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Judge who ordered arrest of Satur et. al. inhibits, prosecutors mum

Nueva Ecija public prosecutors refused to comment on a motion for reconsideration on double murder charges and warrants of arrests against four activist leaders at a hearing in Palayan City Friday morning, August 3.

Lawyers of National Anti-Poverty Commission lead convenor Liza Maza and fellow former Makabayan bloc representatives Satur Ocampo, Rafael Mariano and Teddy Casiño told reporters in a press briefing outside the Palayan Regional Trial Court (RTC) that the prosecutors had no comment when asked about the motions.

“When the public prosecutors were asked to comment on the motion for reconsideration, they simply submitted it to the judge’s discretion,” Public Interest Law Center (PILC) managing counsel Rachel Pastores said.

“This made the hearing very quick; travel time from Manila to here was in fact longer,” Pastores added.

Dozens of activists travelled to Nueva Ecija early Friday morning and held a picket in front of Palayan City RTC Branch 40 to support the four leaders.

August 1, 2018 inhibition order by Judge Evelyn A. Atienza-Turla.

Judge Evelyn Atienza-Turla inhibited herself from the case since last August 1 and the case was raffled off to Judge Trece Wenceslao instead.

Turla issued arrest orders against the four last July 11 stemming from a 2006 double murder charge against them.

The judge, who told the public prosecutor in July 2008 that the case did not meet her standards, reversed herself and said in an order that she now finds probable cause to proceed with the trial against the four accused.

Pastores said they are hoping that the court would decide on their motion within 10 days as the arrest order is “unjust and without legal basis.”

The double murder charge stemmed from a complaint by a Cleotilde Peralta and an Isabelita Bayudang who alleged that the four activist leaders met in 1998 to plan the assassination of former Bayan Muna (BM) members who have left the party.

Peralta said her husband was ran over and killed in 2001 while Bayudang said her husband was shot to death in 2004 upon orders of the four accused and others.

In 2016, Peralta and Bayudang were found liable for damages in a civil suit and were ordered to pay P325,000 to Ocampo by Quezon City RTC Branch 95.

The QC RTC said Peralta and Bayudang lied when they alleged BM already existed in 1998 when it was in fact created only in 2000.

Peralta and Bayudang’s petition to have Bayan Muna disqualified using the same allegations were also dismissed by the Commission on Elections in 2008. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Political persecution behind arrest orders, groups say

Political persecution by militarists in the Rodrigo Duterte government and new House of Representatives Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo may be behind the issuance of arrest warrants against a Cabinet secretary and three opposition leaders by a Palayan City Regional Trial Court (RTC) last July 11, various groups said.

In a press conference in Quezon City Friday afternoon, groups including the Makabayan bloc of progressive parties, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and others said the arrest orders against National Anti-Poverty Commission chairperson Liza Maza, and former Representatives Satur Ocampo, Teddy Casiño and Rafael Mariano are pure harassment by both militarists and a resurrected Arroyo.

In a statement, Maza said the arrest order is part of a “continuing political persecution against her by the rightists and militarists who wield substantial influence within the Duterte government.”

“Almost from the beginning, the rightists and militarists have tried to make it difficult on us – myself and other progressives who have joined the Duterte government – opposing or obstructing the reforms that we pushed for and manoeuvring to have us removed, one by one,” Maza added.

Palayan City RTC Branch 40 Judge Evelyn Ancheta Turla issued arrest orders against the four last July 11 stemming from a 2006 double murder charge.

The judge, who told the public prosecutor in July 2008 that the case did not meet her standards, reversed herself and said in an order that she now finds probable cause to proceed with the trial against the four accused.

Casiño said the recycling of such trumped-up charges is part of “a desperate and reckless witch hunt against opposition.”

“This is an attempt to curtail my liberty. And the fact that it is happening under a Duterte-Marcos (family)-Arroyo alliance makes it more frightening,” Casino said.

In his statement, Mariano said he vehemently denies the accusations, saying they are “baseless, malicious and fabricated.”

 ‘It was irregular’

Atty. Rachel Pastores, counsel for the four accused, said the case is pure harassment as the complaint was not even subscribed before a public prosecutor before it was filed.

“The complainants swore before the Philippine National Police and not to a public prosecutor. It was irregular,” Pastores said.

A Cleotilde Peralta and an Isabelita Bayudang alleged Ocampo, Maza, Mariano, Casiño and 18 other activists met in 1998 to plan the assassination of former Bayan Muna (BM) members who have left the party.

Peralta said her husband was ran over and killed in 2001 while Bayudang said her husband was shot to death in 2004 upon orders of the four accused and others.

