THE CURIOUS CASE OF ROGIE SENDING: Investigation or bullying?

Something wrong is happening in the bowels of the House of Representatives compound where a veteran broadcaster had been languishing in detention since August 17. Rogelio Sending, known to his listeners in Tuguegarao City and, until a few years back in Metro Manila, as Bombo Rogie had been ordered detained there for 30 days.

Sending’s plight had been largely unreported by the press, except in Cagayan province and on social media. Ordinarily, such an occurrence to a member of the working press would gather immediate and widespread condemnation, as it should. But there was hardly a peep because Sending is no longer an organic employee of the network that he served for years but is now Cagayan’s provincial information officer. While he still graced the airwaves until last August 8, he was in fact an anchor of his daily radio program in behalf of the provincial government. On many days, he shared the radio booth with his boss, Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba. Technically, Sending has left the ranks of the working press since 2019 and is now a civil servant.

Sending’s troubles started when the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms jointly with the Committee on Public Accounts, following a privileged speech by Cagayan Third District Representative Joseph Lara, launched an investigation on alleged violations on the ban on public spending during an election campaign period. The meat of the allegation is that Mamba ordered his capitol employees to withdraw hundreds of millions and distribute these as financial aid to Cagayanos mere days before the May 9, 2022 local elections. Under the laws—even though the Commission on Audit said it appears the entire amount had been accounted for—that is prohibited.

Lara alleges that Mamba did not only commit graft but vote buying as well. And so the committees have summoned the governor and several other provincial government employees since March. Early on, Mamba submitted himself before his nemesis and the committees, several members of which were his colleagues when he was congressman himself. But the governor refused to answer their questions, citing a case of the same nature had been filed before a local court and providing answers may violate the sub-judice rule. The congresspersons had no choice but to excuse him but went after his subordinates in subsequent hearings.

Congress has the powers of the Constitution in conducting such investigations, and it should. That the government is very corrupt and graft-ridden is no longer a matter of debate. But there is much to be said on how congressional investigations and hearings are conducted. The investigation on Mamba is no different.

During the hearings, majority of the congresspersons went after Mamba’s subordinates with venom. The capitol employees were shouted at and could hardly get a word in even as they were simply trying to answer the congresspersons’ questions. They were reduced to stuttering most times, making them appear more guilty than Dismas and Gestas. Granting that it appeared the employees tried to cover up for their boss, the way the congresspersons treated them is plainly un-parliamentary.

Sending had been summoned to appear before the committees on August 7 and 9 but failed to do so on both dates. When he finally presented himself last August 12, he received even worse treatment than his colleagues. He tried to explain that contrary to allegations that he is not Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas-accredited broadcaster, he, in fact, is. He proved that he did not go on air on August 9 when he was supposed to be present in the hearing. Sending tried to explain that the reason why he failed to appear in previous hearings was because Cagayan was at the time recovering from the effects of Typhoon Egay and he was ordered by the governor to document relief efforts being conducted. Moreover, Sending said, he was confused as to whether he is allowed to absent himself from his duties in the province and had to wait for clear instructions from the capitol’s legal office.

But in failing to appear, Sending offended the high and mighty. On top of the very public flagellation he received, he was meted the extraordinary punishment of 30 days of detention for contempt of Congress.

Let us not talk here of the Paduanos, the Marcoletas and the Acops who, as hearings in both houses of Congress go, are of the same mold as their upper chamber colleagues, the Batos, Tulfos, Villars and Padillas. Let us instead talk about their colleague who started all these.

Lara, instigator of the so-called investigations, is Mamba’s political nemesis in the province of Cagayan. Lara’s wife was Mamba’s rival in the last local elections who lost badly to the latter. It is therefore not hard to see one other very compelling motive in all these.

Those who closely follow the proceedings could see that Lara’s complaint has a point. Mamba could have ordered the distribution of aid way before or even after the May 9, 2022 polls. It is not farfetched that his candidacy benefited from the aid distribution. The fact that his subordinates scrambled to withdraw the funds even without the expressed permission of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan adds weight to the allegations.

[On a possibly related issue: Is Mamba’s flagellation also intended to force him to withdraw his opposition to the two new EDCA sites in his province?]

But there is hypocrisy here. Who believes that traditional politicians do not buy votes, in Cagayan and in the entire country? I heard that a party in these investigations even pioneered the use of QR (quick response) codes in vote buying.

