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Business League: Congress of the Elite

By Yvette Balita, Joshua Poe Cadano, Dana Eunise Cruz and Arjay Ivan Gorospe

(Part three of three)

[Read the first part here: Party-list (Mis)Representatives]

[Read the second part here: Party-list groups: Family Enterprise]

While the Party-list System Act of 1995 aims to represent and enable marginalized and underrepresented sectors, multi-millionaires and billionaires remain to be the dominant members of the House of Representatives.

There have been instances where the party-list system had been used by the elite to further their business interests by taking advantage of national and local expenditures, as was the case in the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam.

From the 15th to the 17th Congress, Christopher Co of Ako Bicol  (AKB) and Mariano Michael Velarde Jr. of Buhay party-list have consistently been part of the richest party-list representatives. The representatives have net worths of P104.4 million and P52.4 million respectively, according to their Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) in 2017.

Other rich lawmakers from the past decade are Virgilio Lacson of Manila Teachers, Milagros Aquino-Magsaysay of Senior Citizen, Jesulito Manalo of Angkla, Michael Romero of 1-PACMAN, and Emmeline Aglipay-Villar of Diwa.

Conflict of interest?

Co, owner of Hi-Tone Construction and Development, has been in the top 10 list of richest party-list representatives from 2010 up to present. He is also the brother of Elizaldy Co, the head of the transnational group Sunwest Group of Companies, Tektone Global Technologies Foundation, commercial hub Embarcadero de Legazpi, and other construction firms, malls and resorts.

His net worth from 16th to 17th Congress surged by P8,731,517, and P8,008,565 from 15th to the 16th. He was investigated, along with other district representatives in 2014, due to conflicting business interests in the projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

The House committee on good government and accountability then investigated the release of at least P10.2 billion of the P69.7-billion congressional insertions spent in the last months of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The DPWH expended the infrastructure funds to 1,074 projects despite having no revenues, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson said during the hearing, adding that it is against the General Appropriations Act.

In the probe of the House committee, it turned out that the company of Co was among the top 10 contractors involved. The late Rep. Rodel Batocabe, his party mate, questioned the House committee probe to defend him.

Due to Ako Bicol’s business interests, members of the Confederation for the Unity, Recognition, and Advancement of Government Employees (Courage), a member-organization of poll watchdog Kontra Daya, filed a disqualification case against the party-list group in 2010. In an ABS-CBN news report, Ako Bicol admitted being funded by the Delfin A. Co Foundation which shouldered the group’s development projects and scholarship programs.

The petitioners also traced that the employment provided to thousands of Bicolanos were from Co’s Tektone Foundation. “Both Elizaldy and Christopher are wealthy magnates in Bicol and the Philippines and they together, cannot represent the marginalized and underrepresented sectors,” the petition says. In addition, the family of Co has close links to Arroyo.

In the same year, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) dismissed the petition against Ako Bicol since it had to uphold the will of the electorate after the party-list group obtained the most number of votes. But in 2012, Comelec disqualified Ako Bicol for the 16th Congress. Then Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes said that the group is a registered political party, not a marginalized people’s representative.

However, the Supreme Court released new parameters or guidelines for the party-list elections in 2013. It states that national parties or organizations and regional parties or organizations do not need to organize along sectoral lines and do not need to represent any marginalized and underrepresented sector. As a result, Comelec allowed Ako Bicol to run.

Mariano Michael Velarde Jr. is another lawmaker who joins Co in the top 10 list of multi-millionaire party-list representatives from 2010 to present. His father, Bro. Mike Velarde, is preacher and owner of Amvel Land Development Corporation.

In 2010, Kontra Daya asked Comelec to investigate 40 party-list groups which do not represent the marginalized and underrepresented sectors. Even if Velarde is one of those listed, he was still able to run under Buhay Party-list.

Re-electionists

Other partylist representatives in the top 10 list of millionaires in congress include Michael Romero, Jesulito Manalo, Emmeline Aglipay-Villar, Virgilio Lacson, and Milagros Magsaysay. These candidates were all elected during the 16th congress and re-elected in the 17th congress.

