Second of 3 parts
I DON’T think there’s been a political project to capture power in the country that is as brazen, as deceptive and as imbecilic as the current attempt to revise the Constitution by this shadowy dubious enterprise called Pirma, with House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez allegedly behind the plot.
That the Pirma campaign is not at all for the good of the nation but a shameless conspiracy to allow the House speaker to succeed his cousin, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., in a new parliamentary system is obvious in that the change in the Constitution that Pirma is seeking solely involves changing a provision that would in effect give the 315-member House of the Representatives which the speaker commands, total control of what subsequent proposals to amend in our most basic law. The Senate, with only 24 members, would be totally marginalized. (See my column last Monday, January 29).
If the Constitution is amended that way, it would be a walk in the park for the House to subsequently propose transforming the two-chamber legislative body into a unicameral one and for it to vote a prime minister as head of government, junking the current presidential system of citizens directly voting who they want to be president.
The Romualdez-Pirma conspirators have been deceiving the nation that what is being proposed is the lifting of all restrictions on foreign capital and other measures to make the economy more competitive. This is a total lie. There is no assurance at all that the House would really propose such economic amendments.
There are so many indications that this campaign to change the Constitution is a farce.
Pirma’s “lead national convenor” Noel Oñate, as well as Bicol Rep. Joey Salceda, claim that they have gathered 8 million signatures since January 7 supporting the “initiative” in 45 days.
That is a total lie. To explain to 8 million people this particular issue — why they should agree that the House and Senate should “vote jointly” — and for them to read and sign the petition is a logistical impossibility. The petition to convince Corazon Aquino to run in the 1985 elections gathered only 1 million signatures, many of which were dubious ones, in two months.
A campaign to gather 8 million signatures in 45 days would have generated such a tremor the way local and national elections do; it would have been the talk of the town. The Pirma “campaign,” however, was so unnoticed many were surprised over the astounding 8 million signatures submitted to the Comelec.
Pirma and Salceda think the nation and the Comelec are stupid. But it is they who would be proven imbeciles as their campaign will be for naught: it will take years for the Comelec — unless it is bribed — to validate those 8 million signatures with probably 99 percent proven to be fraudulent. That is if the Supreme Court doesn’t stop this nonsense soon, which it most probably will.
Oñate tried to explain how the 8 million signatures could be gathered by claiming that Pirma “coordinated” with the speaker and congressmen who helped in the gathering of the signatures. But this confirms that Pirma is not at all a people’s initiative but a plot by Romualdez, who, as House speaker, had the clout to order his congressmen to produce the signatures. This also confirms Sen. Imee Marcos’ allegation that as much as P20 million was given to many congressmen to undertake the “people’s initiative project.”
Indeed, circulating on social media is a Viber message by a sender who identified herself as Ayeen Sian, chief of staff of party-list representative Angelica Co, who represents the Barangay Health Wellness party. The message reads:
“Please be advised of the new guidelines of People’s Initiative Project. We need 2 copies each signatures for the petition, for Comelec and 1 for secretariat. For those who will participate in the PI Project are enjoined to submit their respective requests for the following: DSWD (AICS/AKAP) 5m DOH (MAIP) 10m; DOLE (TUPAD) 5m. Please be advised that this is strictly confidential.”
The text was referring to cash that is given by the three departments under the government’s programs intended to provide emergency assistance to the poor.
If that Viber message is authentic, what the Pirma project is doing is an outrage: government funds intended to help the poor are being used to ensure that Romualdez succeeds Marcos.
Another major indication that this Pirma plot is a farce is that for an entity that claims to have gathered 8 million signatures asking for the Constitution to be changed, there is only one person, other than his lawyer, openly representing it: Noel Oñate. There are no other people, especially Filipinos known to be activists and reformers, saying they are with Pirma and are indeed pushing for constitutional change. Isn’t that so strange?
Oñate tells me that the organization has representatives from “the labor sector, the businessman sector, farmers section and fishermen’s sector.” He couldn’t name a single other individual with Pirma, however.
Who the heck is Oñate? He is an enigmatic billionaire; his wealth appears to be in real estate as he owns a number of properties in Forbes Park and Dasmariñas Village. Not much is known about his assets in other businesses, although he says he was “very lucky” in playing the stock market in his 20s. He was the treasurer of the late President Fidel Ramos’ Lakas-NUCD party during the national elections in 1992 (for which he was awarded directorships in two state firms) and was reportedly Ramos’ financial adviser.
Oñate says he was undertaking Pirma because his “advocacy for 28 years has been constitutional reform.” He was referring to the fact that he was one of the organizers of Pirma when it was set up in 1997 by Ramos and his security adviser Jose Almonte. Then, as now, it was portrayed as a “people’s initiative” to amend the Constitution purportedly for the country’s benefit. However, it was widely perceived to be a plot to allow Ramos to continue in power, which was ending in 1998, by changing the Constitution to junk our presidential system and replace it with a parliamentary one — in which Ramos or his political lieutenant Jose de Venecia would be elected prime minister.
The Supreme Court shot down that attempt on the grounds that there was no enabling law for the “people’s initiative” provision of the Constitution and that this venue allows only amendments, and not a revision of the Constitution, which is what Pirma’s petition for a change into a parliamentary system would be.
It is certainly an enigma why an intelligent and politically savvy person like Oñate would go into a venture proven to be doomed to failure. The Supreme Court ruling in the Ramos case alone would kill it. This present-day Pirma even turns out to be so dopey that it was very easily exposed, by no less than Marcos’ elder sister, Senator Imee, to be a mere plot to ensure Romualdez’s political future.
Rather than assuring the Marcos-Romualdez clan’s perpetuation in power, the Pirma project has only generated a strong political blowback that has severely weakened this administration’s political influence. Romualdez’s image has been so tainted by this misadventure as a power-hungry politician that Marcos may have to look for another successor who would protect him when he steps down from office.
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