Congressional investigations are important in giving representatives a chance to craft better laws and to expose shenanigans in government. But these noble purposes are in danger of being seen as nothing more than witch hunt and self-serving vendetta when the real targets are missed and only foot soldiers are bleeding in the field of battle, in a manner of speaking.

I think the investigations on the misspending of public funds during the last elections in Cagayan have already established that those should not have been distributed when they did. But the fact that an information officer—one who absolutely had no power over said funds and had no hand in distributing them—is now suffering for it, is wrong. Governor Mamba is as powerful as his enemies, Sending is not.

Making underlings suffer when the real target is still out there is not judicious exercise of power. That is simply bullying. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Migrante Int’l warns of massive voters’ disenfranchisement among OFWs

Group blames Comelec’s late preparations

Overseas absentee voting may be far lower in this year’s elections, a migrant group warned, saying “concerning” late preparations by the poll body are to be blamed if it happens.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Migrante International (MI) said many overseas Filipinos may be disenfranchised or, at least, will not be given enough time to choose the best candidates for national elective posts.

MI said these are “due to the utter disregard of government officials in foreign posts on the significance of this year’s OAV presidential elections following the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Overseas absentee voting (OAV) starts on April 10 where overseas registered Filipino voters may vote for the country’s next president, vice president and 12 senators.

Migrant Filipino workers in Hong Kong line up outside the polling precinct in the 2016 elections. (Photo by Bayan Muna Hong Kong)

MI pointed out that in Hong Kong, the Consulate General in the Chinese territory held no meetings or consultations on the conduct of the elections until a Filipino community leader wrote to raise their concerns regarding the OAV.

“As of this writing, inspections of the ballot, voting machines and the place where the elections are still to be held,” MI said.

MI said its chapters in other countries report problems on polling places accessibility, poor mailing system of ballots, payment of postage stamps, as well as late delivery of and inspections of voting counting machines and other election paraphernalia.

DFA infographic

Low AOV turnout remains a problem despite a substantial increase in registered overseas voters, MI added.

There are 1.8 milliion registered overseas voters this year, the Department of Foreign Affairs reported.

The Commission on Elections Office of Overseas Voting said with Middle East & Africa leads with 786,997 registered overseas voters, Asia Pacific with 450,282; North & Latin America with 306,445; and Europe with 153,491.

In the 2016 presidential elections however, only 31.45 % cast their votes, a number that substantially decreased at 18.47% in the 2019 mid-term elections.

MI said their group continues to hold hope this year’s polls would elect new leaders who will address the root causes of forced migration in order for Filipinos to stop opting to work overseas. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Reds warn politicians against vote buying in 2022

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) reiterated its policy against vote buying within areas under its control during elections.

CPP chief information officer Marco Valbuena in a statement Thursday said the New People’s Army (NPA) prohibits politicians from engaging in vote buying within so-called revolutionary areas during the conduct of “reactionary elections.”

“Vote buying is one of the starkest manifestations of the rotten electoral system of the reactionary government. In the countryside, it reinforces and takes advantage of feudal social relations and perpetuates patronage politics that favor the ruling classes,” Valbuena said.

“Those who engage in vote buying are the most rotten of politicians,” the CPP spokesperson added.

Valbuena’s statement is in obvious reference to Vice President and presidential aspirant Leni Robredo’s earlier advice to voters to receive monies from politicians wishing to buy their votes but to choose according to their conscience nonetheless.

Robredo’s comment received flak and trended online.

The Commission on Elections said it is both illegal for candidates to buy votes and for voters to receive them.

National scourge

Valbuena said the CPP and NPA’s prohibition of vote buying in areas they control is aimed at ensuring that election campaigns are conducted in an orderly manner and not used to sow violence and terror among the people.

“Vote buying is prohibited in the revolutionary areas because it is typically accompanied by intimidation or coercion. It furthermore tends to sow disunity and bickering among the people with some receiving more than the others,” Valbuena explained.

The CPP spokesperson warned that politicians who will be caught in the act of vote buying will be apprehended and reprimanded.

“Monies will be seized and immediately turned over to the local organs of political power and reported to higher territorial governmental organs. These will be used to augment local funds used for socioeconomic programs for the benefit of the people,” he said.

