Marcos on signature drive: Up to Comelec

Helen Flores - The Philippine Star
Marcos on signature drive: Up to Comelec
This file photo shows the Commission on Elections headquarters in Manila.
Philstar.com / AJ Bolando, file

MANILA, Philippines — Signatures for a people’s initiative that were obtained in exchange for money should be invalidated by the Commission of Elections (Comelec), President Marcos said yesterday.

Marcos was asked to comment on the ongoing signature drive to amend the 1987 Constitution.

“If the signatures were obtained in exchange for money, the Comelec won’t accept that. So nothing good will happen,” the President said at the launch of the Lung Transplant Program of the Lung Center of the Philippines and the National Kidney and Transplant Institute in Quezon City.

“We just let Comelec do their job and their work to validate the signature. And if there’s suspicion that there is such thing (signature-buying), those signatures cannot be counted,” he said.

In order for a people’s initiative to be considered substantial, each congressional district must gather the signatures of at least three percent of its registered voters.

The President said he was not aware of the signature-buying. “So, as far as I know, there is no such thing. What is said is they were not paid in cash but they were promised some kind of benefits,” he said.

“We’re looking into the (report), I asked Congress if that’s true,” the Chief Executive added.

Marcos also said he declined proposals that agencies suspend their social services programs so these would not be used in the initiative.

“That’s (suspension of services) not good as there are many Filipinos needing assistance,” he said.

People’s Initiative for Reform, Modernization and Action (PIRMA), the group behind the signature campaign, has denied involvement in alleged payoffs and use of government programs to entice voters to support the move.

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri earlier said Marcos had expressed disdain for the signature campaign to change the Constitution under the people’s initiative that he deemed “too divisive.”

Marcos’ cousin, Speaker Martin Romualdez, has denied being behind the people’s initiative to push for Charter change.

Close to a thousand cities and municipalities have submitted signature pages for the ongoing people’s initiative to amend the Constitution, according to the Comelec.

“As of 4:30 today (Tuesday), 993 election officers of cities and municipalities have received signature forms,” Comelec Chairman George Garcia disclosed in a Viber message to reporters.

Garcia said the 993 cities and municipalities represent 184 legislative districts. There are 254 legislative districts nationwide.

Barangay officials

Barangay officials will be allowed to participate in the people’s initiative, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Benjamin Abalos clarified yesterday.

Abalos cited a Comelec resolution that allows barangay officials to join partisan political activities, including the signature drive for Charter change.

A Comelec resolution dated April 8, 2022 said that barangay officials are “exempted from prohibitions” under the Sec. 261 (i) of the Omnibus Election Code.

Still, Abalos said Comelec needs to clarify the extent of allowable participation, including the use of barangay facilities for the activity.

This comes as DILG undersecretary for barangay affairs Chito Valmocina said that community officials should not campaign for such activities.

Abalos said he has ordered Valmocina to explain the gaffe since it was his personal opinion and not the official statement of the department.

NBI ready for probe

The National Bureau of Investigation has expressed readiness to investigate reported instances of bribery or the distribution of aid in exchange for signatures supporting Charter change.

NBI director Medardo de Lemos said on Tuesday that they are awaiting directives from the Department of Justice before taking any action.

Once they receive the order to proceed with the investigation, De Lemos said the NBI will promptly form a group dedicated to addressing the matter.

Earlier this month, videos circulating on social media alleged that signatures for Charter change were being obtained through the exchange of aid or incentives.

‘Only SC can stop PI’

Only the Supreme Court could stop the Comelec from accepting signature pages for the ongoing people’s initiative to amend the Constitution.

Comelec spokesman John Rex Laudiangco stressed that it will refrain from receiving the signatures if ordered by the High Court to do so. — Mayen Jaymalin, Gilbert Bayoran, Mark Ernest Villeza, Romina Cabrera

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