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PIA Press Release

People's initiative genuine even with involvement of local executives, say mayors

Quezon City (2 October) -- The country's municipal mayors yesterday pounced upon the elite groups blocking constitutional reforms for their incessant, attempts to disparage the petition for People's Initiative as they asserted the legitimacy of this grassroots-driven movement that has won the support of most Filipinos, including local executives themselves.

The League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) said these Charter change critics, most of them identified with Edsa 1 or 2, were guilty of "double standard" in casting aspersion on the authenticity of the People's Initiative just because of the active involvement of elective officials nationwide, while extolling the two peaceful uprisings as "People Power" revolutions despite the participation of the same local executives.

In disparaging the People's Initiative as a "government initiative" owing to the participation of local officials in this highly democratic political exercise, LMP spokesman and Naval, Biliran Mayor Gerry Espina Sr. said the opponents of Charter change have conveniently overlooked the fact that these elective officials are part of the people themselves.

In assailing the authenticity of the People's Initiative drive owing to the participation of local officials, Espina said these Edsa 1 and 2 stalwarts who are now blocking Charter change are in effect saying that the involvement of elected officials can only be considered part and parcel of People Power if such an exercise is meant only to topple a discredited president.

A former deputy Speaker for the Visayas, Espina said that, "Are local executive officials part of the people only if the action is to remove a discredited president and not in one that seeks to change the Constitution that embodies the hopes and aspirations of the people, especially if the Constitution has consistently failed to improve the conditions of the people?"

"At the very least, the local officials are the most active and service-oriented segment of the people and are in close contact with the masa," he said, "and have been actively supporting Charter change in response to the overwhelming clamor of their respective constituents for a systemic change that will rid government of the chronic executive-legislative gridlocks responsible for political instability and anemic growth."

Espina, an advocate of constitutional reforms from the time he was a congressman during the Ramos administration, said local executives have actively participated in the snowballing Charter change movement, especially after the "ULAP sa TOP" provincial summits and other parallel information campaigns on Charter change that the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP) have mounted earlier this year with Sigaw ng Bayan, the Charter Change Advocacy Commission (AdCom) and other allied groups in all 79 provinces.

He said that "if we do not change the Constitution now, we will never have another chance to do so because the successor of President Arroyo and the succeeding senators are not likely to agree to change the Constitution during their terms."

"It is to President Arroyo's credit," he said, "that while she still has four years to go as Chief Executive, she is willing to share her powers under our present Constitution with a prime minister under the would-be amended Constitution."

Dismissing charges that Malacanang had hidden political agenda in pursuing the proposed parliamentary shift, Espina pointed out that the President has been pursuing constitutional reforms only in keeping with her 2004 presidential campaign commitment on Charter change.

On behalf of the 6.3 million verified petitioners for the people's Initiative, Sigaw ng Bayan spokesman Raul Lambino and Bohol Gov. and ULAP president Erico Aumentado are contesting before the Supreme Court and Sigaw ng Bayan are contesting before the Supreme Court the Aug. 31 decision by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to dismiss their plea by invoking the High Tribunal's 1997 ruling in Santiago vs. Comelec.

Lambino and Aumentado are confident that their legal team headed by former Comelec chairman and retired Justice Bernardo Pardo had fully and ably defended in last Tuesday's Supreme Court hearing that the 1987 Charter can be legally changed via the People's Initiative and that it is within the judicial power of the magistrates to review the 1997 decision, which declared Republic Act 6735 as inadequate to carry out the People's Initiative.

Lambino said the other day that prospects are bright for a Supreme Court review of Santiago vs. Comelec after Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban no less was quoted in media reports as saying that the High Tribunal may reexamine its ruling because the recent research by his staff should there was no such thing as an insufficient law.

He further said the petitioners and their intervenors are ready to submit their respective memoranda next week, or way ahead of the 15-day deadline set by the Supreme Court, because they have already submitted to the High Tribunal all documents proving that the 6.3 million verified petitioners represent at least 3 percent of registered voters in every congressional district.

Lambino said they have already proven that the signature-gathering exercise was above board with their Aug. 25 submission of their petition to the Comelec along with the 195 boxes containing the signatures of 6,327,952 registered voters whose names were verified by city and municipal election registrars. (PIA) [top]

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