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Women hold rally to denounce Balikatan exercises

By Nuel M. Bacarra

The Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) held a rally at the United States (US) Embassy in Manila three days before the 39th Balikatan military exercises end on May 9, demanding an end to the war games they said is anti-Filipino.

The protesters denounced the Philippine government’s spending for the exercises “in outright disregard of the people’s sufferings.”

House Assistant Minority leader and GWP Rep. Arlene Brosas in her speech said: “We demand transparency regarding the utilization of taxpayers’ money, particularly in funding activities like Balikatan exercises which remain shrouded in secrecy.”

“The Philippine government is spending money for war which we do not need and definitely not the solution to the people’s poverty and hunger,” she revealed.

Brosas added: “We must get rid of the Visiting Forces Agreement and stop funding these war games.”

The 39th edition of the US-Philippine war games is reportedly the biggest yet with the participation of 14 other countries as observers and seen as directed against the People’s Republic of China.

Activists call for the release of 6 fellow protesters five days after their arrest during the Labor Day protests in Manila. (N. Bacarra/Kodao)

After their rally, the group joined other activists at the nearby Manila City Hall denouncing the continued detention of six fellow activists arrested during the Labor Day rallies at the Embassy by the Manila Police District.

They said the Mayo Uno 6’s continued detention is symbolic of the Philippine government’s subservience to US imperialism. #

Without immunity, Duterte faces 1st crime rap in local court

Finally without immunity, former president Rodrigo Duterte was slapped with a criminal charge in a Philippine court for grave threats against an incumbent member of the House of Representatives.

ACT Teachers Party Representative and Deputy Minority Leader France Castro filed a grave threat complaint against Duterte after the latter publicly said in a television interview last week he will kill the legislator and other alleged Communists.

“He no longer has immunity. He is no longer president. He should not do this to a congressperson, much more to fellow Filipinos,” Castro said after she filed her complaint at the Quezon City Hall of Justice on Tuesday, October 24.

Castro, accompanied by her lawyers Antonio La Viña and Rico Domingo, charged Duterte with violation of Article 282 of the Revised Penal Code, punishable by up to six months imprisonment and a fine of PhP100,000.

In a live interview with United States fugitive Apollo Quiboloy on Sonshine Media Network Inc. channel last Tuesday, Duterte he will kill Castro and other alleged Communists.

“But, the first target of your (Vice President Sara Duterte) intelligence fund would be you, France. I want to kill all of you Communists,” Duterte said in Filipino.

Duterte also admitted to killing more Communists in Davao where he ruled as a multi-term mayor.

Duterte added, “The intelligence fund, I bought (used) it, I had them all killed. That is why Davao is like that. Your colleagues, I really had them murdered. That is the truth.”

Castro, in mourning at the time for the death of her father, did not issue a statement.

Castro and fellow Makabayan bloc members Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Arlene Brosas and Kabataan Youth Party Representative Raoul Manuel against earned the ire of the controversial politician for leading the opposition to confidential and intelligence funds to agencies without security mandates.

Sara Duterte has requested the combined amount of PhP650 million for the Office of the Vice President and the Department of Education that was eventually disallowed by Congress.

“Threatening the lives of elected representatives is a blatant violation and a dangerous attack on the rights of individuals who are merely pushing for transparency and accountability in government spending,” Brosas said after the filing.

“We take his threats seriously, especially with his administration’s bloody legacy of extrajudicial killings and political persecution,” Brosas added.  

READ: Trillanes: ICC receives Duterte video admitting to mass murder

Duterte’s latest threats have also been submitted by former senator Antonio Trillanes IV to the International Criminal Court where the 78-year old former president is also facing charges of mass murder and crimes against humanity. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Youngest member condemns Congress’ ‘undemocratic’ approval of OVP’s confidential funds

The youngest member of Congress condemned a House of Representatives tradition granting so-called parliamentary courtesy to certain agencies of the executive branch and approving their proposed budget without deliberation.

