Why people’s initiative to amend Philippine Constitution reeks of ‘Marcosian tactics’

Photo by Juned Patricio at Joshtin Sarmiento/Altermidya


MANILA – The People’s Initiative (PI) is one of the ways to amend the Philippine constitution.

Section 2, Article XVII of the 1987 Constitution states that amendments may be directly proposed by the people through a petition of at least twelve per centum of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three per centum of the registered votes.

In the past weeks, reports of an ongoing people’s initiative to amend the Constitution have been making rounds in many communities in the guise of aid distribution.

In December 2023, Bayan Muna Partylist began receiving reports of a people’s initiative for charter change in the guise of distributing ayuda or financial aid in the communities located in Quezon, Caloocan, Valenzuela, Rizal, Tarlac, and Cavite to name a few.

The circulating document indicated that “the PETITION shall be filed with the Commission on Elections for the proposal to amend Article XVII, Section 1 (1) of the 1987 Constitution through the People’s Initiative.” This includes a table asking for the petitioners’ full name, address, precinct number from the recent elections, and signature.

Photo from Manila Today
Photo from Manila Today

The signature campaign was allegedly being spearheaded by the group People’s Initiative for Reform, Modernization, and Action (PIRMA), who have been coordinating with House Speaker Martin Romualdez and other House lawmakers to garner 3% of voters’ signatures per legislative district.

As of this writing, there is no official number yet of the signatures, especially since there are complaints about the authenticity of the signatures — lacking free, prior, and informed consent.

For human rights group Karapatan, this reeks of a Marcosian tactic as poor communities were also asked to sign blank sheets of paper when the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. pushed for the 1973 Philippine Constitution, which was ratified via “viva voce” through “barangay assemblies”, months after the declaration of Martial Law.

“The Marcosian stamp is made even more evident with the proponents’ “EDSA-pwera” mantra, as if the constitution that emerged from the EDSA people power uprising’s ouster of Marcos Sr.’s brutal and thieving dictatorship is to be faulted for all the economic ills that have plagued the country for decades,” said Karapatan.

Image from Atty. Neri Colmenares/X

Fe Baldo, a resident of Guimba, Nueva Ecija, is one of the victims of the deceptive people’s initiative. She shared in an interview with Radyo Natin Guimba that they were forced to sign the petition.

“They did not explain what the petition was for. They just said that we might be receiving relief aid once we signed the forms. We did not know that the petition we signed is bad, that it might be signature buying,” she said.

During the time of dictator Marcos Sr., the 1973 Constitution was overwhelmingly ratified by 35,000 barangays gathered into “citizen’s assemblies.” They were told to indicate via show of hands whether they affirmed the continuation of Martial Law, the closure of the Congress, and the ratification of the new Constitution.

Later on, accounts surfaced that the questions were misrepresented and their votes were fabricated.

Term extension, self-serving interests

For President Marcos, the sudden jolt to push for the charter change is to amend the economic provisions. However, he keeps his doors open to the political provisions that involve term limits.

These discrete pronouncements pushed the progressive lawmakers to conclude that the economic reforms could be a “bait” for the masses to further political interests. In fact, the former chief of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Winnie Monsod also dubbed the economic provisions as a “Trojan horse” to advance the self-interests of the politicians.

“There could be term limit extension afterward, opening sectors to cronies, and facilitating the ownership of foreign investors. These are the real reasons why cha-cha is being pushed,” said Rep. France Castro in an interview with the ANC.

Cha-cha proposals from the previous administrations failed and were met with strong resistance from the people due to the recurring pattern of term extension provisions.

“The five or six times that there were attempts to amend the Constitution, it was because the real objective was to extend term limits, to any way extend their powers,” said Monsod, underscoring that the politicians’ statements were not something that the people can depend on.

The ‘change’ government sells

President Marcos Jr. said in his previous speeches that the current Constitution was not written for a globalized world — underscoring the “need for economic Cha-cha.” This means that the new Marcos administration’s rhetoric is to open the country for more foreign investment in the name of “development.”

The legislative branch proposed the Resolution of Both Houses No. 6, particularly adding the clause “unless provided by law” in Section 11 of Article 12, seeking to ease the restriction on public utility ownership.

Peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said earlier this year, that the provision and the push for Cha-cha in general, would worsen the landlessness and poverty in the country.

