Report payoffs, bribery to gather signatures for PI, solon urges

By Wilnard Bacelonia

January 22, 2024, 3:21 pm Updated on January 22, 2024, 7:36 pm

<p>Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva <em>(File photo) </em></p>

Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva (File photo) 

MANILA – The public must report all forms of abuse, bribery and all other illegal means to push for People's Initiative (PI).

Senate Majority Joel Villanueva said in a statement Monday that a PI is legal but coercing signatories and other activities that take advantage of unsuspecting Filipinos are not.

"Kung meron pong nagoyo, nabudol, gustong magreklamo at bawiin ang kanilang pirma, huwag po kayong matakot magsumbong. Magpadala o mag-post ng video, picture o screenshot ng mga text ng panunuhol (Whoever was scammed or wants to file a complaint and invalidate their signature, do not be afraid to report it. Post a video, picture or screenshot of texts with bribery attempts)," Villanueva said.

He also asked that reports include contact details so the Senate can provide them protection.

"Importante po na ang tao ay mulat at nabibigyan ng tamang impormasyon. Hindi po pwede na bibigyan kayo ng ayuda o salapi para lamang pumirma (It is important that people are aware and being fed with right information. Giving you assistance or money in exchange for your signature in unacceptable)," Villanueva said.

The Constitution may not be perfect but he also underscored that charter change is not the solution to the problems of the country.

Senator Imee Marcos, who chairs the Committee on Electoral Reforms and People's Participation, has assured that the probe on PI bribe reports will push through.

Marcos filed Senate Resolution No. 902 seeking to investigate, in aid of legislation, the alleged payoffs and misrepresentations in the signature campaigns being conducted to push for PI.

Senator Sonny Angara, who will lead the subcommittee that will discuss the proposed constitutional amendments, said the resolution seeks to liberalize the public services, educational institution and advertising industries.

"Tingin ko mas maganda ang tsansa ngayon dahil maaga pa sa termino ng ating Pangulo. Dahil kadalasan kapag nasa second half na ay ayaw na ng publiko sasabihin pampahaba lang ng termino. Eh ngayon na maaga pa klaro na ang usapin ay economic provision lang ng Saligang Batas at di ang usapin ng sistema ng gobyerno o termino (I think it has a better chance because it is still early in the term of the President. Because usually if it will be filed in the second half, the public will think that it is for term extension. Now, it's earlier and clearer that only the economic provisions will be discussed and not the government system or term)," Angara said in a recent radio interview.

Be careful on Cha-cha comments

In a press briefing Monday, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. reminded officials of the agency to be circumspect in issuing statements on signature drives to amend the Constitution through People’s Initiative (PI).

This came in response to the remarks of Undersecretary for Barangay Affairs Felicito Valmocina in a news forum in Quezon City on Saturday, where he cautioned barangay officials against any involvement in the signature campaigns and that barangay halls should not be used for these activities.

Abalos said Valmocina’s statement was his “personal opinion” and does not reflect the official position of the agency.

Valmocina, however, said the DILG is still in the process of seeking guidance from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) regarding the precise rules that apply to the participation of local officials in this matter.

The DILG chief, citing a Comelec resolution issued in April last year, said elected barangay officials may participate in partisan political activities, which would include the signature drive for the PI.

"As it is, ang lumalabas talaga ay pupwede (it appears that elected barangay officials can participate in the People's Initiative)," he added.

Meanwhile, Abalos hoped that incident serves as a warning to all the DILG officials to be responsible and at least consult their legal department before issuing any statements to avoid confusion.

Key to address national concerns

House Ways and Means Committee chair Joey Salceda said the proposed amendments to the Constitution’s restrictive economic provisions are key to addressing the most urgent national concerns, particularly inflation.

He said investment in agriculture is crucial to boosting food production and reducing food prices in the Philippines.

He said the existing economic constitutional restrictions cover ownership, lease, transfer, and even foreign management, leaving foreign investors "very little room" for involvement in local agriculture.

"The flow of capital to the agriculture sector has been tightly strangled by restrictions in the Constitution and the resulting restrictions in our laws," he said.

"That is because our agriculture sector is so starved for capital. The House has long believed it is time to govern our land restrictions through legislation that can change with the times, rather than through hard-coded Constitutional prohibitions,” he added.

He noted that while land ownership is not allowed in Vietnam, there is no hard foreign equity restriction on ownership of corporations leasing farmland since 2013.

He also cited that certain states in Malaysia allow foreign ownership of agriculture land specifically for export or agro-industry, while it is "relatively easy to undertake agriculture as a foreigner: through a foreign-owned limited liability company in Indonesia.

He said that the Board of Investments in Thailand can make exceptions to the general restriction against direct foreign land ownership.

He, however, argued that no such legal alternatives that give the guarantee of tenurial rights exist in the Philippines.

"As such, investors are extremely wary about investing in Philippine agriculture – with no guarantee of security for their heavy and long-gestating investments," he said.

A recent OCTA survey showed that controlling inflation remains as the top national concern of Filipinos with a 73 percent rating.

Around 45 percent of the respondents consider access to affordable food as an urgent national concern, followed by job creation at 36 percent; wage hikes at 34 percent; and poverty alleviation at 32 percent. (with reports from Filane Mikee Cervantes/Lloyd Caliwan/PNA)