Next stop for PI, the Supreme Court

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

It would seem that I won the bet I made in my last piece in this corner. As a constitutional body, the seven-man Commission on Elections (Comelec) exercised its full autonomy and independence. Acting motu propio, or by its own volition, the Comelec suspended indefinitely all its on-going processes related to the people’s initiative (PI). The suspension covers submissions, acceptance, review and certification of all PI signatures so far received by the Comelec.

The Comelec headed by Chairman George Garcia did what seemed to be a hat trick. The “collective decision” of the Comelec was reached during its en banc meeting last Monday. The Garcia-led Comelec unanimously decided to hold in abeyance the processes involved in the PI that are still within the jurisdiction of the poll body.

Garcia announced all PI proceedings shall be suspended until the Comelec can “review, enhance and add” necessary provisions on Comelec Resolution No. 10650. This refers to 2020 Comelec’s implementing rules and regulations of Republic Act (RA) 6735, otherwise known as the enabling law for the PI to amend the Constitution. Garcia confessed the IRR have no specific provisions to address the issues and questions related to the Comelec procedures of certification and verification of signatures before and after a formal petition is filed for PI.

At a press conference he called at the Comelec, Garcia renewed his appeals to all concerned parties to calm down. “Sana huwag ma-consider na pinapanigan naming isang grupo…Wala ito sa pulitika,” Garcia exhorted. A veteran election lawyer and a law professor before he joined for the first time government service, Garcia has seen up close and personal how such political feuds could get ugly and messy to all parties concerned.

At the time of the Comelec suspension of all PI proceedings, Garcia cited there were 45 legislative districts out of the 254 congressional districts nationwide that have yet to submit signatures collected. Or this consists of about seven million registered voters from these congressional districts. The PI mode requires three percent signatures of registered voters per congressional district.

The Comelec suspension of the PI averted – for now – what could have been full-scale political warfare where there are no clear victors.

Most especially, the Comelec’s suspension of the PI spared President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) from taking sides, one way or the other. We could just imagine the loud sigh of relief of PBBM when the Comelec literally doused cold water on the heated brickbats over the PI.

The Comelec stepping on the brakes on the PI has palpably appeased the anti-PI faction of Marcos administration allies led by Vice President and concurrent Education Secretary Sara Duterte. Perhaps, the Comelec’s unilateral action to suspend the PI could also placate the VP’s father, former president Rodrigo Duterte, and her brothers Davao City Mayor Sebastian and Congressman Paolo “Pulong” Duterte.

The Duterte father-and-brothers team bitterly lambasted PBBM and his administration allies as allegedly being behind the PI campaign during a prayer rally held in Davao City last Sunday. VP Sara flew in and joined her family a few hours after she stood on the same stage at Luneta where PBBM led the launching of his administration’s “Bagong Pilipinas” brand.

Before he left last Monday for a state visit to Vietnam, PBBM was visibly hurt by what he called “toxic politics” over the PI. The personal attacks and tirades directly hit not only PBBM but also his wife, First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos. The First Lady along with presidential first cousin, Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, were accused of being “power-hungry” in backing Charter change (Cha-cha) through a shift of the country’s system of government to parliamentary.

These were hurled by the firebrand ex-president Duterte who accused anew PBBM as a “drug addict” now at Malacañang Palace. He even warned PBBM he might suffer the same fate as the latter’s late namesake father of being ousted from office. Curiously though, Mr. Duterte also supported Cha-cha for the shift to federal system of government during his own term. Like his predecessors though at the Palace, the Cha-cha bid of Mr. Duterte did not prosper.

Despite denials to the contrary as the alleged chief financial supporter of the signature drive, Romualdez openly backed the PI as one of the three modes allowed to amend the country’s 1987 Constitution. The Speaker was accused of getting the administration allies at the House of Representatives to back the PI signature campaign in their respective congressional districts.

At the Senate public hearing yesterday on the questioned House-backed PI, People’s Initiative for Reform Modernization and Action (PIRMA) lead convenor Noel Oñate confirmed they indeed “coordinated” with House leaders before they undertook the signature campaign. Oñate told the senators they sought a meeting with Romualdez and other House leaders who have publicly espoused the same Cha-cha cause they in PIRMA first started during the administration of the late president Fidel Ramos.

Actually, Oñate first announced this in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum last Wednesday. As of last week, Oñate disclosed the PIRMA drive has been able to gather so far about 2.5 million signatures since they started this last Jan. 2. As required in the PI mode, PIRMA must secure at least 12 percent, or about eight million out of the total of 67 million, registered voters all over the country.

Buoyed by what they call the “momentum” of their nationwide signature drive, the PIRMA lead convenor expressed confidence they will be able to secure the mandated 12 percent of all registered voters to sign up for their PI within the next two to three months.

Thus, the Comelec chairman conceded the poll body might face suits that will question their collegial decision to suspend the PI proceedings. However, the Comelec clarified the suspension does not stop PIRMA and other like-minded groups and people from continuing to collect and gather signatures to endorse Cha-cha via PI. Garcia demurs though from giving the specific timeline within which the Comelec will review its PI guidelines.

But will the Comelec’s suspension of PI proceedings convince the Senators? The Senate is set to question the PI before the Supreme Court to take the bull by the horn, so to speak.

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