MANILA, Philippines — Ayuda for your signature.
Residents testified at a Senate hearing in Davao City yesterday that they were made to sign people’s initiative (PI) signature sheets with the promise that they would be given ayuda or financial assistance, food packages and other benefits.
The continuing probe by the Senate committee on electoral reform and people’s participation chaired by Sen. Imee Marcos has focused on the residents and critics of the latest Charter change push, speaking of bribery and of money clandestinely changing hands during the signature drive.
Former president Rodrigo Duterte, who has openly opposed the latest Cha-cha push, was on the guest list but did not show up at the hearing.
The Senate hearing, which lasted for almost four hours, was attended by Senators Bong Go and Ronald dela Rosa, both from Davao, and several local government officials and residents.
A barangay captain presented to the committee several documents in a green folder containing a list of residents who wanted to withdraw their signatures from the PI. “My personnel in the barangay were also considered victims. They were offered P4,000 just to gather signatures,” he said.
An official of the Commission on Elections said the signatures of residents who would like to withdraw would not be used by the Comelec.
Richell Siguera, a barangay coordinator, showed to the panel a piece of paper which she received from those who secured her signature. The paper contained a stub of AICS or Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations.
“A certain Yap gave it to her and that Yap is reporting to Cong. Migz Nograles,” Siguera added.
She said she also solicited signatures from her neighbors.
She admitted that she did not explain the PI to her neighbors as she herself has limited knowledge about it.
“They told us to keep the coupon and wait for the money. They have yet to receive any amount yet,” Siguera added.
When Dela Rosa asked the residents if they would have signed the signature forms without being assured of coupon, they replied “no sir.”
At the hearing, the senators also warned the People’s Initiative for Modernization and Reform Action (PIRMA) to submit its list of donors of the P55 million spent for television advertisements promoting PI.
Marcos said PIRMA led by its convenor Noel Oñate should submit the list required by Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III.
“I have a stern warning for PIRMA, the legal counsel are here, you need to advise your client about the donations lists that constitute until today, three days after the fact, donors list, BIR receipt or whatever documents. Nothing has been submitted so far. Submit it at the earliest possible opportunities,” Marcos said before suspending the public hearing.
Marcos said many people wanted to participate in the hearing but there was limited time.
She encouraged barangay officials to submit more evidence to prove cases of bribery and misuse of government funds.
During the previous hearing, Sen. Francis Escudero asked Oñate about the cost of the printing of the PI forms but he claimed he was not familiar with it.
“What I know is the figure in the airing of the advertisement which cost P55 million, ABS-CBN, TV5 and GMA7.”
No shift to parliament
House Majority Leader Mannix Dalipe has again assured Senate counterparts and the public that Resolution of Both Houses No. 6 on Cha-cha would not lead to a shift to a parliamentary form of government.
Dalipe said there is no truth to the claims of Duterte that Cha-cha would also change the country’s political landscape.
“With regards to suspicion that we are trying to do this to have somebody become a PM (prime minister) or something, records will prove (otherwise),” noted the representative of Zamboanga City.
The lawmaker added that what any doubting individual could do is to check the RBH 6 documents that the House of Representatives had submitted to the Senate.
“So I don’t know where it came from – the allegation that changes will be political. It is clear that what we transmitted is for (amendment of) economic provisions,” he maintained. Dalipe also challenged those making such accusation to show evidence.
According to Duterte, once the parliamentary form of government is established, Speaker Martin Romuldez would be installed as the prime minister and he would be succeeded by presidential son Ilocos Norte Rep. Sandro Marcos.
Deputy Speaker and Quezon Rep. David Suarez said what they see is the “narrative against development and progress is consistent.”
“They always want to put political color to the constitutional amendment that we are proposing, when in fact what is on the table are purely economic amendments,” Suarez added.
He cited as basis some senators’ claims the House is bent on abolishing the Senate, when this is just a “figment of their imagination.”
Suarez said this is “nowhere to be found in RBH No. 6.”
“These were the same arguments they have always raised, like they will be abolished and all. Another is the insinuation that we will perpetuate ourselves in power, it’s really the same narrative thrown against the proposal to push for Charter amendments,” he added.
Suarez also said the Senate’s probe has turned into a “witch hunt.”
“After two hearings, no witnesses have come forward to say that they received money or were bribed to sign the petition calling for Charter amendments,” he added.
Suarez maintained it is a “shame that the probe continues despite having no witness who testified that they were paid” in exchange for their signatures.
The Quezon lawmaker earlier asked the Senate to just “refocus their attention” on the discussion and expedite approval of the Resolution of Both Houses 6 which is aimed at amending the restrictive economic provisions in the Constitution.
He underscored the need to focus on “more pressing issues facing the nation.”
According to Suarez, the “substance and direction” of the inquiry is questionable since there is no witness to confirm the allegation, even in the investigation being done in Davao City where the signature buying was reportedly rampant.
He also raised concerns over the resources and time being spent on the probe.
“While it is crucial to investigate any allegations of misconduct, especially those that could affect constitutional processes, the consistent lack of corroborative testimonies suggests that this investigation may not be the best use of our legislative body’s time and resources,” he added.
Meanwhile, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution described as “perilous and dangerous” the ongoing push for Charter change initiated by the House of Representatives, while a former chief justice maintained there is absolutely no need for one.
Former Commission on Elections commissioner Rene Sarmiento, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, and retired chief justice Hilario Davide Jr. submitted their separate position papers on the PI to Marcos’ committee.
Sarmiento said “constitutions, though imperfect, are fragile democratic instruments that must be protected and safeguarded with vigilance at all times.”
“With numerous challenges facing the country today, internationally and domestically, what is needed at this time is for us and for our elected public officers to take heed the advice of Claro M. Recto when he wrote that the ‘best amendment of the Constitution would be the amendment of our lives, the amendment of our attitudes, outlook and actions, the realization that we are free men and the resolution to live and act as free men,’” he said.
“Yes, attitudes, outlook and attributes that uphold the principle that ‘public office is a public trust,’ that affirm social justice and human rights, that seek to promote the common good of Filipinos,” he noted.
Davide, for his part, reiterated his “stand, repeated many times in the past whenever there were attempts to amend or revise the 1987 Constitution, that there is no need to do so and there are no compelling reasons for that.”
“As one of the commissioners of the 1986 Constitutional Commission who drafted this Constitution, I know it very well, and in explaining my affirmative vote for the final draft of the Constitution at the plenary session of the Commission, I openly declared that this is the Constitution I am willing to die for,” Davide added.
“Verily, the people’s initiative to amend the fundamental law of the land – the 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines – is a sacred sovereign power which should be exercised with absolute good faith. It should never be tainted with or stained by any vice, defect, trickery, deceit, misrepresentations, wickedness and corruption of any kind,” he said.
The University of the Philippines community and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines have also voiced their opposition to Charter change. — Sheila Crisostomo, Diana Lhyd Suelto, Ghio Ong, Elizabeth Marcelo