Signature campaign for Charter change: ‘Rife with anomalies’


In the bustling city of Quezon, Philippines, lies a small pocket of land known as Sitio San Roque.

Once a humming community of over 20,000 residents, Sitio San Roque now comprises only a few dozen homes. The reason behind this is a joint venture between Ayala Land Inc. and the National Housing Authority (NHA) that jumpstarted the construction of high-rise condominiums at the near 30-hectare land where Sitio San Roque is located.

Since then, the residents have been threatened by demolitions, which they resisted with barricades and protests. But the developers employed various forms of eviction to slowly carve out the community, including police-enforced demolitions and suspected “state-perpetrated” arson, with Sitio San Roque recording a total of 11 major fires from 2000 to 2019. All these led to the gradual downsizing of the urban poor community.

In December 2023, a new strategy was employed to force Sitio San Roque’s residents out – walls were erected around the community, effectively blocking entrances and exits. A narrow wall gap near the NHA Corporate Office along EDSA is the only entry point remaining.

“Ang hirap ng epekto. ‘Pag mamalengke kami, kailangan para sa dalawang ulaman na, kasi kung araw-araw ka maglakad, napakasakit sa tuhod. Pati mga bata, ang layo ng iniikutan makarating lang sa eskwela,” shared resident Milanie Marsaba.

Amid this chaos, a group of campaigners approached the residents in early January 2024, asking for their signatures in exchange for a promise to open the gateways to their community.

The residents obliged, thinking it was a petition to reopen Sitio San Roque’s streets. However, the signature drive turned out to be part of the “People’s Initiative”, which was launched as part of the process of amending the 1987 Constitution.

Promises in exchange for signatures

Article XVII Section 2 of the Constitution stated, “Amendments to this Constitution may likewise be directly proposed by the people through initiative upon a petition of at least twelve per centum of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three per centum of the registered votes therein.”

The required number of signatures for People’s Initiative to succeed translates to about 8.2 million, based on the number of registered voters for the 2023 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections.

In a Senate hearing last January 30, it was revealed that the group People’s Initiative for Modernization and Reform Action (PIRMA), in coordination with the leadership of the House of Representatives, started on-ground campaigns to gather the required number of signatures for Charter change (Cha-cha) this January all over the country.

PIRMA is also the group behind the “EDSA-pwera” ad, which sought to discredit the Edsa People Power and push for Cha-cha, with the group admitting that it has spent at least Php55 million for the said ad placement.

Recently, reports have surfaced on how People’s Initiative campaigners convince voters to sign. In some communities, cash assistance and employment promises were used as enticements. The situation has caused unrest and confusion among the residents, who feel exploited and used.

“Akala ko tungkol sa daanan namin ‘yung pinirmahan ko, kaya papayag ako pero hindi naman pala,” Milanie shared, recounting that a group that introduced themselves as barangay officers have been making rounds in their community as early as the second week of January.

“Desperado sila na ibenta talaga ‘yung Cha-cha kaya kung ano-ano na ‘yung sinasabi sa mga kababayan natin para makuha lang ‘yung pirma,” Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raoul Manuel said.

Initiative on pause

Upon realizing she signed a petition for Cha-cha, Milanie wanted to withdraw her signature.

“Gusto ko nga bawiin sana ‘yung pirma ko e, kaso hindi sinabi kung paano,” Milanie said.

However, in media interviews, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairperson George Garcia said that there is no mechanism for voters to withdraw their signatures under Comelec Resolution No. 10650, the document governing the conduct of people’s initiatives to amend the 1987 Constitution. In earlier interviews, Garcia explained that a voter can withdraw a signature by filing a petition at their local Comelec branch.

Comelec has since halted accepting signature sheets for People’s Initiative, with the poll body explaining that it needed to review its guidelines.

“We need to review, enhance, and add to the existing implementing rules and regulations concerning the people’s initiative. In our opinion, there are missing elements in the guidelines, such as rules on withdrawal, petition, and notice,” Garcia said in a press conference.

However, Garcia stressed that the signatures that have already been gathered may still be used once Comelec finishes revising the guidelines.

The future of Cha-cha remains unclear as of now, as other modes of amending the Constitution remain pending before the Legislature.

“Pero ang tanong lang talaga namin – bakit ba ‘yang ang inaatupag [ng mga opisyal ng gobyerno]?”Milanie asked.

‘Ulterior motives’

In an interview with GMA News last January 23, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. explained, “The 1987 Constitution was not written for a globalized world.”

“We have to adjust so that we can increase the economic activity in the Philippines, we can attract more foreign investors,” he added.

However, IBON Foundation notes that the logic behind the push for economic Cha-cha is “fundamentally flawed.” “More foreign investment does not mean development,” IBON states, adding that despite the increase in annual foreign investment inflows since the 1980s, this did not translate to growth and development for the Philippine economy.

Kabataan Partylist agrees with this assessment. “Sa matagal na panahon ay masasabi nating bukas naman na ang ating bansa, to the point na exploited na ito. Pero wala namang pag-unlad na nangyari sa ekonomya,”Manuel said.

Aside from the “flawed” arguments for amending economic provisions of the Constitution, what’s the reason behind the latest push for Cha-cha? For Kabataan Party-list, it is all about power perpetuation.

“Mayroon talagang ulterior motive– ang pagtanggal ng term limits. Andyan ‘yung term limits kasi dumaan tayo sa diktador. Pwedeng maulit na ‘yun kung mawala ang term limits,” Manuel asserted.

Instead of prioritizing Cha-cha, the group said that Congress and the Executive should focus on more “pressing problems.”

“Ito rin naman ‘yung daing ng mamamayan – pagkontrol sa prices, pagtiyak ng supply halimbawa ng bigas para hindi tayo import nang import, pagtaas ng sahod. Lahat ito kung ginawa lamang na priority legislation o certified urgent ng pangulo, ginhawa na agad ‘yun sa mamamayan,” Manuel stated. Reposted by (

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