By Michael Goyagoy
Posted by Bulatlat.com
Although Malacañang denies having anything to do with it, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo recently declared her support for charter change through the people’s initiative. In typical fashion, Arroyo likened the people’s initiative to a train. But based on reports citing the less-than-scrupulous ways the signatures were gathered, it seems that not everyone got on the cha-cha “train” voluntarily.
Although Malacañang denies having anything to do with it, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo recently declared her support for charter change through the people’s initiative. In typical fashion, Arroyo likened the people’s initiative to a train that has already left the station, and warned those who oppose it to get out of the way or be run over. But based on reports citing the less-than-scrupulous ways the signatures were gathered, it seems that not everyone is on the cha-cha “train” voluntarily.
Charter change through a people’s initiative requires gathering signatures from some 12 percent of registered voters or 4.8 million signatures, with no less than 3 percent in any congressional district throughout the Philippines. When the necessary number of signatures is gathered and verified, a plebiscite can be held on changing provisions in the 1987 Constitution shifting the form of government from presidential to parliamentary.
Sigaw ng Bayan (People’s Clamor), the group that allegedly spearheaded the signature campaign during nationwide barangay (village) assemblies last March 25-26, claims it has already gathered 5.6 million signatures, which it turned over to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for verification.
But the process of gathering the signatures has been rife with reports of bribery, intimidation and deception. Some reported being offered money in exchange for their signatures. Others said barangay officials conducted door-to-door signature campaigns, pressuring their constituents to sign.
Interviews conducted by IBON Features among the residents of Barangay 865 zone 94 in Tomas Claudio, Pandacan, Manila show that these reports have bases in fact, as they complained that charter change was abruptly brought up without warning during their barangay assembly.
According to interviewees, the assembly was supposed to discuss the issue of relocation, a major concern among urban poor residents living near the riles (train tracks).
Intimidation and Deception
Norma Casim, a housewife, said she was forced to sign the people’s initiative document because the barangay captain linked their relocation to the cha-cha issue. “Inisip namin na ang tirahan namin ang nakasalalay dito. Paulit ulit din na sinasabi ni kapitan na makatutulong si [Manila] Mayor [Lito] Atienza sa isyung relokasyon” (We thought that our relocation would depend on our signatures. The barangay captain repeated over and over that Mayor Atienza would help us with the relocation issue), she said. Atienza is a known Arroyo supporter and a fervent advocate of charter change.
Casim said she now regrets signing and wishes she could take back her signature. “Marami rin ang lumagda dahil hindi naintindihan at nilito. Ginamit nila ang relokasyon na ‘front’ dahil batid nilang pangunahing makakaapekto ito sa aming buhay” (Many others also signed because they did not understand and were fooled. The officials used the relocation as a front because they know the issue is a primary concern of our lives).
“Tinakot lamang nila kami na kung walang pirma ay hindi mabibigyan ng relokasyon at mawawala daw sa komunidad. Hindi rin daw kami bibigyan ng barangay clearance” (They scared us into signing by telling us that if we didn’t we wouldn’t be given relocation and the community would disappear. Those who didn’t sign also wouldn’t be given a barangay clearance), seamstress Resureccion Garino added.
Unemployed Ben Basa told IBON Features that barangay officials were using precinct numbers of registered voters and getting them to sign.
“Noong una, ang sabi, tungkol sa pagsusukat ng bahay ang paksa ng pulong. Tumayo na ako at umangal nang tungkol na sa Cha-cha ang kanilang binabasa. Ayaw namin sa cha-cha laluna ang balak na alisin sa tao ang kapangyarihang bumoto o pumili ng sariling pili na pinuno” (At first they said their purpose was to measure our houses. I complained and said what they were reading was about Cha-cha. We don’t want Cha-cha especially their intention to remove people’s right to vote for president).