In 2016, however, Peralta and Bayudang were found liable for damages in a civil suit and were ordered to pay P325,000 to Ocampo by Quezon City RTC Branch 95.

The QC RTC said Peralta and Bayudang lied when they alleged BM was already existing in 1998 when it was in fact created only in 2000.

Peralta and Bayudang’s petition to have Bayan Muna disqualified using the same allegations was also dismissed by the Commission on Elections in 2008.

Reconsideration, remedies

Pastores said that Turla’s decision is wrong, more so that no additional information has been introduced to the case.

“We will avail of all legal remedies. We will file a motion for reconsideration,” Pastores said.

Speaking for the Makabayan bloc, ACT Teachers Representative Antonio Tinio warned of darker times ahead.

“This is a classic GMA [Arroyo] move when she was in power. And it is being revived now that she is back in power. Darker times are indeed ahead,” Tinio said.

Former BM Representative Neri Colmenares for his part called on “the professional witnesses” to not allow themselves to be used by the military.

“Time will come you will be dropped by the military and your handlers, like what happened when the court decided that you pay damages to Satur Ocampo and others,” Colmenares said.

Colmenares also called on Duterte to order the dismissal of the case through the Department of Justice.

Panawagan kay Presidente, pwede bang maghunus-dili ka muna?” Colmenares said. (I call on the President, can you please calm down for a moment?) # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Only spoilers are happy with peace talks postponement—Bayan Muna

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate expressed dismay in the delay of the resumption of formal talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

Reacting to Presidential Peace Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza’s announcement Thursday that the scheduled formal talks on June 28 is postponed by President Rodrigo Duterte, Zarate said the issue of public consultations can be addressed while the negotiations are ongoing.

“They should not be used as stumbling blocks or preconditions for the resumption of the negotiations,” Zarate said.

The progressive solon added the Filipino people have long supported the peace talks for a just and lasting peace.

“Indeed, addressing the root causes of the armed conflict like landlessness, oppression and exploitation, among others, will certainly get the continued support of the majority of Filipinos,” Zarate explained.

Meanwhile, defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana admitted military and police authorities expressed concerns the New People’s Army will only use the resumption of the peace talks to strengthen their forces, media outfit Rappler reported.

Lorenzana confirmed this were among the issues GRP security forces raised when GRP negotiators briefed Duterte Wednesday, June 13, on the results of the four round of informal talks in The Netherlands.

“The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and PNP (Philippine National Police) wholly support the President’s peace initiative. But they also raised the alarm that the peace process could be used by the CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines) to regroup and strengthen their mass base as they have done numerous times before,” Lorenzana told Rappler.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque also said this was among the matters raised by security officials during the meeting, Rappler said.

Zarate, however, said such delays will only give “peace spoilers and saboteurs” longer time to sabotage the peace process.

“Resume the talks now. It is only those who benefit and profit from the current inequitable and unjust system will not support the peace talks and will do all they can to sabotage it,” Zarate said.# (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Congress mangled BBL, critics say

Critics have slammed the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) measures passed by both Houses of Congress, saying these fail to recognize the Bangsamoro’s right to self-determination.

In separate statements, Suara Bangsamoro and Bayan Muna have dismissed the approved versions of the bills at the House of Representatives and the Senate as a betrayal of the Bangsamoro people’s long-running struggle for justice and autonomy.

The House of Representative passed HB 6475 Wednesday while the Senate passed Thursday Senate Bill 1717 a few days after President Rodrigo Duterte has finally certified the bills as urgent.

“This milquetoast [submissive one] that they are passing off as BBL leaves the Bangsamoro with no control over the resources of the area they define as our autonomous area,” Suara Bangsamoro national chairperson Jerome Aba said.

“Just like in the ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao Law), this BBL appoints the new Bangsamoro political entity to facilitate the wholesale selling of our territories and natural resources to foreign corporations under the guise of bringing growth and development to Bangsamoro areas,” Aba said.

In his speech explaining his rejection of the House of Representatives version of the BBL, Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate said he could not vote for a measure that is full of compromises.

“This latest and watered-down proposed BBL is unacceptable. This Substituted HB 6475 does away with all the efforts to push for the Bangsamoro’s right to self-determination in the face of many limitations imposed by the government,” Zarate said.

Zarate added many provisions of the version submitted to Congress by the Bangsamoro Transition Council were deleted or changed.

“These include the downgrading of their territory to an autonomous region in the Bangsamoro, instead of simply ‘Bangsamoro’; the [bill’s] use of ‘geographical area’ instead of territory; and the conduct of plebiscites in the additional territory,” Zarate explained.