They particularly opposed the possible change of 100% foreign ownership of the industries that would prompt the plunder of remaining land and natural resources.

Read: Chacha to worsen land dispossession and poverty, rights groups say

“Corruption & poverty are the main reasons why we lag behind economically and politically. These problems are not created by the 1987 Constitution, but by greedy politicians who control power and money for their self-interests,” human rights lawyer and former Bayan Muna representative, Neri Colmenares.

Economic think-tank IBON Foundation also highlighted that the economic Cha-cha proposition is obsolete.

“The Philippines is actually already among the most open to foreign investment in the region,” IBON pointed out.

They cited that Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia have stricter foreign ownership restrictions in more sectors than the Philippines, with caps ranging from around 20-80% in some or all vital areas of telecommunications, power, mining, oil and gas, banking, insurance, airports, airlines, railways, construction, retail, tourism, and healthcare.

Infographics from the IBON Foundation

They also stressed that more foreign investment does not necessarily mean more development.

“The largest part of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has historically gone to manufacturing which accounts for over 36% of sectorally identifiable foreign investment. Yet the deindustrialization despite all this is stark – in 2023, the sector is down to its smallest share of the economy (17.9%) in 75 years, and to its smallest share of employment (7.3%) in the country’s history.

Role of the Comelec

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is mandated to determine the sufficiency and validity of the petition of people’s initiative.

However, just last month, the Comelec en banc unanimously suspended all the proceedings concerning the PI, due to the lack of “clear directives.”

“We honestly believe, based on our initial assessment that we need to review, enhance, and add provisions on the existing Implementing Rules and Regulations concerning PI,” said George Erwin Garcia, Chairperson of the Comelec, in a press briefing.

He cited particular instances where the guidelines are lacking: the rules on withdrawal of signatures and opposition. “We need clarity to these rules so it won’t cause confusion and misinterpretation.”

Bayan, together with citizen election watchdogs and anti-fraud advocates, held a protest in front of the Comelec to challenge them to junk the “fake” people’s initiative.

They said that the signatures were gathered by deceiving people to receive relief aid and other dubious means, making the signatures invalid. They also emphasized that the scheme was funded by government resources.

“The Comelec would be complicit in the malicious maneuver of politicians if it continues to waver on whether it will verify the fake PI signatures.”

They also added that it should be equally decisive for Comelec to probe the questionable IP address used in the 2022 election and in junking the fake PI signatures.

People’s unity against Chacha

Several protest actions were held since the beginning of the year, denouncing the dubious initiatives to push for Cha-cha. Bayan Muna Partylist publicly released templates of the Affidavit of Withdrawal for citizens victimized by the PI campaign.

“Again, we emphasized that we are not against constitutional reform per se, but we do not agree with how this well-funded PI lure people and seemingly use public funds for bribes and how this movement is being used for politicians’ self-interests,” said Colmenares.

The templates of the Affidavit, translated into Filipino and English, are available here.

In the marking of the 38th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Uprising, a broad network of groups and personalities stand united to expose the “self-serving, undemocratic, and unpatriotic moves” at Chacha.

No to Cha-cha Network said in their statement and press conference that the 1987 Constitution was the fruit of the people’s struggle against Marcos Sr.’s dictatorship.

“Today, there are efforts to amend these and other provisions via people’s initiative or Congress forming itself as a constituent assembly. We strongly oppose these efforts at this time for being unnecessary, divisive, expensive, and aimed mainly at entrenching those in power,” the network said.

They also emphasized the need for government to focus on much more pressing issues such as increasing wages and livelihoods, reducing prices of food and basic utilities, improving government and social services, reducing red tape and corruption, upholding human rights, justice and peace, protecting the sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea, caring for the environment, and ensuring free and credible elections.

“Despite the victory of EDSA in 1986, much more needs to be done. The Marcoses, Dutertes, and other political dynasties remain entrenched in power. An elite few have maintained, if not strengthened, their grip on our economy and political structures. Widespread poverty and injustice remain. Cha-cha does not address these problems,” the network added.

To concretely fight against the deceptive PI initiative, they call for the public to conduct information and education drives at all levels down to the grassroots, initiate bawi-pirma campaigns in the communities, hold mass actions and other forms of social mobilization, and file properly timed legal actions. (RTS, JJE) (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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