By Hannah Torregoza
Senators on Wednesday thumbed down Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’s idea of pushing for a Peoples Initiative as an alternative move to pursue the cancellation of the May 2019 midterm elections and to amend the present charter that would pave the way to a shift to a federal form of government.
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said this is practically impossible as a revision of the 1987 Constitution cannot merely be done through a Peoples’ Initiative.
“For me, if you change the terms of public officials, this is a revision of the Constitution and that cannot be done through Peoples’ Initiative,” Drilon pointed out.
“The Peoples’ Initiative is only for minor amendments in the Constitution and changing the terms of officials are considered major amendments which cannot be done through a Peoples’ Initiative,” Drilon explained.
If Alvarez insists, Drilon said lawmakers can ask the Supreme Court to check if such move is allowed.
“But what is clear to us (the minority bloc) is that the purpose of Charter change is to cancel the elections and extend the term of elected officials,” Drilon said.
Senator Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito said there might not be enough time to hold a Peoples’ Initiative as the people already expect the elections to push through in 2019. “That might be a futile effort,” he said.
Sen. Leila de Lima also agreed with Drilon in saying that the attempt of President Duterte’s allies in the House of Representatives is part of a “sinister ploy” of the present regime.
“In whatever capacity the hold-over LGU officials will serve under a No-El scenario, they will be more prone to pressure from the President if they do not have the mandate given in elections. This pressure would include support for federalism and charter change, even when the popular sentiment is unmistakably against these,” de Lima said.
“With or without charter change, there is no substitute for regular elections to assure the autonomy of local officials and local governments from the narrow and self-serving political agenda of the President,” the detained senator said.
Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson said he believes that majority of the senators will fight such scenario in which the cancellation of the May 2019 elections to pave the way for the shift to federalism would be done through a Peoples’ Initiative.
“It goes without saying, majority of the senators, even those running for re-election will fight tooth and nail any attempt to cancel the 2019 midterm elections simply, because it is wrong and self-serving,” Lacson said.
Lacson said the leadership of the House should be reminded of the provision on the People’s Initiative as an alternative mode of revising or amending the Charter.
“Clearly, nothing escapes the Senate participation. Thus, aside from Sec. 1 under Art. XVII which provides for Con-Ass (constituent assembly) and Con-Con (Constitutional convention), Sec 2, particularly paragraph 2, which allows the direct participation of the people shall likewise need the Senate to implement the same,” Lacson pointed out.
“Hence, and I quote to preclude any misinterpretation:
“SECTION 2. Amendments to this Constitution may likewise be directly proposed by the people through initiative upon 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 voters therein,” Lacson cited.
“No amendment under this section shall be authorized within five years following the ratification of this Constitution nor oftener than once every five years thereafter. The Congress shall provide for the implementation of the exercise of this right. Nothing could be clearer,” he added.
Sen. Francis (Chiz) Escudero, on the other hand, said it is totally up to Alvarez if he wants to pursue a Peoples Initiative. “But I don’t think it can be done before the 2019 elections because they need the signatures of at least 12 percent of total registered voters with each congressional district represented by at least three percent of the registered voters therein,” Escudero said.
Thereafter, Escudero said the Commission on Elections shall verify each and every signature before it can order or schedule the referendum which, in turn, can be questioned before the Courts by any interested party if it is indeed sufficient in form and substance.
“Quite frankly, I don’t know why he seems so obsessed with postponing the election when neither the people nor the Palace supports such postponement,” Escudero said, referring to Alvarez.
Sen. Grace Poe, for her part reminded Alvarez that a similar attempt was tried in the past under then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo but it was unsuccessful.
“This was tried in the past under GMA but it was unsuccessful . It is a lengthy and tedious process,” Poe said.
“The Speaker should not try any shortcuts and tricks if he believes the proposed charter is judicious and a true solution to the needs of our people,” she added.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said there is no stopping Alvarez if he wants to pursue his plan.
“He can. But then it’s not a real People’s Initiative but a speakers initiative or political elite initiative,” Recto said when sought to comment.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, on the other hand, said a Peoples Initiative to postpone the 2019 elections would just be a waste of government funds.
“The electoral process is a fundamental tenet of democracy. It’s the period when the electorate is empowered to choose their own leader who they think best represent their beliefs and ideologies,” Gatchalian said.
“The People’s Initiative to postpone the 2019 elections will just be a waste of resources and it will also further divide the country into deeper political abyss,” he added.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan echoed Gatchalian’s observation saying that “government funds spent for a people’s initiative and plebiscite to extend the terms of sitting politicians can be put to better use.”
Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, Alvarez’ partymate at the Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino-Laban (PDP-Laban), meanwhile advised the House leader to carefully study this plan as it would be very burdensome to launch a Peoples Initiative.
“Pag-isipan niya ‘yan ng mabuti. That’s too cumbersome a procedure, hence, time consuming plus the question if a law is in place which sufficiently implements People’s Initiative,” Pimentel said.
But Pimentel, one of the senators advocating for federalism, said he sees Alvarez as the suitable person to launch such initiative.
“He is the proper person to lead such an initiative because the procedure involves all the legislative districts of the country,” Pimentel said.