Metro Manila, Philippines— All of the country’s senators issued a manifesto on Tuesday rejecting the push for Charter change via people’s initiative as they warned of a no-election scenario and amendments that are seen to “erode the nation as we know it.”
The manifesto signed by all 24 lawmakers at the upper chamber said senators respect and recognize the people’s right to demand changes in the 1987 Constitution, but warned against “any sinister and underhanded attempt to change the Constitution by exploiting our democratic process under the guise of a people’s initiative.
“This so-called ‘people’s’ initiative (PI) proposes only one change: in acting as a constituent assembly, the Senate and the House shall vote jointly. While it seems simple, the goal is apparent — to make it easier to revise the Constitution by eliminating the Senate from the equation,” they added.
Allowing such a movement could be a prelude to further amendments “or even an overhaul of our entire Constitution,” the solons warned.
They said it will destabilize the system of checks and balances, leaving the Senate’s 24 votes insignificant against those of the 316 members of the House of Representatives.
“This singular and seemingly innocuous change in the Constitution will open the floodgates to a wave of amendments and revisions that will erode the nation as we know it. To allow joint voting will destroy the delicate balance on which our hard-won democracy rests,” they added.
The senators said the upper chamber will be left powerless to stop even the most radical proposals — they cannot protect lands from foreign ownership and stop the removal of term limits or a no-election scenario in 2025 or 2028
“It is ridiculous that the Senate, a co-equal chamber of the House, which is needed to pass even local bills will have a dispensable and diluted role in charter change — the most monumental act of policymaking concerning the highest law in the land,” they said.
“This Senate of the people will not allow itself to be silenced,” the manifesto added.
Will SC be asked to block people’s initiative?
Opposition leaders also backed this move, saying there are groups ready to even bring this issue to the Supreme Court just to block the “doubtful” signature campaign initiated under a people’s initiative.
“We intend to stop it. May mga civil society groups na sabi nila they will go to the Supreme Court para pigilin ‘yang people’s initiative,” Senator Risa Hontiveros said in a press briefing in Cebu City. Hontiveros was joined by former Senator Kiko Pangilinan and human rights lawyer Chel Diokno in Cebu last Sunday, Jan. 21. The group attended the Sinulog 2024 Grand Parade.
[Translation: There are civil society groups that said they will go to the Supreme Court to stop the people’s initiative.]
Hontiveros cited reports that social assistance programs were even used to persuade people to sign the People’s Initiative. She added this will be part of the Senate inquiry that will start soon.
Diokno said that they will gather evidence like pictures that will prove voters were deceived into signing and if there was compensation given. He added some lawyers groups are studying the issue in anticipation that it will be brought to the Supreme Court.
“Definitely, that would invoke a legal remedy. We could not tinker on the Constitution on the basis of those kinds of actions,” Diokno added. “Other than that if tuloy-tuloy ang pag-push nila niyan, definitely aabot sa Supreme Court yan. The whole issue na pwede ba ang People’s Initiative na manggaling sa ating pamahalaan? Pwede ba ang Initiative na walang enabling law?”
[Translation: Other than that if they keep pushing that, it will definitely reach the Supreme Court. The whole issue is that can the People’s Initiative come from our government? Is the Initiative possible without an enabling law?]
Pangilinan also asked the public to gather video as evidence of how the supposed people’s initiative was conducted. He assured that these will be kept confidential.
“So if you have photos, videos of what is going on on the ground. ‘Yung sino ang mga involved diyan, saan ginagawa yan. Eh lahat naman kami may TikTok, may Viber, may Instagram, may Facebook, i-direct message niyo kami ng mga materials na ito na sa paghahanda nitong posibleng maging petition,” Pangilinan said.
[Translation: Tell us who are involved in that, and where it was conducted. We all have TikTok, Viber, Instagram, Facebook, send us a direct message with these materials so we can use them in preparing for the possible petition.]
Pangilinan also said that there is no need to change the Constitution just to initiate economic reforms as proven during the term of the late President Noynoy Aquino.
He said that the Aquino administration was able to muster the largest foreign direct investments as combined with the previous administrations and was able to lift seven million families out of poverty.
“In other words, you can actually implement sweeping reforms or changes within the current Constitution,” he said.
Cebu-based journalist Dale Israel contributed to this story.