Valbuena added that political parties and candidates who wish to conduct election campaigns in the revolutionary territories are also not allowed to bring firearms or have armed bodyguards, including military and police escorts or their own goons.

“This is to prevent them from subjecting people to armed intimidation, as well as avoid armed encounters during their campaign sorties,” Valbuena said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Prisoners’ support group asks poll body to extend voters’ registration

A prisoners’ support group asked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to extend the deadline to the ongoing voters’ registration to allow persons denied of liberty (PDL) to vote in next year’s national and local elections.

With just two weeks before the September 30 deadline, the group Kapatid said an extension shall allow prisoners’ to still “make a difference” through their votes

Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said, “It is important for PDLs, especially those wrongly imprisoned for crimes they did not commit – the Philippines’ political prisoners – to register and have their votes counted in the 2022 elections.”

“Imprisonment does not disenfranchise them of their right to vote and to have a say in the outcome of the upcoming crucial presidential elections,” Lim explained.

Kapatid’s request is the latest in the growing clamor for the Comelec to extend the deadline after a series of recent pandemic lockdowns severely limited the number of registrations the poll body could accept.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez however said the election commissioners are firm in sticking to the deadline as a strict preparation schedule has already been set for next year’s polls.

But Lim said the big number of eligible voters among PDLs may run of time to register or reactivate their registration within the remaining two weeks.

She said their group received reports that voters’ registration forms were being distributed in some jails.

“But as prisons remain in continuing lockdown, the Comelec has to move the deadline of registration and also push voter education to draw in more detainees eligible to vote,” Lim said.

Kapatid said about 74% of the country’s over 200,000 PDLs are still qualified to vote as they are still under trial while an undetermined number of those convicted have their cases under appeal.

“There are over 148,000 votes out there in jail facilities, and count in the votes too of their eligible family members. If they can all cast their ballots in May 2022 and vote for ‘worthy’ candidates, along with their relatives, they can make a difference,” Lim said.

Lim, wife of political prisoner and National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace consultant Vicente Ladlad, said next year’s election is crucial as voters, including PDLs, can hold politicians responsible for illegal arrests and murder, accountable for their “crimes against humanity.”

“The elections in 2022 could be a make or break as our country’s fragile institutions take a beating as never before in the hands of a President who pretends to shun the onus of accountability and culpability for his manifold human rights violations,” Lim said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Election commissioner Guanzon reveals threats from ‘Satanas’ Cardema

Election commissioner Rowena Guanzon accused former youth commissioner Ronald Cardema of issuing threats against her following the cancellation the latter’s nomination as the group Duterte Youth’s representative to the 18th Congress.

“[A]nother threat. “NAGMAMALINIS KA PA, IKAW DIN ANG MAY GAWA…SATANAS!” Guanzon said on her Twitter account Tuesday afternoon, August 6.

Guanzon tagged Cardeman’s Twitter handle in her post, adding “@RonaldCardema you will still deny this is from your gang of thugs?”

Guanzon’s tweet Tuesday afternoon.

Guanzon did not elaborate on the new threat.

Last July 18, Guazon announced receiving a threat via an anonymous text, saying “kapag inipit mo pa din kame at di pa din kame nakaupo ilalabas namin part 2 ng series mo at papakasohan ka pa namen.”

The First Division of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) granted petitions by various groups to cancel Cardema’s nomination, announced by Guanzon on her Facebook account last Monday, August  5.

“[T]his Commission reiterates its unmistakable conclusion based on facts, law and jurisprudence, that Respondent Ronald Gian Carlo L. Cardema is not eligible for nomination to represent Duterte Youth in the House of Representatives,” the decision reads, signed by Guanzon and fellow commissioner Marlon Casquejo.

Casquejo wrote the decision, Guazon revealed in another tweet.

In yet another tweet, Guazon added that the circumstances surrounding the withdrawal of all five Duterte Youth nominees and the subsequent nomination of Cardema speak resoundingly of a clear attempt not just to circumvent the law and the rules, but also to hide from the electorate Cardema’s ineligibility as nominee.

Cardema has yet to reply to Guanzon’s tweets.

In a statement, the Comelec Employees Union condemned the new threat against Guanzon.

“We say hands-off Commissioner Guanzon. We call on all parties concerned to respect the decision of the Comelec 1st Division,” the union, through its president Mac Ramirez, said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Makabayan bloc set to win 6 seats

The Makabayan bloc may still get as many as six seats in the House of Representatives as the National Board of Canvassers (NBOC) is set to proclaim the winners of the party list race tonight.