Speaking at the hearing of the Office of the Vice President (OVP) budget last Wednesday, August 30, Makabayan bloc member and Kabataan Party Representative Raoul Manuel opposed the lack of discussion on the OVP’s proposed P125 million confidential funds for 2024.

“As youth representative, I am in a position to question tradition that no longer works and serves as barrier to healthy discussions about allocations and use of public funds,” Manuel said.

It was presidential son and Ilocos Norte First District Representative Sandro Marcos who moved for the termination of the deliberations on the OVP’s budget under the so-called tradition of parliamentary courtesy.

Manuel turned 29 on the day of the OVP budget hearing while Marcos—born March 7, 1994—is a few months older.

“Our tradition of extending parliamentary courtesy stops us in the legislative branch from doing our job for which we are paid by the Filipino people. We should have checks and balances,” Manuel said.

The youth representative added he does not want Congress to be complicit to illegal fund use by agencies in the executive branch.

Manuel pointed out that the committee hearing did not count the votes against the proposed OVP budget and objectors were not allowed to explain their dissent to the proposed OVP confidential funds.

“This is not democracy at work. I condemn the proceedings. Traditions that no longer work should be stopped,” Manuel said.

Few versus the charade

The Makabayan bloc–composed of Manuel, ACT Teachers Party Representative France Castro and Gabriela Women’s Party Arlene Brosas–leads the opposition to the granting of confidential funds to certain executive branch agencies such as the OVP and the Department of Education (DepEd) that is also under Vice President Sara Duterte.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Castro wanted discussions on the “unnecessary” P125 million confidential funds but was not allowed by the HOR appropriations committee.

Castro said that since the government is operating on a deficit budget, the proposed P4.3 billion confidential funds for next year should instead be channeled to social services.

Albay First District Representative Edcel Lagman also asked Duterte to voluntarily withdraw her request for confidential funds for the DepEd.

Duterte declined, justifying that basic education is intertwined with national security.

Without oversight and transparency

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) also called for the abolition of the controversial funds, saying the lump-sum appropriations are anomalous and defective.

BAYAN president Renato Reyes Jr. in a statement said the funds, also called intelligence funds, are without oversight and transparency on how these are spent.

“They are never open to scrutiny. There is no transparency and no clear oversight from any government agency,” BAYAN president Renato Reyes Jr. said.

“They are in the nature of pork barrel funds. They can even be acquired even without congressional authorization, months after the budget has been approved,” Reyes added.

Reyes said in a time when so many important social services are experiencing cutbacks, the so-called confidential funds are an unjustified and unconscionable burden on the taxpayers.

“All forms of confidential funds should be abolished. No ifs and buts. If they cannot specify a line item for appropriations and provide a clear basis for such appropriations, then it should not be in the GAA (General Appropriations Act). No more lump sums that have zero transparency,” Reyes said.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government is proposing P4.3 billion in confidential funds and an additional P4.9 billion in intelligence fund for 2024.

The DBM added that these grew by P120 million from the 2023 national budget, an amount close to the proposed P125 million confidential fund of the OVP.

The Philippine government is currently in debt by P14 trillion. # (Raymund B.Villanueva)

Gadon as presidential anti-poverty adviser ‘extremely poor choice, clownish’ – lawmaker

The Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government has appointed a controversial lawyer as its new Presidential Adviser on Poverty Alleviation, a move questioned by a progressive lawmaker as “clownish”.

Following the announcement of Atty. Larry Gadon’s appointment to the post on Tuesday, June 27, Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Arlene Brosas said the choice “reflects the administration’s clownish approach in addressing hunger and poverty in the country.”

“Gadon is an extremely poor choice for a public position that requires serious and diligent work, especially as more than half of Filipinos rate themselves as poor,” Brosas added.

(UPDATE: The Supreme Court announced Wednesday morning, June 28, it voted 15-0 in favor of Gadon’s disbarment for acts inimical to the legal profession.)

