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People’s initiative ‘must continue’, but group welcomes Senate move

Maricel Cruz & Macon Ramos-Araneta

Despite congressional support for a constituent assembly to amend the Constitution, organizers of a controversial people’s initiative said they will continue their own efforts to push Charter change.

Former legislator Alfredo Garbin Jr., who heads the group Movants of People’s Initiative, said they welcomed a Senate resolution calling for the convening of a constituent assembly to amend the Constitution, but added that the people’s initiative must continue.

Meanwhile, Rep. Erwin Tulfo of party-list group ACT-CIS took the cudgels for Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez, stressing that the House leader has nothing to do with the ongoing people’s initiative (PI) for the electorate to directly propose certain amendments to the Constitution.

Tulfo said that as communications head of the House of Representatives, he heard of no instruction from the Speaker to push for or support the people’s initiative.

“There are no instructions like that, ‘Let’s do this, let’s push for this’…’that it is going to be a SONA’ gift. There’s no such thing,” he said.

“Last I heard, when the House leadership and the political party leaders, they didn’t talk about the fact that they will be forced to have a people’s initiative, which requires a signature campaign,” the former broadcaster said.

Garbin, the former Ako Bicol party-list solon and ex-chairman of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments, said it was the Albay chapter of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) that initiated PI in the province.

“The rest, (the) League of Cities of the Philippines and other civic organizations… and of course the local leaders, even chief executives, where the barangay captains, mayors are leading (the signature campaign). It snowballed from there,” he said.

“We… consider the Senate’s move a victory,” Garbin also told the Manila Standard.

“It took the Senate to wait for the Filipino people exercising their sovereign power of a people’s initiative before they realized that they have to move and act in line with the established consensus of the House of Representatives to effect the needed economic amendments in our 37-year-old Charter,” he said.

“But we will not be deterred and will continue to campaign for the people’s initiative. Ours is a democratic state and it is always the will of the people that shall prevail,” Garbin added.

He also took the senators to task for claiming that President Marcos had tasked them to lead the charge in reviewing the economic provisions of the Constitution.

He likened them to schoolchildren who were summoned to the principal’s office and told to do their homework.

Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda said the people’s initiative should be allowed to prosper despite the Senate resolution on a constituent assembly.

“We can’t tell its (people’s initiative) organizers to say no, so once the people’s initiative reaches its threshold, our institutions will have to make the response that our Constitution requires,” Salceda said.

“The people are sovereign — no one can tell them to stop, with or without the Senate’s proposal.”

The campaign to gather signatures for the people’s initiative has come under fire, with accusations that people were offered money in exchange for signing the petition—an allegation that lawmakers have denied.

House Majority Leader Mannix Dalipe expressed his satisfaction with the Senate’s recent decision to join forces with the House in the movement to amend the Constitution.

“In an extraordinary development for our nation, the Senate has finally seen the light, embracing the House’s longstanding belief in the necessity of constitutional amendments,” Dalipe said.

“This newfound unity between the two legislative bodies signifies a significant stride forward for our country.”

Dalipe noted the Senate’s commitment, highlighting the unified stance of Senate leaders in supporting these amendments. He commended the Senate for recognizing the urgency and importance of this matter, reflecting their commitment to national governance.

Senator Juan Edgardo Angara said the resolution to amend the economic provisions of the Constitution will liberalize the public services, education and advertising.

Liberalizing the three sectors will allow foreign corporations or individuals to enter the country and bring more opportunities, said Angara, who will lead the subcommittee that will discuss the proposed amendments.

He reiterated in an interview over radio station DZRH on Tuesday that they will not allow any political provision to be changed, including term limits.

In a statement on Monday, Senator Robin Padilla welcomed the resolution, saying it was “very good news for the nation.”

“Our economy will be revitalized, and this will lead to progress in the lives of Filipinos,” Padilla said in Filipino.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian expressed his full support to the resolution as the proposed amendments help the country realize its economic potential.

Gatchalian noted that despite the country’s growth, the economy is still characterized by constitutional restrictions such as limits to foreign equity in the ownership and operation of public utilities, educational institutions, mass media, and advertising.

“In certain industries, there are restrictions for foreign ownership. Currently, in the case of operation of public utilities, only up to 40 percent foreign ownership is allowed while for educational institutions, even partial foreign ownership is prohibited,” he said in a news release on Tuesday.

Gatchalian cited the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development 2020 Foreign Direct Investment Regulatory Restrictiveness Index that ranked the Philippines as the third most restrictive among 84 member countries.

He said innovations generated from competition and development of new linkages with regional and global chains will improve the diversity of the Philippine foreign trade portfolio and ultimately increase worker productivity.

Rep. Edcel Lagman sounded a protectionist alarm, saying the “war” on the Constitution has been launched on two fronts—the House and the Senate.

“I believe these apparently separate efforts will end in a compromise by opening wide the economy to alien investments through a constituent assembly with the House and the Senate fast-tracking the approval of the constitutional amendment with the backing of both chambers even voting separately. The victim will be the nation’s patrimony when sensitive enterprises like public service, education, media and advertisement will be open to alien control and domination,” he said.

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