The Mindanaoan legislator added the deletion of the Bangsamoro’s exclusive control over power and energy, natural resources, public utilities, Bangsamoro police, and many others are also very important issues.

“The Substituted HB 6475 does not answer the Bangsamoro’s aspiration for their right to self-determination and genuine autonomy. This measure deserves to be opposed,” Zarate said.

Suara Bangsamo said it supports calls made by Makabayan bloc at the House of Representatives to truly scrutinize the contents of the present BBL and called on their compatriots to oppose provisions they say compromise the fight of the Moro people for self-determination.

“As the government continue to disregard Moro people’s struggle for the right to self-determination, it is in the hands of Moro people to continue to fight for genuine right to self-determination,” Aba said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Makabayan bloc proposes Filipino citizenship for Sr Pat

The Makabayan bloc in the House of Representative has filed a bill proposing to make a nun under threat of being deported a Filipino citizen.

The parties that include Bayan Muna, ACT Teachers’ Party. Gabriela Women’s Party, Kabataan and Anakpawis said Sr Patricia Fox of the Notre Dame of Sion said she deserves Filipino citizenship for giving a big part of her life to poor Filipinos.

“Congress has granted Filipino citizenship to foreigners who donated schools or multi-purpose halls to Filipino communities, but Sr Pat gave countless Filipino farmers and indigenous peoples a big part of her life,” Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate said.

“It is but right for us Filipinos to recognize this and show our appreciation by making her one of us Filipinos,” Zarate said.

Fox, an Australian missionary in the Philippines has been in the country in the past 27 years, one time becoming the Central Luzon coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.

Her congregation was invited to conduct missionary work in the country by the late Prelature of Infanta Bishop Julio X. Labayen.

Fox incurred the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte by participating in a fact-finding mission in Mindanao earlier this year that documented human rights violations under martial law in the island.

She has since been arrested by the Bureau of Immigration and subsequently ordered to leave the country. She won a reprieve from the Department of Justice that said the order must be investigated further.

In asking Congress to grant Fox Filipino citizenship, Makabayan said the nun was accepted by the local communities she served and treated as one of their own.

“Instead of prosecuting and deporting Sr Pat through false charges, the government should instead recognize and acknowledge her sacrifices in almost three decades of her selfless service to the Filipino people,” Zarate said.

Zarate added that their bill is a response to the call of many farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous people whose lives were touched and helped by the nun. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

 

Bayan Muna: SSS using old scare tactics to avoid pension hike

Social Security System (SSS) president Emmanuel Dooc is using old scare tactics for the fund to defer payment of pension increases, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate and Bayan Muna chairman and former Rep. Neri Colmenares said.

Reacting to a statement by Dooc that the SSS may suffer bankruptcy if it is forced to pay additional P2.5 billion a month to pensioners starting 2019, the Bayan Muna leaders said the government-owned corporation has more than enough time to find additional sources of income to pay the 2,000 pesos monthly pension increase of its members.

“This is the same scare tactic used by the previous SSS administration. It would be well for Dooc to stop scaring the people [with] this phantom adverse effect once the current pension is increased,” added Rep. Zarate.

In response to Dooc’s statement that SSS needs to hike the members’ monthly payments to fund the pension increase, Zarate said that the House Joint Resolution No. 10 passed by the House of Representatives in 2017 mandating the SSS pension increase does not allow for an increase in premium contribution.

“The present SSS leadership has assured to institute needed reforms to improve its fund life. What happened to these reforms? Again, it is best for the SSS board and management to support the pension increase and work with Congress in looking for means to increase its current fund life,” Zarate said.

Colmenares for his part said that Dooc should stop deluding the people that SSS has no funds for the second tranche P1,000 pension increase.

“They are trying to sabotage the distribution of the P1,000 pension increase, even if it [SSS] has actually admitted several times that it has the funds for the pension increase. At most, the increase will only shorten the SSS fund life to 2026 instead of the current 2032, based on the SSS’ own computations,” Colmenares said.

Colmenares said that even if the shortened fund life is true, eight years is more than enough time for the government and SSS to find ways other than increasing members’ premium payments.

“In 2001, SSS declared that it has a fund life of only five years and yet it was able to increase this to 2042 in just 14 years. If it previously survived a five year fund life, then surely it can also survive an eight year fund life,” he said.

Colmenares said the SSS is in fact in better shape than its counterparts in United Kingdom (UK), which has a fund life of only up to 2027, and Canada, which has a fund life until 2022.

