House Leaders Collaborate with Pirma for Charter Change Initiative

Sen. Imee Marcos, chairman of the Committee on Electoral Reforms and People's Participation, leads the inquiry on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024, into the alleged pay offs in the signature campaign for people's initiative to amend the 1987 Constitution. PHOTOS BY RENE H. DILAN
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The People’s Initiative for Reform, Modernization, and Action (Pirma) has recently come under scrutiny for its involvement with House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and other representatives in the pursuit of Charter change (Cha-cha). During a Senate inquiry, Pirma convenor Noel Oñate admitted that he sought Romualdez’s assistance in gathering the required 3 percent signatures per congressional district for the people’s initiative (PI) to move forward.

Oñate stated, “He (Speaker) agreed to help us. They just helped [us]. We are in the forefront.” This collaboration with influential individuals and lawmakers highlights the significance of their support in achieving the necessary signatures.

To promote their cause, Pirma invested over P55 million in television advertisements advocating for Cha-cha. Oñate revealed that a substantial portion of the funds came from his own resources, with the remaining amount being donated by supporters. However, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel 3rd and Sen. Francis Joseph “Chiz” Escudero pressed Oñate to disclose the identities of the other donors, emphasizing the need for transparency.

Pimentel emphasized, “We need to account for P27.5 million.” Oñate, however, expressed hesitation in revealing the names, citing concerns about losing face. Nevertheless, Sen. Maria Josefa Imelda “Imee” Marcos, the committee’s chairman, compelled Oñate to submit the names of the other donors, with the condition that he obtains their consent.

During the inquiry, several witnesses from Quezon City and Bukidnon testified that they had signed the PI petition with the expectation of receiving assistance in return. However, many of them expressed disappointment as they had yet to receive the promised aid. These testimonies shed light on potential discrepancies between the promises made during the signature collection process and the actual delivery of assistance.

In response to the allegations, the committee summoned lawyer Anthony Abad, who was allegedly behind the signature campaign. However, Marcos informed the panel that Abad had flown overseas, complicating the process of gathering information from him. The committee will pursue his appearance in future hearings to shed light on his involvement.

Amidst the ongoing controversy, Senate Minority Leader Pimentel issued a challenge to the House of Representatives leadership, urging them to abandon their PI signature drive. In a radio interview, Pimentel emphasized the need to put an end to the gathering of signatures, stating, “Let’s put a stop to whatever has been discussed down there, among their leaders or followers or people’s organizations.” He raised concerns about whether the PI truly represented the will of the people or if it had become a tool for politicians to advance their own agendas.

Additionally, Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa called on those who had signed the petition to recall their signatures, expressing his frustration with those behind the undertaking. Dela Rosa strongly denounced the exploitation of poverty for personal gain, stating, “Please don’t try to take advantage of our poverty. We simply cannot let this slide.”

The Senate inquiry into the alleged bribery and irregularities surrounding the PI signature collection process highlights the importance of transparency and accountability in any democratic initiative. As the investigation continues, it is crucial to ensure that the voices and interests of the people are genuinely represented, rather than being overshadowed by political motivations.

Source: The Manila Times

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