Brosas said creating a new position at the executive branch and filling it up with the most unqualified person is certainly not a step towards solving the widespread poverty in the country.

The Makabayan bloc lawmaker added that truly solving poverty requires comprehensively addressing the widespread landlessness and joblessness in the country through genuine land reform and establishment of national industries, development plans that Gadon is not known to espouse.

Brosas also pointed out that the new presidential adviser is an unsavory character, unworthy to advise the highest official of the country.

“A lawyer who once maligned and verbally assaulted a female journalist with misogynist remarks, and who has been suspended twice by the Supreme Court for his foul language has no right to be on the presidential payroll,” Brosas said.

“He is also a certified red-tagger, branding those who supported calls for his disbarment as ‘NPA coddler,’” she added.

Unapologetic

A rabid Marcos follower and supporter, Gadon first became notorious for flashing a dirty finger at and cursing protesters supporting then embattled Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno in a rally in Baguio City in 2018.

The SC suspended Gadon in January 2022 for spewing obscenities and sexist remarks at journalist and Marcos critic Raissa Robles of the South China Morning Post.

He is also infamous for publicly branding those who disagreed with as “bobo” (idiots).

In his first media interviews after announcement of his appointment, Gadon remained unapologetic, adding they deserved his tirades.

“I’m not going to say sorry because, in the first place, they were at fault because they spread lies. They should be grateful I didn’t have them killed. It’s good that I just cursed them,” Gadon told radio station DZBB.

He added that his critics, including the group Akbayan, do not have 5% of his intelligence.

‘Batang Busog Malusog’

According to the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) announcement of Gadon’s appointment, the presidential adviser would work with government agencies and non-government organizations to create programs “addressing the root of poverty.”

In his first televised briefing, Gadon said his first program would the Marcos Jr. government’s anti-hunger program dubbed “BBM” or “Batang Busog Malusog.”

BBM is the acronym of the President’s nickname Bong-Bong Marcos.

Gadon said the BBM program aims to address malnutrition among public elementary school students, noting that the condition contribute to the Filipino pupils’ poor academic performance.

The lawyer added he will also focus on strengthening micro-industries to provide jobs for the poor.

“My idea is to have micro-industries, similar to the pattern in China and Taiwan where they have a number of micro-industries scattered in their communities that employ 50 to 100 personnel,” he said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Migrants call for an end to oppression and exploitation of seafarers

By Nuel M. Bacarra

Migrante International (MI) demanded an end to “oppressive and exploitative work environments” affecting Filipino sailors on the occasion of the International Day of the Seafarers last Sunday, June 25.

The group pointed out Filipino seafarers still receive lower wages when compared to counterparts from ship-owning nations.

“Filipino seafarers suffer from precarious work since they are perpetually considered as contractual workers — employed for 11 months or less — who do not attain regular status despite many years of service under the same employer,” MI pointed out.

MI said the seafarers from poor countries such as the Philippines are victims of the Flag of Convenience (FOC) scheme prevailing in the global shipping industry where ship-owners from rich countries register their merchant ships in other countries to avoid financial charges or restrictive regulations in the own countries.

These ships usually bear the flag of Panama, Liberia, Belize, Malta, Bahamas, Cameroon, Cambodia, Bolivia, and Barbados that are known to have more relaxed tax laws.

Despite being very poor countries, Panama, Liberia and the Marshall Islands accounted for 44.3% of the world’s cargo, the group revealed.

“For workers on-board, this mean very low wages and poor on-board conditions and, most likely, on contractual basis,” MI said.

It does not help that skilled workers, including the seafarers, are marketed abroad as cheap and docile labor under the Philippine government’s neoliberal labor policy that continues under the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration, the group added.

“Filipino workers are also made to spend so much for countless trainings, certification processes, tuition, and government fees and exactions before they can work on a ship, for a short period of not more than 11 months,” MI explained.