Richest Party-list Representatives of the 17th Congress

Name Partylist Networth Business Association Business-related bills forwarded
1) Michael Romero 1-PACMAN, 7,291,000,000.00 Globalport 900 Inc. GlobalPort Batang Pier (PBL team) 168 Ferrum Pacific Mining Position Harbour Center Port Terminal Inc. Mikro-Tech Capital Inc. Harbour Centre Port Holdings, Inc. R-II Holdings, Inc. MIC Holdings Corp. R-II Builders, Inc. enactment of House Bill (HB) 159 seeking to strengthen the right of government to expropriate lands for socialized housing
2) Emmeline Aglipay-Villar DIWA 1,407,459,436.00 Vista Land and Lifescapes Authored HB 04805, also known as An act mandating the Department of Agriculture to promote urban agricultural development in the country’s metropolitan areas, to address food security, and providing funds therefor
3) Virgilio Lacson Manila Teachers 791,690,847.37 Manila Teachers’ Savings and Loan Association He authored several bills on banking and finance including HB 08453, An Act instituting reforms in real property valuation and assessment in the philippines, reorganizing the bureau of local government finance, and appropriating funds therefor
4) Jesulito Manalo ANGKLA 118,639,794.00 He is one of the founders of Manalo and Perez Law Offices.  
5) Christopher Co AKO Bicol; 15th – 17th 104,440,082.50   CEO of Sunwest Group of Companies  
6) Milagros Magsaysay Senior Citizen 95,100,000.00 She is related to Ramon Magsaysay, the 7th President of the Philippines. She is also the grandmother of Miguel Corleon Magsaysay, a councilor in San Juan, La Union.    
7) Enrico Pineda 1 PACMAN 85,5000,000.00 Manny Pacquiao’s business manager; team manager of Pacquiao’s PBA team Mahindra Enforcer. He authored HB04054 which seeks to provide tax incentives to individuals and corporations giving donations, contributions, and grants to filipino athletes who have won medals in the summer olympic games
8) Michaelina Antonio AGBIAG 80,350,815.22 Her husband was the Partylist’s former Representative  
9) Aniceto Bertiz III ACTS OFW, 17th Congress 54,265,000.00 Global Asia Alliance Consultant Inc. He was involved in a heated discussion  with Eman Villanueva, a leader of OFWs in Hong Kong, after the latter brought up Bertiz’ recruitment agency.  He also authored HB 01302, an act establishing a special social security for migrant workers, which amends section 37-a of republic act no. 8042, on the compulsory insurance coverage by private insurers for agency hired workers.
10) Mariano Michael Velarde Jr. BUHAY 52,387,126.78 Son of Bro. Mike Velarde, the owner of Amvel Land Development Corporation. The other nominees of their party-list include William Irwin Tieng, whose family controls Solar Sports. A resolution directing the committee on revision of laws to index the fines under the revised penal code to adjust to present level of inflationary rates

Controversies

The Priority Development Assistance Fund scam, also called the PDAF scam or the pork barrel scam exposed large sums allegedly misused by several members of the Congress and Senate.

Based on the 2013 annual audit report of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos released and posted on the Commission on Audit website, the following partylist representatives released part of the PDAF and Disbursement Acceleration Program allocations to alleged bogus foundations and suppliers:

Partylist RepresentativePartylistAmount
Daryl Grace AbayonAangat TayoP 44.8 million
Salvador Cabaluna IIII-CareP 37.5 million
Michael Angelo RiveraI-CareP 27.5 million
Mariano PiamonteA-TeacherP 20 million
Maximo RodriguezAbante Mindanao Inc.P 15.5 million
Raymond Democrito MendozaTUCPP 14 million
Abigail FerriolKalingaP 11.35 million
Angelo PalmonesAghamP 10 million
Ranulfo CanonigoKakusaP 10 million
Manuel AgyaoKalingaP 5.5 million
Sharon GarinAAMBIS OwaP 5 million
Mark Aeron SambarPL-PBAP 5 million
Neil Benedict MontejoAn-WarayP 5 millon
Homer Mercado1-UtakP 4.5 million
Isidro LicoAting KoopP 3 million
Ponciano PayuyoApecP 2 million

Indeed, there is evidence to prove that the party-list system has been hijacked by the rich and powerful. The Party-list System Act of 1995 which is supposed to make the House of Representatives truly representative has made it cruelly repressive. #

Party-list (Mis)Representatives

By Kiana Cardeno, Nica Rhiana Hanopol, JM Casino, Ferdin Sanchez

(Part one of three)

The House of Representatives (HOR) is hardly representative.

In not so many words, a non-representative HOR is the reason for the enactment of the Party-list System Act in 1995 and the first party-list election held three years after. No less than the framers of the 1987 Constitution saw the need to establish a party-list system to ensure representation of the marginalized and underrepresented.

While its 2001 decision helped define what is meant by marginalized and underrepresented, the Supreme Court practically reversed itself 12 years later. On April 5, 2013, the highest court of the land decided that party-list groups do not need to represent any marginalized or underrepresented sector.

“In effect, anyone actually by that decision can join the party-list,” said Alicor Panao, a researcher on party-list systems and a political science professor from the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman.

From two dominant parties in the 1950s, Nacionalista Party and Liberal Party, Republic Act (RA) 7941, or the Party-list System Act, sought to provide the broadest possible representation for the Filipino people, most especially the poor and marginalized.

Over the last decade, the trends of proportionality in the House of Representatives have favored regional and workers groups, holding the most number of seats.