Despite relentless harassment and vilification by the military and police throughout the campaign period up to election day last May 13, the progressive parties amassed a total of 2,236,155 votes that may give the bloc up to six seats in the 18th Congress, just one less than its current number of representatives.

Bayan Muna is set to have three seats after garnering 1,117,403 votes representing 4.01% of all party list votes cast.  

It placed second behind high-spending ACT-CIS Party, the only other party to win three seats.

Gabriela Women’s Party placed 12th in the race, garnering 449,440 votes representing 1.61% of all party list votes cast and winning one seat.

ACT Teachers Party came close behind at 15th place, with 395,327 votes representing 1.42% of all party list votes cast and winning one seat.

Gabriela Womens’ and ACT Teachers’ each have two sitting representatives in the current 17th Congress.

Both groups are the only parties in their respective sectors elected to any legislature in the entire world.

At 51st place and the last group to win a seat is Kabataan Party, garnering 196,385 votes representing 0.70% of all party list votes cast.

Anakpawis, however, failed to win a seat, placing at 62nd place with 146,511 votes representing 0.53% of all party list votes cast.

The NBOC is set to proclaim all 51 winning parties at seven o’clock tonight at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City.

Gabriela Womens’ Party has two seats, ACT Teachers Party has two more while Bayan Muna, Kabataan and Anakpawis have one each in the current 17th Congress.

The bloc lost one seat in May 13’s elections.

Relentless attacks

Earlier, the Makabayan Bloc complained of threats and harassments of its campaigners, members and supporters by the military and police.

A massive “zero vote” was also launched in Mindanao prior to the elections while Davao City mayor Sara Duterte openly called on her constituents not to vote for Makabayan parties.

Makabayan members also suffered two massacres in Negros Island and arrests of supporters in Bulacan and Bohol whiles its supporters were prevented from voting in several regions across the country.

On election day last May 13, Philippine National Police officers distributed newsletters tagging Makabayan parties as communist fronts.

 “Despite many reports of fraud, the Rodrigo Duterte regime cannot defeat the people’s will,” Bayan Muna second nominee Ferdinand Gaite earlier told Kodao. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Incoming Duterte Youth congressman’

The Commission on Elections has yet to proclaim the winners of the party list elections and his petition to substitute “resigned” nominees has yet to be decided on, Duterte Youth chairperson Ronald Cardema has already claimed he is an “incoming congressman” in the House of Representatives.

Cartoon by Mrk Suva/Kodao

WANTED: An Independent Senate

By Jose Lorenzo Lim

Midterm elections have always been crucial for any incumbent, as results will either affirm or reject the programs and policies so far of the ruling party. The 2019 midterm elections, however, appears to be different, as it happens at the heels of the Duterte administration’s implementation of harshest neoliberal economic policies and undermining democracy. The Duterte presidency has seemingly consolidated the Executive, Lower House and even the Judiciary under its influence, and the Senate could be the last stronghold of democratic processes.

After weeks of campaigning, the 2019 midterm elections is near. Candidates vying for senatorial posts have traveled around the country seeking to convince Filipinos to vote for them. It remains to be seen whether or not we will have a truly independent senate after the May 2019 elections.

Quick voters scan

Looking at data from the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) shows that there are 61,843,750 voters in the Philippines with an additional 1,822,173 registered overseas voters for the 2019 midterm elections.

A breakdown of the voters shows that Region IV-A has the highest number of voters with 14%, followed by Region III with 11%, and the National Capital Region (NCR) with 11.4 percent. The Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) has the lowest number of voters with only 1.6% share of the total number of voters. The poorest regions also have a low number of voters. Both Region IX and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) only have 3.5% of the total number of voters.

For overseas voters, the Middle East and African regions have the highest number of voters with 48.7%, while the European region has the lowest share of voters with only 10.2 percent. 

While the huge number of voters does not automatically translate into voter turnout, in 2016 the country had an 84% voter turnout compared to 2013 with 77.3% and 2010 with 74.9 percent. Unsurprisingly, a high voter turnout can also be an indicator of dubious activities like flying voters.

Finding the right candidate

Instead of dancing around and telling rehearsed jokes repeatedly, what does IBON think candidates should stand for to deserve the Filipinos’ vote in the upcoming elections?

