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Voter buying allegations in constitution push

By Rhaydz B. Barcia

LEGAZPI CITY --- Veteran lawmaker Edcel C. Lagman of the 1st District accused Ako Bicol, the organization behind the people’s initiative signature campaign, of paying P100 pesos per voter in Albay. Lagman questions Ako Bicol’s move for a people’s initiative to amend the 1987 constitution, stating that if the intention is noble and patriotic, then why buy the people’s will?

Former Ako Bicol Party-List Congressman Alfredo “Pido” Garbin Jr. is expected to deny that various municipal mayors present during the meeting on January 5, 2024, at Ellis Hotel in Legazpi City received 50% of the total amount of P100/voter from Ako Bicol coordinators, constituting 3% of the total voters per municipality, compromising their legislative districts. Lagman, in a statement to The Manila Times, said, “Also present during said meeting was incumbent Ako Bicol Congressman Raul Angelo “Jil” Bongalon at Ellis Hotel, reputedly owned by Ako Bicol representative Elizaldy Co.”

The buying of signatures for the petition on people’s initiative is a violation of Sec. 261 of the Omnibus Election Code in relation to Sec. 19 of the Initiative and Referendum Act (RA No. 6735), the lawmaker said. Lagman cited Sec. 19 of the Initiative and Referendum Act, stating that the Omnibus Election Code and other election laws, not inconsistent with the provisions of this Act, shall apply to all initiatives and referenda.

Lagman also cited Sec. 261 of the Omnibus Election Code, which provides prohibited acts, stating that anyone engaged in vote-buying and vote-selling shall be guilty of an election offense. Lagman cited two provisions under section 261 of the Omnibus Election Code: first, any person who gives, offers, or promises money or anything of value to induce voting decisions, and second, any person who solicits or receives any expenditure for similar considerations.

He said that the initial purpose of the charter change by people’s initiative is to make the voting in the constituent assembly (Con-Ass) of representatives and senators or in calling for a Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) as joint voting to overwhelm senators by the lawmakers.

“The next phase of the Cha-Cha campaign may be the liberalization of the economic provisions of the Constitution purportedly to induce foreign direct investments and the extension of term limits of elected officials, both of which are not necessary and disruptive of collective efforts to address serious economic concerns,” he added.

The veteran lawmaker stated that Supreme Court rulings in Santiago v. Comelec and Lambino v. Comelec were cited as a historical backdrop where people’s initiatives had failed.

Earlier, the veteran lawmaker said that lawmakers from the supermajority coalition have launched a campaign for charter change via people’s initiative. Municipal mayors in Albay were notified of a general meeting on January 5, 2024, by the League of Mayors of the province with an undisclosed agenda. The League of Mayors of the province of Albay was chaired by Polangui Mayor Adrian Salceda, a nephew of Rep. Joey Salceda, a close political ally of Ako Bicol.

During the meeting, Lagman said that they were informed that people’s initiative would be used as a mode of amending the Constitution. They were given mobilization funds and the forms to be signed by at least three percent of the registered voters of the legislative district to which their municipalities belong. Voters who would sign the petition for people’s initiative will be given P100.00 each, 50% of which has already been advanced to the municipal mayors and respective coordinators.

According to the lawmaker, the initiative is seemingly across the country, as congressmen belonging to various political parties have been sent the necessary forms.

The Supreme Court in Santiago v. Comelec (G.R. No. 127325) ruled that while the Constitution allows amendments to be directly proposed by the people through initiative, there is no compliant implementing law for the purpose. In Lambino v. Comelec (G.R. No. 174153), the Supreme Court denied the petition for people’s initiative for various fatal defects.

Disturbing questions must be answered: first, who is the mastermind of this campaign; second, what are the proposed amendments to be pursued; third, where do the funds come from; and fourth, why buy the voters’ initiative?”


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