Comelec halts people’s initiative proceedings on Charter change | Inquirer News

Comelec halts people’s initiative proceedings on Charter change

RULE REVIEW A Commission on Elections (Comelec) employee checks the signature sheets forthe people’s initiative in poll body’s office in Manila. On Monday, Comelec Chair George Garcia announced that all proceedings related to the signature drive seeking to amend the 1987 Constitution will be suspended pending a reviewof the rules. —RICHARD A. REYES

RULE REVIEW | A Commission on Elections (Comelec) employee checks the signature sheets for the people’s initiative in poll body’s office in Manila. On Monday,  Jan.29, 2024, Comelec Chair George Garcia announced that all proceedings related to the signature drive seeking to amend the 1987 Constitution will be suspended pending a review of the rules. (Photo by RICHARD A. REYES / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines  The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has stopped indefinitely all its duties related to the ongoing people’s initiative to amend the 1987 Constitution that has caused a rift between the Senate and the House of Representatives.

“The Commission en banc, in a unanimous decision, decided to suspend any and all proceedings concerning the people’s initiative. We have directed our local Comelec offices, our election officers in cities and municipalities to stop receiving signature sheets,” Comelec Chair George Garcia said in a press conference on Monday.


He noted that based on their initial assessment, there was a need to “review, enhance and put additional provisions in our implementing rules and regulations (IRR) concerning the people’s initiative” to avoid confusion and misinterpretation of the law.


Garcia was referring to Comelec Resolution (CR) No. 10650, promulgated in January 2020, which serves as the IRR of Republic Act No. 6735, or the Initiative and Referendum Act.

The poll body denied that the move to suspend proceedings on the people’s initiative was due to the worsening bickering between the two chambers of Congress. (See related stories on this page.)

‘Getting out of hand’

“I just hope that our decision will not be misconstrued as if we are siding with another group, and we are against another group. This is not about politicking,” the Comelec chair noted. “The Comelec is accepting the fact that we have to enhance the rules [on people’s initiative].”

In Congress, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri on Monday said President Marcos would ask his cousin, Speaker Martin Romualdez, and other lawmakers to pull the plug on the attempt to alter the 1987 Constitution through a people’s initiative as the situation “is getting out of hand.”

Zubiri said the President made the commitment during their meeting on Monday in Malacañang a few hours before Mr. Marcos flew to Vietnam for a two-day state visit.

According to him, the President gave him permission to share the details of their meeting with the public.


“The President is set to appeal to the House of Representatives and the other… initiators to stop their version of the people’s initiative. In his words, ‘it is getting out of hand,’” Zubiri told his fellow senators.

“He said they will be talking to the Speaker and those involved,” Zubiri said. “He knows that many congressmen are helping this initiative.”

The President, he added, assured him that “he will exert all efforts to stop this people’s initiative.”

Romualdez and other House leaders had denied that they were behind the people’s initiative but had publicly expressed their support for the exercise.

Zubiri said Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, a retired Supreme Court chief justice, and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Juan Ponce Enrile, a former senator, were also present at the meeting.

He said the two senior Palace officials both expressed their opposition to the ongoing people’s initiative, with Bersamin pointing out that the process was “a flawed premise in the first place.”

No pressure

The Comelec maintained that the political parties did not pressure them to come up with the decision to suspend all activities related to the people’s initiative.

Garcia said the en banc members moved “because the Comelec needed to immediately decide on the matter… in anticipation of bigger problems in the future.”

The review of the rules governing a people’s initiative will be conducted by a panel composed of the Comelec’s office of the executive director and its legal department.

Of the seven members of the Comelec en banc who promulgated CR 10650, only two are still with the Comelec—Commissioners Socorro Inting and Marlon Casquejo.

Former Commissioner Luie Tito Guia, who was among the signatories of CR 10650, said it was just normal for the Comelec to periodically revise its rules to clarify provisions and adjust these to the current context.

While the timing of the review of its rules might raise eyebrows as the signature campaign has been ongoing for months, Guia said: “The Comelec only follows the existing legal and regulatory framework. In the middle of the game, issues will surely come up which will trigger changes in policies. The officials will not realize these problems until these issues themselves manifest.”

“But what is important is that if they make adjustments, they show that they are independent and their decisions are not made in reaction to political noises. The Comelec should see if the changes they are making will ultimately benefit the public,” he told the Inquirer.

For Garcia, the Comelec officials would be implicated regardless if they continue or stop the ongoing signature campaign.

“Before, our election officers were being threatened that complaints of dereliction of duty would be filed against them if they continue to accept signature sheets. I think we will also face complaints if we stop accepting them now. We don’t really have a choice,” he pointed out.

“In either case, we are the ones to be blamed. So for the Comelec, the best and wise decision that we have come to at this point is to suspend the rules and proceedings related to people’s initiative. It will be an abandonment of duty if we refuse to correct something wrong if it’s already right in front of us,” he added.

A million signatures short

As of Monday, Garcia said their local Comelec offices have received around 7 million unverified signatures from 209 of the 254 legislative districts in the country.

The number was still short by a million signatures to reach 12 percent of the total 68 million voters needed for a people’s initiative petition to push through and compel the Comelec to hold a plebiscite.

But since there was still no valid petition yet, Garcia noted that these signature sheets were “just mere scraps of paper.”

All of the signature sheets would remain under the safekeeping of the local Comelec offices.

“But if the proponents want to withdraw the signature sheets because they want to be the ones to keep them, then we will open-heartedly give it to them,” he said, noting that they already issued certifications on the number of signatures the documents had on them.

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“If the groups behind the people’s initiative still want to collect signatures, no one will stop them. But the local Comelec offices will no longer accept them until we are finished reviewing our rules,” he said.

TAGS: charter change, Commission on Elections, constitutional amendments, People's Initiative

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