First, candidates should adhere to the advancement of socioeconomic strategies. Filipino industries should be protected and supported instead of allowing foreign companies to dominate the Philippine economy. An example is protecting and promoting the agriculture sector through production and price supports instead of flooding the market with imported agricultural goods, as is the rationale behind the Rice Tariffication Law, to lower inflation.

Candidates interested in genuinely effecting long-term reforms for the country’s production sectors should support genuine agrarian reform. The failure of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) to redistribute land to the tillers has only intensified landgrabbing and land use conversions for land market speculation. Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) records show that as of January 2019, there were still 549,920 hectares that need to be acquired and distributed. From 1988 to 2016, meanwhile, 98,939 hectares of land were approved for conversion while 120,381 hectares were approved for exemption from land reform coverage–but this is a conservative count as the real extent of land conversion may be underreported. After CARP, majority of so-called agrarian reform beneficiaries still do not own the land awarded to them or are in the process of being dispossessed because they are failing to amortize.

Third, candidates should be upholding people’s rights and welfare. Candidates should be firm in ending contractualization. It is still very much in place: Employment data shows that in 2018, 8.5 million workers of private companies and 985,000 workers in government agencies are still non-regular workers.

Additionally, legislating a national minimum wage of Php750 should also be a major agenda. Raising the average daily basic pay (ADBP) of Php401 nationwide to Php750 will in turn add Php7,649 to employees’ monthly income and Php99,432 to their annual income (including 13thmonth pay). This will cost the 35,835 establishments nationwide just Php465 billion or only 21.5% out of their Php2.16 trillion in profits.

Moreover, Republic Act (RA) 10963 or the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law should be repealed instead of taking out taxes especially from petroleum products which are socially sensitive. TRAIN means less money in the pockets of 8 out of 10 Filipinos as only 5.5 million Filipino families benefit from lower personal income taxes (PIT) while the remaining 17.2 million poorest households do not benefit from PIT but all pay higher consumer taxes.

Candidates should also ensure that basic social services will be accessible to every Filipino. That is why there is a need to build more public schools and public hospitals aside from allotting higher budgets to education and health. But 2019 budget for the Department of Health (DOH) for instance was cut by 8.13% compared to last year.

Lastly, candidates should promote environmental sustainability. For example, a candidate should be firm to stop destructive large-scale mining, as this causes irreparable damage not only to the country’s natural resources but to many indigenous communities. Another part of this is encouraging rational consumption. Our resources are finite – what we produce and consume must only be within our needs. Candidates should also promote an environment-friendly agriculture and industry.

The public has heard the candidates’ stances on various pertinent issues such as the TRAIN Law, Rice Tarrification Law, contractualization, and jobless growth. Now the candidates should bear in mind that whatever promises they made during the campaign period would be remembered by the people, who will hold them accountable when they take their posts this June 2019.

The last stand

The new senate should carry out the task of defending the current constitution against the Duterte administration’s push for federalism, neoliberalism, and self-serving political goals. The most consistent is the intent to fully liberalize the Philippine economy for foreign investors.

Relatedly, pending proposed amendments to the Human Security Act (HSA) aim to prevent critics, thereby putting basic human rights and civil liberties in peril. The HSA could expedite terrorist tagging and linking and subsequent surveillance, arrests, and restricting of legitimate people’s movements. The new senate should stand against this creeping authoritarianism.

The Philippine Senate could be the last democratic institution for the government’s checks and balances, independent of and not beholden to the power ambitions of the presidency and expected to side with the people and defend whatever remains of Philippine democracy, people’s rights and welfare, and the country’s sovereignty.

With all these considered, the 2019 midterm elections could be one of the Filipinos’ last stands for freedom and democracy. Depending on how their favorite candidates have explained these to them, they can now vote wisely. #

‘PNP talaga ang namimigay ng black propaganda materials’

“Nakita namin ang isang bulto ng newspaper sa mesa ng mga pulis. Mayroon ding mga lokal na nakapagsabi sa amin at may mga pictures na ang mga pulis talaga ang namimigay nito.”–Rexi Sora, Kontra Daya-Manila

Black propaganda ng PNP sa halalan

“Mali. Kasagsagan pa lang ng eleksiyon, gumagawa na sila ng black propaganda para wala nang bumoto sa partido namin.”–Teodora Tañola, Bayan Muna member.