The political train has left the station to stop Vice President Sara Duterte from running for president in the 2028 national elections.

Albay congressman Edcel Lagman and Kabataan Party-list Rep. Raoul Manuel have exposed a sinister plot by the ruling majority in the lower house of Congress to amend the 1987 Constitution through a people’s initiative process.

Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and his allies recognized the difficulty in changing the charter through a Constitutional Convention or through a Constitutional Assembly, two ways allowed under the 1987 Constitution to amend the charter.

A Constitutional Convention is an expensive and tedious way to amend the charter by electing a new set of people to review and alter the charter and there is no guarantee the changes will be aligned with the lawmakers’ agenda.

In a Constitutional Assembly, it would be difficult for the congressmen to get the senators to agree on the changes they want.

These two possible ways to amend the Constitution do not guarantee 100 percent success for the proponents of charter change.

Thus, the best chance to get Speaker Romualdez’s dream to amend the charter is through a people’s initiative process.

Will his plan to change the charter succeed this time?

Since the administration of the late former president Fidel Ramos in the 1990s, all efforts to tinker with the Constitution have failed.

Democracy icon Corazon Aquino and charismatic Roman Catholic archbishop Cardinal Jaime Sin led the opposition to charter change.

When Cory’s son became president in 2010, the chances of charter change were dim because he didn’t support plans to amend his mother’s legacy, the 1987 Constitution.

Efforts to amend the charter during President Rodrigo Duterte’s time failed because his federalism agenda was murky and vague.

Besides, his finance secretary, Carlos Dominguez, opposed the shift to a federal form of government because it was costly to support, with the budget deficit exacerbated by the pandemic.

In the past, efforts to change the charter were seen as moves to benefit a sitting president who might want to prolong his stay in office.

But, this time, political observers believe the move to change the Constitution was driven by efforts to stop the vice president from succeeding Marcos in 2028.

Sara has remained popular, with trust and approval ratings higher than the president, and appears to be the candidate to beat in the 2028 presidential derby.

Thus, efforts to stop her from winning the election in 2028 include changing the rules of the election game.

There are plans in Congress to shift to a unicameral parliamentary system, reverting to a system of government introduced by the late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, under the 1973 Constitution.

The French-style parliament system was tested in the 1978 Interim Batasan Pambansa elections and in the 1984 National Assembly balloting dominated by Marcos’s Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) party.

But, when the dictator was removed from power in a popular revolt in 1986, Cory Aquino brought back the old political system Filipinos knew since the post-war period in 1946.

Since his election in May 2022, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has been trying to restore his father’s legacy, policies, and political system, including expanding his security detail – the Presidential Security Command.

The re-introduction of the French-style parliamentary system could be among them.

But, this time, it may not directly impact his presidency. He could be helping his first cousin, Speaker Romualdez, succeed him and cement the family’s control over the country.

It is like hitting two birds with one stone – stopping Sara from getting elected in 2028 and ensuring that the Marcos family continues to be in control of the country.

If past efforts to change the charter through a people’s initiative process had failed, what are the chances it will work this time?

In the 1990s, when the first people’s initiative was tried during the Ramos administration, the Supreme Court ruled that the enabling law, Republic Act 6537, passed in 1972, was insufficient to support the process.

It struck down the people’s initiative petition based on the Santiago vs. the Commission on Elections case in 1997.

But in 2006, when a second people’s initiative petition was filed in Lambino vs. the Commission on Elections, the Supreme Court reversed itself, with 10 justices voting to allow the people’s initiative, saying RA 6537 was sufficient to proceed with the process.

With the enabling law settled, the next step was to gather signatures to change the charter.

Under the law, only 12 percent of the registered voters are needed to get the people’s initiative rolling. That means the proponents need only 8 million signatures out of 68 million registered voters.

A second requirement is the signatures from 3 percent of registered voters in every congressional district. There are 253 congressional districts.

In a congressional district with a city and 10 towns, only 3 percent is needed, and this could be collected in a city or a big town controlled by a congressman.

If the speaker’s allies would cooperate and mobilize their constituents to sign a people’s initiative petition, gathering the required signatures to change the charter would be easier.

It appears the people’s initiative is a done deal.

Lagman and Manuel said the bicameral conference committee, which harmonized the 2024 General Appropriations bill, had inserted an additional P12 billion in the Comelec’s budget under the item referendums for next year.

They also claimed the government was using the Labor and Health department’s programs to get the people to sign the petition.

In Albay, for instance, people who signed the petition were given P100 each, as 15 of the 18 mayors had accepted funds for the signature campaign.

Paid television ads have also surfaced during prime-time news broadcasts about charter change.

There are funds available for the process and for public information campaigns.

The signature drive has begun in key cities and towns nationwide.

The People’s Initiative train has left the station.