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Comelec shelves people’s initiative

Comelec chairman George Garcia
Vito Barcelo & Macon Ramos-Araneta

Senators, congressmen OK move

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) en banc has decided to indefinitely suspend all proceedings concerning the people’s initiative (PI) to push for amending the 1987 Constitution.

Congress welcomed the decision, with senators considering it a victory and congressmen saying they “had no problem” with it.

In a press briefing, Comelec Chairman George Garcia said the commission has decided to suspend all people’s initiative proceedings to make way for reviewing and amending rules regarding the initiative.

“We honestly believe, based on our initial assessment, that we have to review, enhance, or add to the existing IRR concerning PI because we think that there is something that is lacking in the guidelines,” Garcia said.

“For example our rules on withdrawal, our rules on opposition, and the rules on notices that we need in the end to avoid problems, confusion, and misunderstandings when it comes to the interpretation of the provisions of our rules,” he added.

He said the lack of clear directives regarding these concerns is what pushed Comelec to suspend its PI proceedings.

The poll chief cited Comelec Resolution No. 10650, which contains the revised rules and regulations governing the conduct of a people’s initiative.

He said that they will create a panel that will review the rules, headed by its executive director together with the director of the law department.

“We will consult everybody on this to clarify what is covered when it concerns amendments and when it is related to revisions to the existing Charter,”

The poll body will keep the signature sheets that have been accepted since these are not covered by the suspension.

At the House, Majority Leader and Zamboanga City Rep. Manuel Jose Dalipe said: “We welcome that move from the Comelec, if there is a need for them to review any of the Rules we welcome that.”

While the Comelec is doing the review, Dalipe said the House will be doing other important legislative matters.

“But while the Comelec reviews it there are also other very important legislative matters that we are also pushing for. So wala pong problema (there’s no problem), we welcome the act of the Comelec,” he added.

ARMBANDS FOR SOLIDARITY. Senators show their armbands on Monday to express the Senate’s solidarity against the people’s initiative amid the Charter change issue. Lino Santos

Senators welcomed the Comelec decision.

Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva considered this a victory because the government responded to the true sentiments of the people.

He said they will not be held hostage by this people’s initiative.

But he admitted their fight is not yet over and urged people to be vigilant and to protect the Constitution.

Senator JV Ejercito said there are still government officials who are just and respectful of the Constitution.

“They are ready to defend our democracy in the face of a sinister plot to overthrow this,” he said.

Senator Nancy Binay said she, too, welcomed the Comelec decision, but said the signature campaign bears close watching.

Senator Grace Poe said the Comelec took the correct path when it stopped the questionable Cha-cha signature campaign.

“A ‘people’s initiative’ that started on the wrong foot and was tainted with controversy would not do the country and the people good, “ said Poe.

She called it a fake initiative pushed by politicians and greased by money to deceive the public into supporting Cha-cha.

Also on Monday, Garcia said registered voters who wish to withdraw their signatures for the people’s initiative may do so by simply proceeding to their local poll offices even without a written statement on hand.

In an interview over radio dzBB, Garcia said that for those who signed and did not understand what they signed can go to the local Comelec office, introduce themselves and withdraw their signature.

“Even if they don’t have an affidavit, they can pull out their signatures. After all, we have a record and we could check it from the signature forms if they really have their names there,” he said.

There is nothing that prevents anyone from stating that he did not understand what he signed so he is withdrawing his signature,” he said.

The local Comelec office will take note of signature withdrawals or manifestations that a voter’s signature had been faked, Garcia said, adding that the poll body had the right to remove the names of those who signed the petition in either instance.

“It’s within our power to determine the regularity of signatures there [in the petition]. Each signature will be treated on a case-to-case basis,” he added.

Garcia said that a total of 1,072 municipalities and cities’ signature forms have been received by the Comelec to amend the 1987 Constitution as of Jan. 26, 2024.

Garcia said that this number is not yet enough for the people’s initiative.

Under the 1987 Constitution, amendments can be directly proposed by the people “through initiative upon a petition of at least 12 percent of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least 3 percent of the registered voters therein, a mode called people’s initiative.”

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