Pirma is back: Charter change drive on air, on ground | Inquirer News

Pirma is back: Charter change drive on air, on ground

/ 05:30 AM January 11, 2024

EARLY FRAMING Unlike earlier Charter change campaigns, the ad that debuted on Tuesday night heaped the blame on the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution.

EARLY FRAMING | Unlike earlier charter change campaigns, the ad that debuted on Tuesday night Jan. 9, 2024, heaped the blame on the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution.

MANILA, Philippines — Television viewers were bombarded on Tuesday night with the repeated airing of a commercial that sought to discredit the Constitution and the Edsa People Power Revolution, in a campaign mounted by the same group that tried to revise it through a people’s initiative during the Ramos administration.

The ad, which ran during primetime news programs on various networks, made its debut amid persistent talk that national and local government agencies were being used to gather signatures for pro-charter change petitions nationwide.


On Wednesday, it came to light that the advertisement had been paid for by the Gana Atienza Avisado law firm on behalf of its client, the People’s Initiative for Reform Modernization and Action (Pirma), which was known for an unsuccessful attempt to remove constitutional term limits on elected officials, including the President and the Vice President, in 1997.


Harping on the theme “Edsa-pwera” (a play on the vernacular “etsapuwera,” or excluded), the ad claimed that the Constitution had failed to deliver on its promises to improve education and agriculture, saying any gain made was felt only by big businesses and monopolies.

“It’s time to take action,” it said. “It’s time to rectify the defective 1987 Constitution. Gawing ‘saligang patas’ ang Saligang Batas. [Make it a fair Constitution)\].”

The commercial, which ran for nearly a minute, had actors representing various sectors in a “frozen” state — in the classroom, in the market and in the offices — an apparent metaphor for their slow progress. In one scene, a barrier gate comes down with the sign “Global investors not allowed,” alluding to constitutional limits on foreign ownership in real estate and other key industries.

Later, the voiceover laments: “ Land ownership for foreign investors, Edsa-pwera.”

The closing frame showed a group of people holding placards that read: “Agricultural reform,” “No to business monopolies,” “Better schools, better education,” and “Welcome global investors.”

Product of long process

Speaking to the Inquirer, the law firm’s senior partner, Alex Avisado, said the airing of the commercial was “not a sudden thing, but a product of a long process.”


“This (ad) was one of the outputs from our consultations, to bring to the public the current discussions to amend the Constitution through a people’s initiative,” he said.

“What you saw in the ads, those are just among the topics that we aim to discuss: employment, poverty, education,” he said, adding that Pirma had not yet crafted any proposed amendments to the Constitution.

Avisado did not give a direct answer when asked whether Pirma was also behind the signature campaigns pushing for a people’s initiative across the nation. (See related story on this page.)

“What we can say or what we can confirm is that Pirma is also involved with the groundwork regarding proposed topics that could be discussed in relation to amendments to the Charter,” he said.

Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos denied his agency had any hand in the charter change petition.

“As far as the DILG [Department of the Interior and Local Government] is concerned, our personnel and officials are prohibited from initiating such signature campaigns. We could probably only see and monitor this because this is a valid exercise of each individual’s right,” he said.

During the Duterte administration, the DILG spearheaded a petition calling for the lifting of the “restrictive economic provisions” in the Constitution.

Founded by former National Security Adviser Jose Almonte, Pirma was formed in a bid to change the Constitution through a people’s initiative — essentially a petition signed by 12 percent of the country’s total registered voters.

This is one of three ways to make amendments to the Constitution. The other two are via constituent assembly, which is composed of lawmakers, and via constitutional convention, whose members are elected.

During the presidency of the late Fidel V. Ramos, Pirma proposed a shift to a parliamentary system of government and the lifting of term limits on elected officials.

The campaign drew outrage with the political opposition accusing Ramos of being behind it, but he denied this. Later, the Supreme Court unanimously shot down Pirma’s initiative, with eight justices saying there was no enabling law for it, and six others ruling that the petition was defective.

Failed attempts

Succeeding administrations also saw several failed charter change attempts.

Former President Joseph Estrada pushed for what he called Concord, or Constitutional Correction for Development, which he said was intended to allow foreigners to own land, public utilities, and media outfits. But this met with strong opposition from the Catholic Church and other sectors, forcing him to shelve the proposal in January 2000.

During the term of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, another initiative called “Sigaw ng Bayan (people’s call)” was launched, but the Supreme Court rejected it in October 2006, citing its failure to comply with the basic requirement that the “initiative must be directly proposed by the people.”

The late former President Benigno Aquino III, son of the late former President Corazon Aquino, under whose government the present Constitution was formed after the peaceful uprising that toppled Ferdinand Marcos’ regime in 1986, was firmly against charter change.

In December 2016, former President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 10 creating a consultative committee to review the provisions of the Constitution. But this move did not prosper.

After he won the 2022 elections, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son and namesake of the late dictator, said charter change was not his priority. But in December, he said the government had begun to consider amending the Constitution’s economic provisions to attract more foreign investors.

In the Inquirer interview, Avisado said Pirma’s first campaign had failed because the Supreme Court had ruled that only amendments, and not revisions, could be made through a people’s initiative.

“But this time around, we think a long time has already passed and maybe the Filipinos are now ready to discuss [the possibility of amending the charter],” Avisado said.

He said the group was not trying to alienate the framers of the Constitution or tarnish the memory of the Edsa Revolution.

Tantamount to bribery

“We give credit to the people behind Edsa and what Edsa stands for and we would never diminish the contributions of Edsa,” he said, adding: “That was just a creative way to attract the attention of the people (to provoke) public discussion.”

But human rights lawyer and former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares was not amused by the commercial, saying he wondered “if the funds for the ‘Edsa Pwera’ ads come from public funds.”

In a statement, ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro said she and her fellow Makabayan lawmakers, Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas and Kabataan Rep. Raoul Manuel, were planning to file a House resolution to “probe the funding used for the pro-charter change ad now running on television.”

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In response, Avisado said the commercial was a purely “private-led initiative” and that no government officials were involved.

TAGS: charter change, constituional amendments, PIRMA

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