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DILG denies signature campaign for Charter change during coronavirus crisis

/ 12:14 PM May 18, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) on Monday denied it is gathering up to two million signatures over the next two months to back amendments to the Constitution amid the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is news that DILG is gathering 2 million signatures. That is fake news. That is completely fake news and I don’t want people to pay attention to that. That is totally false and we have never done anything like that especially in this time of crisis,” Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC).

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Año was referring to a report of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) that the drive to support what the DILG calls constitutional reform (CORE) has gone online from a physical signature campaign to meet a July deadline.

The report quoted a memorandum dated January 28 from Interior Secretary Jonathan Malaya saying that before the pandemic, the DILG is aiming for two million signatures nationwide to be presented to both houses of Congress “to inform them of the support we have gathered for the CORE from the regions.”

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‘Nothing fake in it’

But PDI, in a statement that followed hours after Año’s television interview, said it stands by its story.

“There was nothing fake in it, contrary to a statement earlier today by Interior Secretary Eduardo Año,” said the broadsheet company.

“On Friday morning, the Inquirer obtained copies of two memorandums from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), both signed and issued by Jonathan Malaya, the undersecretary for plans, public affairs, and communications,” read PDI’s statement, referring to two memoranda dated January 28 and March 27, 2020 on the gathering of the signatures.

“That same Friday the Inquirer immediately confirmed the authenticity of the memos and got in touch by phone with Malaya who validated the issuances but said that they have been superseded because all DILG projects, programs and activities not related to COVID-19 have been placed on the ‘back burner,’” added PDI.

PDI said Malaya then sent to them a copy of his latest memorandum dated May 11, 2020 addressed to all regional directors and Center for Federalism and Constitutional Reform-accredited civil society organizations.

The memorandum stated that “following the recommendation of the interagency task force for the management of emerging infectious diseases, the extension of the nationwide ECQ and general community quarantine to selected areas was approved by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte. As to this juncture, the physical conduct of CORE signature campaign shall be postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic.”

“In this regard, we would like to encourage all the regions and civil society organizations to utilize our CORE website for the online signature campaign. The use of this accessible and reliable online platform will eventually help in promoting the campaign as well as gather signatures with more people at home,” it added.

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The memorandum said that these online signatures “will also add up to the number of collected signatures of the regions and civil society organizations, completing the target of 2 million signatures in July,” according to PDI.

DILG ‘not actively pursuing’ signature campaign

In a text message to INQUIRER.net, Malaya said that the initial target of 2 million signatures was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and that the DILG has since “scaled-down considerably because all our efforts are now focused to defeat COVID.”

“We are not actively pursuing it because our field offices are focused on COVID response where we are a frontliner agency,” he said.

The country’s first case of the disease was announced by the Department of Health on January 30.

According to Malaya, the online campaign signature is now led by the DILG’s partner civil society organizations (CSOs), is “voluntary,” and “a private initiative” to allow the DILG to focus on responding to the pandemic.

“Our CSO partners are not conducting the CORE campaign bara-barangay (in every village) but completely online because of the community quarantine,” he said.

The DILG official likewise stressed that the department is not campaigning for Cha-cha.

“Fake news because we are not campaigning for Cha-cha. We are advocating for CORE together with Congress. Ours is just amendments and not a revision, therefore not Cha-cha. It’s not even federalism,” said Malaya.

‘Height of insensitivity, insult’

In separate statements on Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senator Francis Pangilinan criticized the DILG for its reported move to push for charter change as the country struggles to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both senators urged the DILG to focus on responding to the coronavirus crisis instead of pushing for constitutional amendments at this crucial time.

“We are in the middle of a pandemic. The country is grappling to contain COVID-19 and deal with its aftermath. To talk about Cha-cha is the height of insensitivity,” said Drilon.

Pangilinan, meanwhile, said the move is “out of touch with current realities and is an insult to millions of our citizens who have lost their jobs, who are experiencing unprecedented hunger and who continue to be threatened by the spread of this incurable disease.”

Both PDI and INQUIRER.net are part of the Inquirer Group of Companies.

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TAGS: Charter change, constitutional reform, coronavirus Philippines, COVID-19, DILG, Eduardo Año
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