Is there money for Cha-cha?

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 06 2014 12:06 PM | Updated as of Mar 06 2014 08:06 PM

MANILA - Funding a nationwide plebiscite for the public to ratify proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution could be problematic.

House Speaker Sonny Belmonte conceded this as Budget Secretary Florencio Abad indicated that funding the plebiscite will have to come either from the Commission on Elections' savings or a supplemental budget that will have to be passed by Congress.

Asked about the funding of the plebiscite, Belmonte said: "Yes, that is a problem but small compared to potential benefits."

Abad said that before a supplemental budget can be passed, the Executive must certify the availability of funds.

"If Comelec has savings of that amount, no problem. They can go ahead. But if they don't have, they either get it from the executive as savings to augment their appropriation (which is being questioned in the SC) or they go through the route of supplemental budget for which a certification of availability of funds from the treasury is needed."

Belmonte said Congress can pass a supplemental budget. He also said there is a counterpart bill in the Senate.

Comelec estimates that a nationwide plebiscite to ratify any changes to the 1987 Charter will cost some P2 billion to P3 billion.

The figure is smaller than the Comelec's budget of P4 billion for the manual barangay elections.

The Comelec also believes it can conduct any plebiscite for so long as it is not too close to the 2016 Presidential elections.

Preparations for an automated election usually takes a year.

Preparations for the 2013 manual barangay elections took about four months.

President Aquino has long declared he is against Charter change though he is also not inclined to interfere with Congress, citing the separation of powers.

On Wednesday, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda was asked if government has any funds for a plebiscite.

He said: "We have to defer to Comelec on that because they are… Number one, since the budget for 2014 has already been set...As to the budget itself, is there a special provision for a plebiscite? We have to defer to Comelec since they will be ones who will be conducting the plebiscite."

"Is there any cash for that? We will have to… Remember, there is this issue on the items on the budget. Number one, we would have to refer to the budget first any expenditure (that) should be reflected in the—or any expense or any budget item (that) should be found in the GAA. As to the item on plebiscite, that is something that we would have to ask if Comelec has reserved some budget for that."

The 1987 Constitution requires that any changes to the Constitution be subjected to a plebiscite for the approval of the electorate.

Right now, congressional leaders believe a ¾ vote by all members of Congress, with both chambers voting separately, will be enough to send any Charter change move to the electorate for ratification.

The House committee on constitutional amendments released its committee report on resolution of both houses #1, which seeks to amend the 1987 Constitution by empowering Congress to lift or dilute current restrictions on foreign ownership of land and foreign investments in the country.

The measure is authored principally by Belmonte and is expected to be tackled in the House plenary soon.