Colmenares said the SSS could instead implement the following:

  • improve collection efficiency from the employers of its 31 Million members;
  • collect the billions in contributions, which delinquent employers failed to remit in the last ten years;
  • cut down in bonuses and perks given to its Board members and collect the disallowed more than P200 Million  retirement package given to SSS Board Members in 2009; and
  • collect the fines imposed by the courts against employers who violated the SSS law.

“If these are not enough, then Congress can always provide for subsidies as provided under Section 20 of RA 8282 as amended. There is no way that the SSS will go bankrupt since under Section 21of the said law, the Philippine government guarantees the benefits and solvency of the SSS,”  Colmenares said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘To freely oppose fascist regime,’ Makabayan bolts House majority

To be able to freely oppose the “fascist Rodrigo Duterte regime,” the Makabayan bloc announced Thursday it is bolting from the majority coalition in the House of Representatives.

The group’s sitting representatives and other leaders said in a press conference said they will henceforth be an independent bloc in Congress.

“Today, we, seven party list representatives of the Makabayan Bloc, declare our separation from the Majority Coalition in the House of Representatives to intensify our opposition to the Duterte administration that has now fully unravelled as a fascist, pro-imperialist and anti-people regime,” Makabayan said.

Makabayan is composed of Bayan Muna, ACT Teachers, Anakpawis, Kabataan, and Gabriela Women’s parties.

The group said it joined the Majority last year after being encouraged by Duterte’s reformist and populist actions and pronouncements on a range of issues.

Makabayan cited Duterte’s promise to resume the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), release of political prisoners, ending of neo-colonial ties with the United States of America government, pursuing an independent foreign policy, addressing the roots of the Moro rebellion, ending labor contractualization, increasing government support to farmers, putting a stop to destructive mining practices, reducing income taxes of rank and file employees, and increasing social pensions, and prioritizing basic social services over infrastructure as among the reasons for entering the coalition.

“From the very start, we consistently opposed the Administration’s anti-people bills and policies to the point that we were stripped of our committee chairmanships due to our stand against the death penalty bill. Despite one disappointment after another, we persisted in the Majority in the hope that some socioeconomic and political reforms could be achieved, if not through Congress, then through the Government of Republic of the Philippines-NDFP peace talks,” the group explained.

Duterte has failed on his promises, Makabayan said.

“Worst of all, his ‘war on drugs’ has turned into a campaign of mass murder of the poor, for which he shows no signs of turning back,” the group said.

Earlier, Malacañan said it hoped Makabayan would keep it ties with the Duterte government.

“We hope the Makabayan bloc will stay with the administration and the House majority,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said at a palace briefing last September 8.

Abella said the palace hoped the progressive solons would continue to work with the administration on certain issues, even if they decide dissociate themselves from the Duterte.

“However, if they do decide to go, we wish them well and we hope that they will remain open to working together with others on issues of shared interest,” Abella said.

Makabayan in its announcement today however said the die is cast.

“We shall fight the fascist US-Duterte regime and hold it accountable for its gross violations of human rights and the further oppression and impoverishment of our people,” the group said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

 

Bayan Muna celebrates 6th straight electoral victory

Bayan Muna held a thanksgiving party last May 27 at the Quezon Memorial Circle for its supporters and volunteers to celebrate another victory in the party list elections this year.

Bayan Muna won a single seat for the upcoming 17th Congress, marking the sixth straight time it sent representatives to the legislature.

Read more

TitoSen, Isko, Digong and Neri on land reform


The Philippine Land Reform Movement (PLRM) and Pagkakaisa para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Patria) posed a “Peasant Challenge” for the 2016 elections. Davao City Mayor Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte (running for President) and senatorial candidates Tito Sotto, Isko Moreno and Neri Colmenares took the challenge. Held at the Balay Kalinaw, UP Diliman, QC on February 3, 2016.

STREETWISE: SSS pension hike — it’s a class thing by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

Streetwise

I waited to hear the views of a friend, a former SSS top executive who sought a meeting with Rep. Neri Colmenares, original sponsor of the bill that seeks to raise the Social Security System (SSS) monthly pension for more than 2 million retirees by P2000. I wanted to balance out my thinking on the issue even though I had read and heard almost all there was to hear on both sides of the argument.

I wanted to give this person the benefit of the doubt since I know him to be an upright person, hardworking, a top professional in the private sector before being recruited into government service, and having come from humble beginnings. Unfortunately the more he expounded on the basic position of current SSS executives, on which basis Pres. BS Aquino vetoed the bill, the more I became unconvinced of the merit, nay soundness, of the presidential veto.