At present, more than 40 of active party-lists are now seated in Congress supposedly on behalf of laborers, peasants, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, elderly, handicapped, women, youth, veterans, overseas workers, and professionals.

Many of those claiming to represent these marginalized sectors do not belong to these sectors and are members of well-entrenched political dynasties and special interest groups. Some have been implicated in corruption investigations while others have been known to promote special business interests. They are among the 59 party-list representatives occupying seats in Congress today.

Contradicting Actions

Some party-list representatives have been exhibiting contradicting platforms and have backgrounds that oppose what their party supposedly stands for.

1-PACMAN, a party geared toward supporting “marginalized nationals,” is represented by Michael Romero, who is a high-profile industrialist with a net worth of P7.2 billion, according to his Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) in 2017. He is also the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of several corporations such as Mikro-tech Capital, Inc, Harbour Centre Port Holdings, Inc., 168 Ferrum Pacific Mining Corp., Manila North Harbour Port, Inc., and GlobalPort 900 Inc. An author and co-author of 473 bills, only four of these may be classified as poverty alleviation.

Similar to Romero, Rep. Rico Geron of AGAP party-list is a multi-millionaire who claims to represent agricultural workers. He is the former chief executive officer (CEO) of Sorosoro Ibaba Development Cooperative (SIDC), one of the largest agricultural cooperatives in the country. In 2016, SIDC’s employees went on strike citing unjust labor policies like low pay and contractualization. That year, Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan (Pamantik-KMU) condemned the “anti-worker nature” of Geron and his party-list group.

Meanwhile, other party-list representatives have also been accused  misdeeds.

Incumbent Rep. Arnel Ty of LPGMA or the LPG Marketers Association, a party-list that advocates “the need of the consuming public to have access to lower-priced LPG,” was found guilty of the unauthorized refilling of branded LPG tanks belonging to oil companies, violating Batas Pambansa Blg. 33 or “short selling and adulteration of petroleum and petroleum products” in 2016.

Along with former Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, incumbent AGRI Rep. and garlic trader Orestes Salon faced graft charges filed by the Office of the Ombudsman. Salon and his 23 co-accused were allegedly able to monopolize the supply of garlic during the Aquino administration, manipulating the prices of garlic from 2010 to 2014.

Salon, who supposedly champions the rights of farmers in the country, posted a bail of P30,000 for his alleged involvement in the garlic cartel.

Ang Mata’y Alagaan (MATA) party-list claims to represent the blind and visually impaired. Also engaged with the overall health of the Filipino, the group also claims to give away free medicine, consultations, operations, and dental missions. However, MATA party-list Rep. Tricia Velasco-Catera is the daughter of retired SC Justice Presbitero Velasco and re-electionist Torrijos Mayor Lorna Velasco. The former Supreme Court justice is now running as governor of Marinduque. Tricia’s brother Lord Allan Jay Velasco is running for congressional re-election. Ethics complaints were filed against Velasco-Catera over her alleged “highly unethical activities,” such as Gluta-drip sessions at her office in the House of Representatives during working hours.

Pinoy Aksyon for Governance and Environment (Page) said that the use of Glutathione drips is highly discouraged by established medical professionals. As reported by Rappler, Page questioned whether Velasco-Catera’s practice was safe or legal under the code of ethics for doctors, especially for having the Gluta-drip sessions inside her office. “One’s office cannot be considered a medical clinic. We do not want to even consider the dire consequences if something untoward happens to Rep. Catera in the very premises of the House of Representatives due to such unregulated practice of medicine,” Page said.

History of Disqualifications

In October 2012, Ang Galing Pinoy (AGP) was disqualified from the 2013 elections for failing to meet requirements on representation. They were among the 54 party-list groups and organizations that were barred from participating in the said elections. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) disqualified AGP because its nominees “did not represent its chosen marginalized sectors.”

Panao said that it is important to look at these political parties internally, specifically on the lack of proper guidelines on how nominees are chosen. He said that once a party successfully meets the qualifications set, they basically already have the freedom to choose whoever their nominee is, as long as they achieve the bare minimum. “If people elect [them], it can happen na yung mga nominee ay member ng political dynasty, member ng traditional or outterm, former district representative. So, pwede siyang gamiting backdoor.”

AGP aimed to represent the interests of such sectors as security guards, tricycle drivers, FX drivers, taxi drivers, and street vendors. One of AGP’s principal nominees was Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, son of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and was neither a security guard nor tricycle driver. At the time, the younger Arroyo was facing inquiries regarding his wealth, which by some reports increased from P5.7 million in 2001 to P101.3 million in 2009.

Following the 2013 SC decision, AGP was one of the party-list groups whose cases were not remanded to Comelec and remained disqualified. Furthermore, even after the SC decision, they decided not to appeal. AGP was then removed from the 2013 ballots, concluding with finality that they were not permitted to run in that year’s midterm elections.

