Press Release
April 1, 2006


Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Nene Q. Pimentel, Jr. (PDP-Laban) today warned Chairman Benjamin Abalos and the commissioners of the Commission on Elections that they face possible contempt of court if they will authorize election officials in the field to start verifying the signatures gathered by organizers of peoples initiative for a petition to amend the Constitution.

Pimentel said such verification order will directly violate the decision of the Supreme Court in the March, 1997 case, Miriam Defensor-Santiago vs. Comelec, in which the poll body was permanently enjoined from entertaining any petition for peoples initiative until a sufficient law shall have been enacted by Congress.

The high tribunal, according to the minority leader, held that the present law on referendum and peoples initiative (Republic Act 6735) was good only for amending national and local laws but insufficient for amending the Constitution.

Its very clear that a new law is needed to spell out the procedures for peoples initiative for Charter Change. And as of now, we do not know what should be the next step after the signatures were gathered, Pimentel said.

On Abalos statement that Comelec is merely performing an administrative function by verifying the signatures, Pimentel warned the Comelec officials that they should refrain from any attempt to circumvent the Supreme Courts injunction if they do not want to find themselves in trouble.

He said the Supreme Court, in a recent statement made by Gleo Guerra, direct or for press information office, reaffirmed its ruling that a new enabling law should be enacted by Congress before the process of amending the Constitution through the direct action of the people can be validly undertaken. Guerra said that until the ruling is reversed, they have to abide by it.

Pimentel took exception to the statement of Speaker Jose de Venecia, Jr. challenging groups and individuals who are questioning the legality of the ongoing peoples initiative to go to the courts to resolve the controversy.

There is a Supreme Court ruling that there is no appropriate law yet that will apply to peoples initiative to amend the Constitution. Since they do not agree with the court decision, they should be the ones to go to the court, he said.

Pimentel said the claim of the organizers of the peoples initiative, the Sigaw ng Bayan coalition, that there is enthusiastic public support for this activity is belied by reports that Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia and the municipal mayors league of the province have declined to participate in the signature drive because they doubt the legality of the process.

He said the Cebu local officials have returned the forms of the petition for Charter Change to the organizers of peoples initiative.

Because of this, Pimentel said it is doubtful whether three percent of the voting population in several congressional districts as required by the Constitution will sign the Charter Change petition.

He also debunked the claim of Malacañang belying reports about bribery to barangay residents who sign the petition.

Pimentel said his informant from the Department of Interior and Local Government revealed that an average of P500,000 was released by the DILG per congressional district for use in the signature campaign and the money was transmitted through the Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) of the regional coordinators.

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