Arroyo Scored for Buying Signatures in Cha-Cha Drive; DILG, Comelec Wash Hands

Mar. 28, 2006

Arroyo administration accused of “again committing massive fraud and deception on a nationwide scale

By Germelina A. Lacorte

DAVAO CITY Days after the synchronized barangay (village) assemblies that launched the so-called nationwide peoples initiative aimed at changing the Constitution, critics and progressive groups lambasted the government Monday for allegedly using money and other inducements to railroad the process even as officials denied that the assemblies had anything to do with the governments campaign to amend the charter.

Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo seems to be running out of schemes to cling to power so that she buys the peoples initiative with rice and a few hundred bucks, Ariel Casilao, acting secretary-general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in Southern Mindanao said in a statement on Monday.

Casilao was referring to reports that money and rice were given in exchange for signatures supporting constitutional amendments that would, among others, lead to shift to a parliamentary form of government.

The charter change campaign, Casilao said, has thus become a pure hoax and an insult to the real meaning of peoples initiative. This, he added, is part of Malacanangs tactic to keep Arroyo, who has been facing scandals and an impeachment attempt for election fraud, in power.

In Manila, Bayans national secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr. accused Arroyo of destroying the institutions of government due to Charter change.

Mrs. Arroyo has placed the legislative, executive and the judiciary in a three-way collision course because of charter change. The legislative branch is divided. The executive branch is intent on ramming through a peoples initiative. The judiciary is placed in an extremely difficult situation of resolving legal issues involving the two branches. The administration itself is fueling the political crisis, Reyes said.

It will be an untenable situation, a recipe for political turmoil, that will expose the fundamental weaknesses of these institutions, Reyes added.

Crispin Beltran, the leftist congressman, said this administration is again committing massive fraud and deception on a nationwide scale.

At the Senate, Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said any constitutional amendment should not happen while Arroyo is in office.

I am for a federal system but not now. No Charter Change while Gloria is in power. She must resign first before Cha-Cha because she is diverting public attention from her misuse of powers and plunder of the economy, he said.

In Malacanang, Arroyo spokesman Ignacio Bunye shot back at the administrations critics, saying that further delays in the move to amend the Constitution will deprive the Filipino people of the political and economic reforms that they deserve for a better future.

Charter change, he said, is offered as a solution to the long-standing political gridlock that has prevented the government from moving forward. The outpouring of public support for Charter change should serve as a wakeup call for our lawmakers to set aside partisan politics and endless bickering in the media.

Officials, however, insisted that Saturdays assemblies had nothing to do with charter change.

Faizal Abutasil, assistant regional director of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), said on Monday that the synchronized assemblies were called to discuss barangay performance, health and development concerns, including the bird flu crisis, but not charter change.

Although it is not against the law, there was no specific instruction from the DILG to gather signature for the Cha-cha, Abutasil told reporters. Weve been very consistent in our stand. Were out of this (Cha-cha). We know that theres an ongoing signature campaign now, but we leave it to the discretion of barangay officials.

He said the synchronized barangay assemblies were not mandatory. We merely enjoined them, he said. Our specific instruction was to encourage our barangay officials to conduct barangay assembly, which was not mandatory.

But local officials had repeatedly said during the weekend assembly that the gathering was called in compliance with the DILG memorandum circular.

Celso Tizon, barangay captain of Bucana 76-A, had told that his village had been asked to gather the required minimum 12 percent of the total number of registered voters and that he planned to overshoot his target by coming up with at least 15 percent.

Tizon said he would mobilize over a hundred purok leaders in his barangay to do the work. They have agreed to go house-to-house gather the required number of signatures supporting the Cha-cha, he said.

Attendance sheets, where the name of the activity, the date and venue had been left blank, were passed around during the assembly at the S.I.R. Covered Court and that the participants were made to sign. But another form, which was kept by some barangay workers, included the precinct number, the birth date, signature and its verification was the petition form for the Cha-cha.

I hereby approve the proposed amendment of the 1987 Constitution. My signature herein shall form part of the petition for the amendment of the Constitution, its upper portion read.

The manner in which the petition was made worried civil rights groups, which reminded them of how the former deposed President Ferdinand Marcos had once changed the countrys Constitution more than 20 years ago. We were once asked how many of you live in Sasa, we raised our hands, they took our pictures and that was how it came to be reported that we wanted the Constitution changed, recalled Luz Ilagan, current national chairperson of the Gabriela Women’s Party-List in a recent forum here.

Abutasil said the DILG merely suggested some items to be discussed during the assembly but it was up to the barangay to include them or not. We already know theres an ongoing signature campaign now, he said. But the DILG is keeping its hands off that. We leave everything to the discretion of barangay officials.

The regional office of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is also washing its hands. We wont do anything to further the Cha-cha, because that is largely a partisan activity, said Melcar M. Unso, an official at the Comelec regional office.

But he said that requests for copies of computerized voters list (CVL) have been made ast their field offices since last week. This is a totally new development to us. We only entertain their requests, he said.

Under the system of initiative and referendum, the petition proposing amendments to the Constitution must have at least 12 percent of the total number of registered voters with at least 3 percent representing every legislative district as signatories. The petition will form the basis for Congress to pass the enabling laws. Only after this enabling law shall have been approved can the Comelec act upon the petition, said Unson.

Comelec is tasked to verify the signatures based on the voters list, voters affidavits and IDs. What theyre doing now is still the groundwork, said Unson, The Comelec can only start to verify the signatures after the enabling law shall have been passed by Congress, he explained.

He said the Charter change campaign will mean additional work and expenses for the government. It will be like another election, he said.

At present, the Comelec office in the region has not yet received any directive from their central office in Manila. We still dont know the exact procedure because the region has not come across such petition, he said, We dont know yet who are the ones involved in that petition. (Germelina A. Lacorte/

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