workers, to oppose the Cha-cha signature campaign, saying that the people must stay away from the “Trapo-led” initiative and instead demand the government’s action on urgent concerns.

“If they can easily purchase a new Constitution via People’s Initiative, then what will prevent them from making another purchase to perpetuate themselves in power,” PM chair Renato Magtubo pointed out.

Reforms

To create more jobs and income opportunities for the Filipinos, Senior Deputy Speaker Aurelio Gonzales urged senators to heed the business sector for economic and business reforms in the Constitution.

Gonzales said that luring in foreign investors is the goal of the House of Representatives in pushing for the amendment of economic provisions in the Constitution that “restrict the flow of foreign capital into the country.”

He underscored the “consistent refusal” of senators to consider House initiatives for Charter reform has prompted many congressmen to push for the people’s initiative for constitutional amendments, a mechanism that will bypass the Senate. – Romina Cabrera, Jun Elias, Bella Cariaso, Sheila Crisostomo, Diana Lhyd Suelto, Cecilia Suerte Felipe

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