Questionable initiative

The broader view - Harry Roque - The Philippine Star

The plot thickens as far as the reported attempts of administration allies to install highly-favored presidential kin, albeit a presidential survey laggard, as the next head of government of the land. The fastest way to catapult the politician into power is by tinkering with the 1987 Constitution. Only then can the legislator become the country’s next Chief Executive.

The story has been going around in political circles since last year. Is it fake news? A figment of someone’s malicious mind? Consider the following events.

Nearly a year ago, President Bongbong Marcos Jr. reiterated his stance against Charter Change. Without replacing the 1987 Constitution, PBBM said the country can attract foreign investments. It ran counter to the position of House Speaker Martin Romualdez, who has advocated for constitutional amendments in terms of economic provisions. Before 2023 ended, the Speaker announced the Lower House will pursue Cha-cha this year.

In reaction, Senator Imee Marcos alluded to an ‘unwinnable presidentiable’ who wants to become prime minister once the country reverts to a parliamentary system of government. Days after, Romualdez denied aspiring for the prime ministership through Charter change.

The President himself seems to have reconsidered his original position. His administration is reviewing certain constitutional limitations or impediments on foreign investments and private land ownership.

Like many individuals who campaigned hard for PBBM in the last election, I expect him to speak on the issue very soon. Did he change his mind? Or will he sound the death knell to the Cha-cha initiative once and for all? Will he finally rein in the alleged political ambition of his cousin?

My unsolicited advice to our dear President: please put an end to the madness in the Lower House. Please save the institution from an image and reputational problem. The trust rating of the Lower House has dropped to 34 percent, according to a recent Publicus Asia survey. Moreover, eight in 10 Filipinos acknowledge that there is corruption in the Lower Chamber.

Amendments and revisions

The Constitution can be amended or revised through a constitutional convention, a constituent assembly or a people’s initiative. The people can directly propose amendments upon a petition of at least 12 percent of the total registered Filipino voters. At least three percent of the electorate must represent each legislative district (Article 17). To date, we have 67 million registered voters. Therefore, the Cha-cha advocates must gather at least 8 million signatures.

The Speaker said the House of Representatives also wants to settle the issue of whether the senators and congressmen should vote separately or jointly vis-à-vis proposals on constitutional amendments and revisions. Under Section 2, Congress may propose any amendment or revision upon a vote of three-fourths of all its members.

In the landmark Santiago vs. Comelec case (1997), the Supreme Court said the people’s initiative deserves an infusion of flesh, blood, energy and strength. It directed Congress to fulfill its constitutional mandate to expeditiously provide the implementing rules so the people can exercise this right.

The Court also declared Republic Act 6735, authored by senator Raul Roco, as inadequate and incomplete to provide sufficient standards for subordinate legislation. The said Initiative and Referendum Act only deals with people’s initiative for local legislation. In a later case, Lambino vs. Comelec (2006), the Supreme Court ruled that “a people’s initiative to change the Constitution applies only to an amendment of the Constitution and not to its revision. In contrast, Congress or a constitutional convention can propose both amendments and revisions to the Constitution.”

In the 14th Congress, senator Miriam Santiago sponsored a bill wherein the people can directly introduce constitutional amendments through a legitimate initiative. (I am not aware who filed the counterpart bill in the Lower House.) We have already elected people in the 19th Congress. Still, we lack a law that could legitimately operationalize the people’s initiative system.

Thus, our legislators, particularly in the Lower Chamber, have their work cut out for them: amend RA 6735 and provide the legal infrastructure to the system. Whatever is lacking in the Roco law should be rectified by our lawmakers. They should focus on crafting relevant laws instead of supporting the political agenda of the favored one.


Currently, a group called PIRMA (People’s Initiative for Reform Modernization and Action), which spearheaded a Charter change campaign during the time of president Fidel Ramos, has launched another initiative to revise the Constitution. The group claims to have started gathering signatures from registered voters nationwide. The lead convener of PIRMA also admitted that they are pushing for both houses of Congress to jointly vote on Charter change proposals, regardless that it dilutes the Senate vote (ABS-CBN).

Lawyers for the group have admitted funding the ‘EDSA-pwera’ advertisement (an ill-conceived and badly-executed political ad) that aired on three major TV networks. In the last general elections, a 30-second ad placement in a primetime spot costs almost P2 million. The PIRMA said they used private funds mainly sourced from donations. But I am not convinced.

Speaking of the EDSA-pwera ad, I spoke with an original stalwart of PIRMA, former Cagayan Economic Zone Authority administrator Raul Lambino. He denied that his faction had anything to do with the TV ads. What they did in the 1990s was to organize public meetings around the country to explain their proposed amendments to the Constitution. They never resorted to buying people’s support. Moreover, several local government executives have disclosed that the congressmen themselves are leading the signature drive in legislative districts. Some of their constituents complained of being hoodwinked into affixing their signature to the Cha-cha forms. They thought the signature campaign was related to ‘ayuda’ or government subsidy.

Opposition lawmaker Edcel Lagman has alleged that public funds might be involved in the Cha-cha campaign through the P12-billion insertion in the 2024 Comelec budget. He claimed that the Comelec did not request for the funds intended for elections, referenda, recall votes and plebiscites. The gentleman from Albay also disclosed that some voters received P100 for their signature.

So, is the ongoing Charter change campaign a genuine initiative of the Filipino people? Or is it a P100 signature-buying drive engineered by some beholden and sycophantic politicians? Let us not allow individuals with insatiable greed for power to trivialize the concept of people’s initiative.

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