Speed of Cha-cha signatures betrays 'fake' people's initiative campaign, lawmaker says

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
Speed of Cha-cha signatures betrays 'fake' people's initiative campaign, lawmaker says
Protesters outside Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City rail against fresh moves to amend the Constitution in the House of Representatives on January 26, 2020.
Released / Makabayan bloc

MANILA, Philippines — A Makabayan bloc lawmaker on Thursday voiced concerns at the rapid pace in which signatures have been collected in support of amending the 1987 Constitution, expressing suspicions about the level of coordination behind the “fake” people’s initiative.

“I think that the speed that these signatures are being gathered shows that there is indeed an organized effort with a lot of resources pushing for this fake people's initiative (PI),” Rep. France Castro (ACT Teachers) said in a message to Philstar.com.

This comes after the Commission on Elections (Comelec) bared on Wednesday that they have received signatures from at least 300 locations across cities and municipalities nationwide in support of a petition for Charter change.

During the first week of January, opposition lawmaker Rep. Edcel Lagman (Albay, 1st District) said he received reports that Albay mayors were instructed to collect signatures for a People’s Initiative drive in support of Charter amendments through joint voting. Lagman alleged that voters were being paid by local executives at least P100 for every signature.

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

The petition specifically called for the House of Representatives and the Senate to vote on changes to the Constitution jointly, which means that the lower chamber would have the upper hand on which amendments to pass as they outnumber the 24-member Senate.

The Makabayan bloc has since called for a House probe of the alleged signature campaign, saying that it has received reports that people are being enticed to sign the petition using cash and financial aid under the government social protection programs as exchange.

Timeline on point?

Castro also pointed out that the recent submission of People’s Initiative signatures to the Comelec “also falls on the timeline for the PI that the Kabataan Partylist exposed.”

On January 12, Kabataan Partylist said they got a hold of an alleged timeline for the controversial People's Initiative for Charter change and alleged that those behind it were planning to "gift" the petition to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. before his third State of the Nation Address this year. 

Kabataan Partylist said that the alleged timeline aims to have the Comelec approve the petition and its compliance with requirements from January 16 to February 4. 

According to the Kabataan Partylist, those behind the People’s Initiative plan to conduct a public hearing to assess the sufficiency of the petition and required documents from March 6 to April 4, after which the Comelec will issue a certification regarding the adequacy or inadequacy of the petition. 

Following this, activities will allegedly involve procuring supplies and printing ballots (April 8 to May 3), distributing election paraphernalia (May 6 to June 3), and publishing information (June 4 to June 18). The plebiscite is supposedly scheduled for June 17.  

Philstar.com has reached out to House majority lawmakers for comment and will update this story with their response.

Castro has expressed reservations about the legitimacy of the campaign and the possibility that it will come to fruition, citing “numerous loopholes” the absence of an enabling law and allegations that the signatures have been clinched through “vote-buying.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Raoul Manuel (Kabataan Partylist) has called on the poll body to scrutinize the authenticity of the signatures.

"Where are the large-scale consultations and debates? What's happening is that they're asking people to sign first before explaining what's going on. To gather hundreds of thousands of signatures within a few weeks, they use assistance and false promises,” Manuel said in a mix of English and Filipino.

A People’s Initiative is just one of three ways that the 1987 Constitution can be amended. The other two modes are through a constitutional convention and a constituent assembly. 

According to Republic Act 6735 or the "The Initiative and Referendum Act," for a constitutional amendment via people's initiative to push through, a minimum of 12% of all registered voters' signatures is required. Moreover, the petition must include representation from at least 3% of registered voters in each legislative district.

House Speaker Martin Romualdez revived the lower chamber's push for Charter change in December 2023 when he floated the idea of amending the fundamental law to relax economic restrictions on foreign ownership.

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