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Cha-cha: P55M for TV spots pushing Charter change, bashing Edsa January 31,2024 - 08:29 AM

cha-cha PI

Alex Avisado and Noel Oñate —RICHARD A. REYES

MANILA, Philippines — The once dormant People’s Initiative for Reform Modernization and Action (Pirma) spent P55 million for television ad placements in pushing for Charter change or Cha-cha.

Part of the budget was also spent in trying to discredit the Edsa People Power Revolution, the group’s leader told senators on Tuesday.

Pirma national convener Noel Oñate disclosed during a Senate hearing that he was the one who had forked over half the amount, which he said he gave to the group’s public relations officer, Greg Garcia, in “cold cash.”

“That’s my money. [The rest] are contributions from my friends and our supporters,” Oñate said at the hearing of the Senate electoral reforms and people’s participation committee.

Grilled by Sen. Francis Escudero, Oñate said some of his friends donated as much as P2 million.

READ: I’ll order arrest of PI movers of Cha-cha if I regain power – Rodrigo Duterte

He initially claimed he could not remember their names until the committee chair, Sen. Imee Marcos, asked him if the individuals who helped him cover the cost of ad placements had paid the mandated 6-percent donor’s tax.

“So may we know the million-peso contributors? Just those who gave P1 million and above,” Escudero asked Oñate.

To which he quickly replied: “I have to ask them if I can give their names.”

Matter of public interest

The advertisement, which started airing two weeks ago, blamed the Constitution as the source of many of the country’s ills, employing the theme “Edsa-pwera,” a play on the vernacular “etsapuwera” (excluded).

The ads were timed to coincide with a nationwide campaign for a people’s initiative (PI), one of three ways to amend the Constitution through a petition signed by 12 percent of all registered voters.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Escudero said the Senate panel was interested about the identities of the alleged donors since the attempt to revise the 1987 Constitution through a people’s initiative was a matter of “public interest [that] demands accountability and transparency.”

Besides, he said, introducing changes to the Charter was not something to be ashamed of.

READ: Cha-cha focused on economic reforms, not term extension, says solon

“This matter about people’s initiative, if you really believe in it, is not something that you should be embarrassed about. The same is true with your donors,” Escudero said.

“On our part, accountability and transparency dictate that we should know who are the people behind it… So it’s an opportunity for your donors as well to come out and be proud of that,” he added.

Alex Avisado, one of Pirma’s lawyers, said the Gana Atienza Avisado law firm had fronted for the group in negotiating for ad placements with media networks ABS-CBN, GMA 7 and TV5, as it already had the required documents for the contracts.

The ad, which ran for nearly a minute, featured actors representing various sectors in a “frozen” state in an apparent metaphor for their slow progress.

In one scene, a barrier gate came down with the sign “Global investors not allowed,” alluding to constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership in real estate and other key industries.

A voice-over declared: “It’s time to take action… It’s time to rectify the defective 1987 Constitution. Gawing ‘saligang patas’ ang Saligang Batas (make it a fair Constitution).”

7M unverified signatures

At a news forum on Jan. 24, Oñate said his group had already gathered some 2.5 million signatures nationwide, about 30 percent of the target of more than 8 million signatures, representing 12 percent of all registered voters.

By Monday, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said its local offices had received around 7 million unverified signatures from 209 out of 254 legislative districts in the Philippines.

On the same day, however, Comelec Chair George Garcia said the poll body had unanimously decided to halt all activities on the PI and ordered its local offices to stop receiving signature sheets in the meantime.

READ: Comelec halts people’s initiative proceedings on Charter change

The official said Comelec was reviewing Comelec Resolution No. 10650, promulgated in January 2020, which laid out the implementing rules and regulations on people’s initiatives under Republic Act No. 6735 or the Initiative and Referendum Act.

On Tuesday, a poll official clarified that the PI proponents were not being barred from gathering signatures despite the suspension.

“We’re not preventing the gathering of signatures by the proponents. However, we won’t accept or count any signature that they will get,” Comelec spokesperson John Rex Laudiangco told a Bagong Pilipinas public briefing.

He said the signature sheets would remain in the Comelec’s custody and safekeeping while the poll body was taking a second look at the resolution.

No plebiscite in 2024

On Tuesday, Garcia again ruled out the likelihood of the poll body being able to hold any plebiscite this year for the PI.

Speaking at the same Senate hearing, the Comelec chief told senators that the poll body would be busy preparing for the May 2025 midterm elections and the December 2025 barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections

“We cannot conduct any plebiscite in 2025. That’s a no-no. That’s a negative. We cannot conduct a plebiscite even by November to December of this year. The Comelec is moving in a tight space right now,” he said.

Pirma was founded by former National Security Adviser Jose Almonte during the administration of the late President Fidel V. Ramos. It proposed a shift to a parliamentary system of government and the lifting of term limits on elected officials.

But the Cha-cha campaign was unsuccessful, with the Supreme Court striking it down in 1997 over defects in the petition and the absence of an enabling law.

READ: Lagman says public funds being used for Cha-cha drive

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TAGS: cha-cha, Constitution, EDSA, Pirma

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