While acknowledging that the SSS fund is a social fund meant to serve the needs of its members, the former official tried to convince us that people expected too much from the fund, that the contributions were way too small while the services it was giving out were costing a lot. Ergo the basic solution is to increase the members’ contributions. In the meantime, there could be no increases in benefits that would only shorten the life of the fund.

He acknowledged, however that increasing contributions is easier said than done. The convincing would have to come in the form of more efficient and substantial services.

Now when one considers that the SSS was listed recently by the Civil Service Commission as one of the top three government agencies that they received complaints about in terms of services, doesn’t the SSS indeed have a lot of convincing to do?

Wouldn’t a reasonable increase in pensions serve as a strong signal that the agency was willing to work hard to be able to give members a decent pension when they retire?

When asked about plugging the leaks in the system like the billions of contributions collected but unremitted by employers, the former official lamented how difficult it is to do this, that SSS lacks personnel and resources.

So how can SSS convince its members that they need to give more when what they are already contributing is not collected properly by SSS. (Or as one struggling entrepreneur counter-lamented, it takes SSS forever to officially tally contributions in their data base from the time the payments are deposited in receiving banks. In the meantime their employees cannot take out any loans and vent their ire on their employers!)

About the touted sterling performance of the SSS in terms of fund management under the stewardship of SSS President De Quiros, my friend intimated that there were SSS properties that were not sold during earlier administrations in order to have higher returns with the property boom in certain areas of Metro Manila. This certainly didn’t seem to take such a financial genius to figure out; that it was quite a matter of waiting for a better price.

In the meantime, .isn’t it unconscionable for SSS executives to give themselves such fat bonuses on the ground that they made the fund grow through their supposedly astute handling of SSS investible funds when they refuse to let the ordinary members share in some of that purported growth. On this point my friend couldn’t help but nod in agreement.

Rep. Colmenares came quite prepared for the one-on-one discussion bringing with him documents that the SSS had submitted to congressional hearings. He had the facts and figures at his finger tips. He questioned the sudden jump in the projected fund deficit to 16-26 billion pesos when SSS officials had stated under oath in congressional hearings this would amount to only 4 billion pesos.

Congress had passed Colmenares’ bill unanimously having taken into account the 4 billion deficit and the ways by which the SSS could cover this by introducing needed reforms within the next five years, including improvement in collections and lessening administrative inefficiencies and costs. And if, despite all these internal reform measures the deficit remained, government is mandated to shore up the fund by means of a direct subsidy.

Indeed, if government can subsidize a dole-out program such as the Conditional Cash Transfer worth 62 billion pesos, why can’t it provide a safety net for working people who are doing their share not only in contributing to the economy but to their own social security fund .

It has also been pointed out by various quarters that with the Aquino administration’s boast of a 268 billion peso reduction in the government’s budget deficit, it has more than enough leeway to back up the P56B for the pension hike plus the alleged projected P16-26B SSS deficit.

How convenient — or deceptive as the case may be — for SSS executives to belatedly come up with such a humongous figure of 16-26 billion pesos in fund deficit that would purportedly run the SSS fund to the ground in 13 years.

This report apparently stunned and scared Pres. Aquino — during the four years the bill was being deliberated apparently he took no notice of it and its supposed dire implications — into action. He obviously took the SSS executives’ word hook, line and sinker, enough for him to issue the politically unpalatable veto

Thereupon the entire Malacanang propaganda machinery was made to work overtime to spread the scare to the rest of the public, most especially to SSS non-pensioners who the Aquino administration wants to dupe into believing that there will be nothing left for them when it is their turn to retire.

Big business honchos, top-caliber professionals in the financial sector and neoliberal academics and pundits who think government subsidy is anathema to the “free market” have swallowed the bankruptcy scare hook, line and sinker too. One wonders why they have chosen to suspend their usual sharp analytical abilities in this instance.

The reason is not hard to fathom. They regard the SSS not as a social fund but as a huge capital fund that one necessarily subjects to actuarial studies regarding its projected life.
Thus the point is reduced to how to ensure that more comes in than what goes out.

Yes, even as hundreds of billions of the SSS fund are a plump source of income for a train of fund managers, stock brokers, investment bankers, accounting firms and the like.

In the final analysis, the two sides to this issue amounts to a class divide. The less in life can’t understand the reason for the presidential veto. Those who can nonchalantly spend 2000 pesos and more on dinner-for-two at a fancy restaurant can’t appreciate the clamor for a pension increase in their lifetime.

Published in Business World
1 February 2016