After the contract, Filipino seafarers do not enjoy security of tenure and have to join the long queue of some 300,000 jobless seafarers applying for jobs, it said.

“This, despite successive contracts of service with the same ship-owner and manning agency,” MI said.

Filipino seafarers performing repairs and maintenance tasks. (BB Telan/Kodao)

‘Fake Magna Carta’

MI said the Philippines must demand for better working conditions for its seafarers under the International Labor Organization’s Maritime Labor Convention of 2006.

Under the instrument, maritime sailors are guaranteed financial security in case of illnesses, injury or death while on an employment contract even without proving these are work-related.

“Unfortunately, the Philippine government doesn’t have an implementing law on this despite its nominal ratification in 2012 during the time of the late President Aquino,” MI said.

The group also expressed support to House Bill 4438, or the Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers, originally filed by Arlene Brosas of Gabriela Women’s Party and the Makabayan bloc.

The proposed measure aims to provide seafarers with all-out protection before, during and after employment, specifically in the event of maritime accidents, epidemics or pandemics and other natural o man-made crises.

The migrants group however lamented that HB 4438 had been superseded by HB 7325 they said shipping and manning companies managed to sabotage.

MI said HB 7325 has an anti-seafarer escrow provision where the seafarer has to wait for many years until the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court have affirmed a positive judgment from lower courts.

The group pointed out that this provision changes the long-held practice of labor cases being final and executory at National Labor Relations Commission level.

Seafarers now brand the bill as “Magna Carta of Ship-owners” as they are the beneficiaries, MI said. # (RBV)

Anti-child marriage law draws approval from int’l aid groups to underground revolutionary orgs

Children rights advocates of various persuasions hailed the passage of the law banning child marriages in the Philippines, describing the measure as a step forward in protecting children from sexual abuse and the effects of child marriage.

In separate statements, a women’s political party, an international aid organization, a legislators’ committee, even an underground revolutionary group hailed the signing into law of Republic Act (RA) No. 11596, also known as “An Act Prohibiting the Practice of Child Marriage and Imposing Penalties for Violations Thereof.”

House of Representatives (HOR) Assistant Minority Leader and Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Arlene Brosas welcomed the new law she says ensures stronger protection of children from abuse and early social and economic burden.

“This is a historic step towards the criminalization of child marriage, which has trapped several Filipino girls into unwanted and early child-bearing and child-rearing responsibilities and even into cycles of abuse,” Brosas, co-author of the new law, said.

The government announced on Thursday that President Rodrigo Duterte signed the measure last December 10, International Human Rights Day.

The law bans any marriage involving children, including informal unions or cohabitation outside of wedlock between an adult and a child.

The law penalizes persons who cause child marriages with imprisonment and fines, including parents and those who officiates them.

Parents involved in the crime shall also suffer perpetual loss of parental authority.

The law likewise penalizes adults who cohabit with a child outside wedlock.

More praise

International humanitarian and development organization Oxfam commended the law’s champions in the HOR and Senate, saying its passage and approval by the President is a “historic win.”

“Banning child, early, and forced marriage will give women and girls the power to make free and informed choices, enabling them to break free from the unending cycle of poverty, violence, and inequality,” Oxfam said.

Even the underground regional revolutionary group National Democratic Front in Bicol (NDF-Bicol) hailed the new measure, saying it adds to the legal recourses female children may utilize in defense of their right to self-determination.

The victory contributes to the eventual defeat of the exploitative system that confine women’s roles to the household and bed, NDF-Bicol added.

Policy group Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD), instrumental in pushing for the bill, said one in six Filipino girls get married before reaching the age of 18.

“The Philippines ranks 12th worldwide among countries with the highest numbers of child marriages,” PLCPD said.

 “The Prohibition of Child Marriage Law is a landmark legislation and a legacy of this Congress to women and girls who have long been suffering from the ill effects of child marriage,” PLCPD executive director Rom Dongeto said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)