Peoples Initiative Under False Pretenses

Apr. 06, 2006

Based on reports citing the unscrupulous ways that the signatures were gathered, it seems not everyone is boarding the Cha-cha train voluntarily.

By Michael Goyagoy
Ibon Features

MANILA Although Malacaang denies having anything to do with it, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo recently declared her support for charter change through the peoples initiative. In typical fashion, Arroyo likened the peoples initiative to a train that has already left the station, and warned those who oppose it to get out of the way or be run over. But based on reports citing the less-than-scrupulous ways the signatures were gathered, it seems that not everyone is on the Cha-cha train voluntarily.

Charter change through a peoples initiative requires gathering some 12% of registered voters or 4.8 million signatures, with no less than 3% in any congressional district throughout the Philippines. When the necessary number of signatures is gathered and verified, a plebiscite can be held on changing provisions in the 1987 Constitution shifting the form of government from presidential to parliamentary.

Sigaw ng Bayan, the group that allegedly spearheaded the signature campaign during nationwide barangay assemblies last March 25-26, claims it has already gathered 5.6 million signatures, which it turned over to the Commission on Elections for verification.

But the process of gathering the signatures has been rife with reports of bribery, intimidation and deception. Some reported being offered money in exchange for their signatures. Others said barangay officials conducted door-to-door signature campaigns, pressuring their constituents to sign.

Interviews conducted by Ibon Features among the residents of Barangay 865 zone 94 in Tomas Claudio, Pandacan, Manila City show that these reports have basis in fact, as they complained that Charter change was abruptly brought up without warning during their barangay assembly.

According to interviewees, the assembly was supposed to discuss the issue of relocation, a major concern among urban poor residents living near the train tracks.

Intimidation and Deception

Norma Casim, a housewife, said she was forced to sign the peoples initiative document because the barangay captain linked their relocation to the Cha-cha issue. We thought that our relocation would depend on our signatures. The barangay captain repeated over and over that Mayor Atienza would help us with the relocation issue. Mayor Atienza is a known Arroyo supporter and a fervent advocate of charter change.

Casim said that she now regrets signing and wishes she could take back her signature. Many others also signed because they did not understand and were fooled. The officials used the relocation as a front because they know the issue is a primary concern of our lives.

Seamstress Resureccion Garino added, They scared us into signing by telling us that if we didnt we wouldnt be given relocation and the community would disappear. Those who didnt sign also wouldnt be given a barangay clearance.

Unemployed Ben Basa told Ibon Features that barangay officials were using precinct numbers of registered voters and getting them to sign.

At first, they said their purpose was to measure our houses. I complained and said what they were reading was about Cha-cha. We dont want Cha-cha especially their intention to remove peoples right to vote for president.

Housewife Emely Ferreria said that as early as Friday night, the barangay captain was already gathering signatures without explaining what they were for.

It was only during the assembly on Saturday morning that they told us the signatures were for Charter change. We were dismayed by their deception.

Celia Minggo said there were rumors that the barangay officials would receive 200 pesos per signature.

No wonder the barangay captain continued to go door-to-door to gather signatures even if it was a hot day.

Barangay kagawad (councilor) Mario Gutierez confirmed his constituents stories, saying that he was also kept in the dark about the real agenda of the barangay assembly until the last minute.

I only learned before the assembly that Mayor Atienza had called all the barangay officials and ordered them to push Cha-cha. The barangay captain stressed that Atienza would help with the relocation but that we also had to help him. They were able to get the signatures of nearly half of the 3,000 residents.

Unacceptable Cha-Cha

If these stories are any indicator, it is clear that the administration is bent on approving the Cha-cha, even if as Malacaang continues to disown the current signature drive in barangays.

Former president Fidel Ramos had attempted Charter change through the group Peoples Initiative for Reform, Modernization and Action (PIRMA), which aimed to gather 5 million signatures to change the Constitution and extend Ramoss term. Deposed president Joseph Estrada also made a pitch to modify the Constitution under the Constitutional Correction for Development (Concord).

Like the present initiative, both these initiatives were widely rejected because it is clear that the drive to change the charter does not advance their legitimate economic and political interests, but rather upholds the economic interests of the countrys elite while further cementing their hold to power. (With reports from Joseph Yu/Ibon Features)

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