Romualdez just ‘facilitator’ of people’s initiative, not its ‘orchestrator’ | Inquirer News

Romualdez just ‘facilitator’ of people’s initiative, not its ‘orchestrator’


Speaker Martin Romualdez (File photo from the House of Representatives)

MANILA, Philippines — Leaders of the House of Representatives on Tuesday insisted that they had no hand in the ongoing people’s initiative (PI) to amend the Constitution, countering senators’ claims at a Senate hearing during which the leading proponent of the signature drive confirmed meeting with Speaker Martin Romualdez and other lawmakers.

Romualdez, who is accompanying President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on his official trip to Vietnam this week, admitted that he had met in his townhouse with the Ramos-era group People’s Initiative for Reform Modernization and Action (Pirma) and its convener, Noel Oñate, to discuss the people’s initiative.


However, he clarified that his role during the meeting was merely as a “facilitator” and not as an “orchestrator.”


“While I support the spirit of civic engagement and participatory governance, my involvement in the people’s initiative has been purely advisory and in no way extends to mobilizing or leading their signature campaign,” Romualdez said in a statement sent to reporters. “The initiative and its operations are entirely led and managed by the group themselves.”

He also denied involvement in vote-buying and urged the public to “avoid conflating support for civic discourse with direct involvement in specific initiatives.”

Operational aspects

During Tuesday’s Senate committee hearing on electoral reforms and people’s participation, Oñate admitted that Romualdez and other members of the House had been helping them in their nationwide campaign.

He said he met with Romualdez on Jan. 8 to discuss the operational and administrative aspects of the process.

Fielding questions from Sen. Francis Escudero, the Pirma official said he initially approached former Ako Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. and Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez a month ago to discuss efforts to alter the Charter.

In several social gatherings, Oñate said he shared his experience pushing for Charter change (Cha-cha) during the Ramos administration.


He said they decided to solicit the assistance of House members since the Constitution mandated that the signatures of voters per legislative district were needed in proposing constitutional revisions through the people’s initiative.

“I coordinated with the congressmen because 3 percent per congressional district was needed, and [they] are the leaders of the congressional districts,” Oñate said.

The Constitution also requires a petition signed by at least 12 percent of the registered voters nationwide.

Photo evidence

Quizzed by Sen. Imee Marcos, who presided over the hearing as committee chair, Oñate said he had never spoken with Romualdez and Ako Bicol Rep. Zaldy Co, who heads the House appropriations committee.

“I did not talk to [Co],” Oñate told Marcos.

“Is that so? Are you sure? Because you had many meetings, parties, and dinners. Are you sure that the Speaker and Co were not there at your events?” Marcos asked.

Garbin also claimed that the two House leaders did not attend any gatherings they hosted to discuss Cha-cha.

However, Marcos presented a photo showing Garbin and Oñate with Romualdez, Co and several lawyers.

The picture, apparently sent from Oñate’s mobile phone, had the caption “People’s Initiative for Charter Change Staff Meeting,” taken on Jan. 8.

Pressed to comment on the photo, Oñate admitted they met with Romualdez to ask for assistance as the “CEO of the (House).”

“That was the time I sought the help of the Speaker to help us in our signature campaign,” Oñate said.

He initially hesitated to provide other details of the meeting but later recalled that it was held at the Speaker’s house in Makati City.

Reminded by Marcos that he just mentioned that he had never met with Romualdez and Co, he replied: “It [just] slipped my mind.”

According to Marcos, it was “very clear” that Romualdez was indeed backing the people’s initiative despite his previous denials.

“He is all out behind the people’s initiative. Is that correct?” the senator asked.

To which Oñate responded, “Yes. We coordinated with the speaker and the congressmen in getting the 3 percent per congressional district. That’s correct.”

No direct involvement

The House leadership sought to defend Romualdez and themselves from allegations that they were personally involved in the initiative.

They had previously affirmed their support for the people’s initiative and coordinated with Pirma on doing the grunt work in the legislative districts but had consistently denied direct involvement in it.

In a press briefing on Tuesday, Deputy Speaker David Suarez, Majority Leader Manuel Dalipe, Senior Deputy Speaker Aurelio Gonzales, and Bataan Rep. Geraldine Roman said they were insulted by the “malicious interpretation” of Romualdez’s photo with the Pirma members.

“Let’s not take things out of context,” Suarez said. “Like any other Filipino meeting, it always ends up with a picture. It shouldn’t be taken with malice, it had nothing to do with ill intent and the photo was just used for propaganda and political gain.”

Echoing his sentiment, Roman noted that even if they were involved in the people’s initiative, Article 17 of the 1987 Constitution itself mandates Congress “to provide for the implementation” of the people’s right to propose amendments to the Constitution via the initiative, which requires the signatures of 12 percent of the country’s registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least 3 percent of their voters.

“It has to be as organic as possible. We cannot ourselves be the ones to push the initiative. Hindi kami tanga (We’re not stupid),” Roman said.

Promise of gov’t aid

During the Senate hearing, Marcos also presented screenshots of the supposed exchange of Viber messages among a group of chiefs of staff of House leaders.

In one of the messages, a certain Ayeen Sian instructed the lawmakers’ staff members about the “People’s Initiative Project.”

Sian reportedly said that the House members who will take part in collecting signatures for the people’s initiative may send a request for the release of a total of P20 million worth of government aid from the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Department of Health and the Department of Labor and Employment.

“Please be advised that this is strictly confidential,” Sian told the House staffers.

Marcos also presented nine witnesses, four of whom admitted they received money in exchange for signing the petition submitted to the Commission on Elections.

Upon the request of her colleagues, the senator issued a subpoena compelling lawyer Anthony Abad to attend the next hearing.

Abad’s name appeared in the forms Pirma distributed to gather signatures for the people’s initiative.

Escudero, a lawyer, said Oñate’s admission could torpedo the entire Cha-cha campaign as the Supreme Court had previously ruled that politicians should not take part in a people’s initiative.

The high court, he said, had declared that “once the government or government officials support, participate in or endorse a so-called ‘people’s initiative,’ this is no longer an expression of the people’s sovereign will.”

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“[It] bastardizes the constitutional provision on people’s initiative and is a ‘politicians’ initiative,’ and is therefore illegal and unconstitutional,” Escudero said.

TAGS: charter change, constitutional amendments, Martin Romualdez, People's Initiative

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