PI not a done deal yet

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

The principal movers behind the signature-gathering for Charter change (Cha-cha) remain unfazed despite the latest Senate rejection to amend the country’s 1987 Constitution by people’s initiative (PI) mode. Buoyed by what they call as the “momentum” of their nationwide signature drive, the People’s Initiative for Reform Modernization and Action (PIRMA) reckons to get the mandated 12 percent of registered voters to sign up their Cha-cha petition within the next two to three months.

Since the launching of the PI signature drive on January 2 this year, PIRMA lead convenor Noel Oñate disclosed they have been able to gather about 2.5 million signatures for the past three weeks. Oñate, however, admitted this number is still short of the required 12 percent of the total registered voters. Per the Commission on Elections (Comelec) count, this is equivalent to eight million out of the total of 67 million registered voters all over the country.

Oñate clarified PIRMA is not seeking the abolition of the Senate. In particular, he stressed, the soon-to-be-filed PIRMA petition for PI will push for both chambers of the 19th Congress – the Senate and the House of Representatives – to vote jointly as a Constituent Assembly (con-ass). The 1987 Constitution provided con-ass, or constitutional convention (con-con), or PI as the modes to amend its provisions.

But as of Wednesday, Oñate announced at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum that PIRMA will still have to complete and submit the PI signatures from the remaining 70 out of the 254 congressional districts nationwide. This is to comply with the required three percent signatures of registered voters per congressional district.

While Comelec chairman George Garcia confirmed this during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay, he hastened to explain the signatures submitted must still undergo a series of process at the Comelec before being certified. From the initial screening of the PI signatures submitted from the local offices of the Comelec, Garcia noted, some of the legislative districts even submitted up to 15 to 30 percent more than the required signatures.

“The trigger point to start it (Cha-cha) all is for PIRMA to file to Comelec a formal petition for PI,” Garcia pointed out.

At the outset, Garcia rejected calls for the Comelec to stop accepting PI signatures. Garcia asserted the seven-man poll body is duty-bound to comply with the mandates of the law unless otherwise the Supreme Court (SC) issues a restraining order.

Garcia said the Comelec en banc will then take charge of the verification process from these certified signatures. He described as nothing but “Marites” (loose talks) on the rumored “timelines” this year to undertake Cha-cha via PI. Noticeably, the rumored “timelines” coincided with the timetable set in the Comelec guidelines on PI.

“We are not bound to any one’s timelines or timetables. Who ever made it up must be dreaming,” the Comelec chief quipped.

“Whether its con-ass, con-con, or PI, at the end of the line is the holding of plebiscite. Comelec is ready to implement plebiscite if resources will be provided,” Garcia said.

As it stands now, Garcia pointed out, the poll body must implement its 2020 Comelec Guidelines that require them to entertain PI petitions once submitted. He specifically referred to the implementing rules and regulations of Republic Act (RA) 6735, or the enabling law on the people’s right to initiate constitutional amendments.

“As of this point, we will continue to do our ministerial duty, issue corresponding certification. That’s our commitment at the Comelec. We will always follow the rules and guidelines until ordered otherwise,” Garcia declared. The Comelec chief advised all like-minded personalities against the PI or Cha-cha to initiate legal actions to question the mandated process and secure restraining orders from the courts.

Garcia admitted feeling relieved though to learn from the PIRMA leaders they still need more time to complete the signature gathering for Cha-cha. For one, he stressed, the poll body is busy with its other mandated functions, especially on the preparations for the mid-term elections in 2025. These include the on-going procurement of the software and hardware for the new automated election system to be used in next year’s national and local polls, the continuing voters’ registration, and the “internet voting” to enable the millions of overseas Filipino workers to exercise their rights of suffrage even while working abroad.

At the Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum today, Oñate along with the PIRMA’s battery of legal eagles led by lawyer Evaristo Gana strongly refuted allegations of bribery, coercion and use of the government “ayuda” to entice people to sign up for the PI petitions. Oñate and Gana urged the people who allegedly got bribed or paid or coerced to sign up the PI petitions to come out and file the appropriate complaints before proper body.

Pro-administration Congressmen were allegedly behind the PI signature drive at the behest purportedly of House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez. This, however, is vehemently being denied by the Speaker. As president of the Philippine Constitution Association, Romualdez reiterated support for constitutional amendments. The Speaker earlier welcomed the proposal of the Senators to lift the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution that they all wanted done.

As the proponents of the PI, the PIRMA lead convenor admitted they “coordinated” with the Congressmen as mandated by law for the gathering of the required signatures. But Oñate insisted they merely coordinated with the Congressmen for “administrative” purposes since the signatures of the registered voters come from their respective congressional districts.

Quoted by Senate president Juan Miguel Zubiri, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) earlier reportedly deplored the reported money paid for the signatures for the PI. PBBM publicly declared his stand to let the Comelec resolve the questioned signature drive for PI.

Saddened by the Senators’ turnaround last Monday when they issued a Senate Manifesto against the PI, Oñate likened the Senate’s action as blocking anew the “people’s will” to seek amendments of the Philippine Constitution. Oñate believes the only way for the Filipino people to voice their desire to amend the Constitution is through the PI, which they believe can hasten the process in boosting the country competitiveness in the global economic market.

The two PIRMA leaders expressed readiness to defend the PI signature drive should it be challenged before the courts.

In short, the PI is not a done deal yet.


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