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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Romualdez denies starting ‘PI’ campaign; Abalos clears village execs

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House Speaker Martin Romualdez on Monday denied issuing a directive to push for a people’s initiative for Charter change, as Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos said barangay officials are allowed to participate in the signature campaign that seeks to amend the 1987 Constitution.

“No orders,” Romualdez said in response to the allegation of Senator Ronald dela Rosa that he was behind the initiative.

“I don’t know what he’s talking about. He has not mentioned any congressman… so again, I don’t respond to general statements,” Romualdez said.

Dela Rosa claimed several lawmakers apologized to him for spearheading the move and said it was ordered by the House Speaker.

Dela Rosa did not identify the lawmakers he spoke to.

“It’s hard to confront them because they will just say, ‘Boss, sorry, we are only following orders. The Speaker gave the order and we are only foĺlowing it,’” the senator said.

House Majority Leader Rep. Mannix Dalipe brushed off as “baseless speculations” the allegations that Romualdez is the one behind the People’s Initiative (PI) movement.

“We hope that the Senate can approve this soon so that we can end all these baseless speculations,” Dalipe, who represents Zamboanga City’s second district, said.

Abalos, for his part, made the clarification after his undersecretary Felicito Valmocina, earlier warned barangay officials they may face sanctions if they get involved in the signature drive.

He said a resolution issued by the Commission on Elections in April 2022 excluded barangay officials from the prohibition against engaging in any electioneering or partisan political activities “for as long as they do not solicit contributions from their subordinates or subject them to any of the acts prohibited in the Omnibus Election Code.”

“That means they are allowed to participate in partisan political activities but they cannot use government resources,” Abalos said.

However, he admitted that the Department of the Interior and Local Government will still have to seek clarification from the Commission on Elections on the extent of the “allowed participation” for barangay officials.

“Let’s proceed from this very carefully. As far as we are concerned we wrote a letter to the Comelec… So as it is, it is allowed, but we want to be very clear about it so we are seeking clarification,” Abalos said.

The DILG chief also asked Valmocina to explain the legal basis for his statement, which he said was not the official position of the department.

“That was just his opinion and that is not the official stand and position of DILG in reference to the matter, on the role of the barangay officials in this People’s Initiative,” he said.

“We wrote a letter for him to explain. Let this serve as a warning to all our undersecretaries and officials that to avoid any confusion, before they speak on issues that are very sensitive, to at least ask guidance first from our legal department,” he added.

Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, for his part, urged the public to report alleged incidents of bribery in exchange for their signature for Charter change.

“If there’s somebody here who was fooled, who wants to complain and take back their signature, don’t be afraid to report it,” he said.

He asked the public to send or post a video, picture, or screenshot of texts to prove the bribery.

Comelec chairman George Garcia said the poll body is mandated to receive signature forms for the people’s initiative.

“At this point, our duty is ministerial. Everything is preparatory or preliminaries as they say,” Garcia said.

He said Comelec has no jurisdiction on barangay officials who participate in the initiative since it is not the campaign period.

The poll body has received signature forms from about 900 cities and municipalities involving almost 153 legislative districts.

The petition for a people’s initiative needs to be signed by at least 12 percent of the total number of registered voters. Each legislative district must also be represented by at least 3 percent of registered voters.

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