A Backdoor Entry

Six years after the Atong Paglaum case, the party-list system has cemented itself as a backdoor entry for traditional politics in the already elite-dominated House of Representatives.

In 2012, the Comelec initiated special proceedings that sought the disqualification of several partylist groups after public outcry over the proliferation of nominees who were neither marginalized nor underrepresented. Groups like Kontra Daya filed disqualification cases against what they described as “fake” or non-marginalized partylist groups.

The groups disqualified by the Comelec soon brought their case to the Supreme Court. With the consolidation of 54 petitions from 52 party-list groups in 2013, the SC was prompted to decide on Comelec’s disqualification case against various groups from running in the May elections of the same year.

Among the most common grounds that Comelec cited for the disqualifications were:

1.    The sector the party-lists aimed to represent were neither marginalized nor underrepresented

2.    The nominees did not belong to those sectors

3.    The nominees / political parties did not have extended histories in supporting their chosen sectors

A number of the grounds for disqualification were essentially rendered null by the SC decision, which set six new parameters to which the Comelec must adhere in determining who was allowed to participate in the May 2013 elections. The decision’s fourth parameter states that “it is enough that the party-lists’ principal advocacy pertains to the special interests and concerns of the sector.”

Renato Reyes, secretary-general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), said that this results in narrower representation, especially when measuring who gets to sit. “Mas-kumikitid yung representation… kasi yung party-list sana would have allowed other sectors to be represented. Pero yung mga dati nang nakaupo, gusto nila pati iyong partylist i-claim nila, hawakan nila, because it helps concentrate power in the hands of a few.”

While disadvantaged groups have their own seats, the law in its current form does not protect them from unfair competition, according to Reyes. “Ang dilemma is how can they compete during the elections doon sa mga dynastic party-list groups, tsaka sa mga well-funded local machineries? So yung mga party-list groups na talagang galing sa mga mahihirap yung kanilang kinatawan, lagi silang mahihirapang mag-compete and manalo ‘pag ang kalaban nga nila yung mga dynasties at yung mga bilyonaryo.”

Meanwhile, Panao said that the low requirement of only two percent to gain seats, albeit limited to three, also results in almost identical parties. “Hindi sila ganun ka-productive kasi hindi sila maka-forge ng alliance… hindi sila nagtutulungan kasi ine-alienate mo na no’ng kampanya ninyo; nagkaroon ng fragmentation sa halip na unity. Parties are meant to unify your preferences, that’s the point of party-list, whether you like it or not.”

In the 17th congress, Kalinga Party-list, whose nominee is one of the poorest in Congress, was only able to file a total of 40 bills, whereas Ako Bicol Party-list, which listed multi-millionaires Christopher Co and Rodel Batocabe, filed 1,163 bills.

Despite the high number of bills authored and co-authored by Ako Bicol, only 55 unique bills were passed into law. The party-list was the main sponsor of 39 of these bills, and a co-sponsor of 16. These laws, however, were not directly concerned with the welfare of Bicolanos, the region they claim to represent.

In his statement in an interview with ABS-CBN, the late Ako Bicol Rep. Rodel Batocabe said that authoring bills that would only benefit Bicol would be “tantamount to class legislation and a violation of the equal protection clause of the constitution.”

“Amend it or craft a new law that defines with lesser ambiguity – with no ambiguity – those gray portions and those gray areas of the law. Ang nangyayari sa akin ngayon we have the law, we don’t amend it, and we let the Supreme Court do the interpretation,” Panao said. #

(Part 2: Party-list groups: Family Enterprise)

NDFP welcomes House resolution urging Duterte to resume talks

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines welcomed a resolution by a special committee of the House of Representatives urging the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) to resume its peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

In a statement, NDFP chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said the resolution is a positive move by the committee members that contributes to calls of various other sectors and groups to continue the peace negotiations.

The Special Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity chaired by Tawi-Tawi Representative Ruby Sahali passed the resolution Wednesday, September 12, urging the resumption of the peace talks terminated by Duterte in November 2017.

“It is highly imperative that Congress hears and echoes the Filipino people’s desire for the resumption of the peace negotiations and for the GRP and NDF to forge substantive agreements that will resolve the root causes of the nearly five-decade old armed conflict,” the resolutions reads.

“It is the cause for a just and lasting peace itself that is the very compelling reason to continue the peace negotiations,” the resolution, co-authored by Sahali and Reps. Jesus Nonato Sacdalan, Lourdes Acosta, Leopoldo Bataoil, Deogracias Victor Savellano, Lawrence Fortun, Rodante Marcoleta, adds.

The resolution further states that continuing the peace talks would benefit the Filipino people, most of whom are poor peasants and workers, as the agreement on agrarian reform and national industrialization may address their issues and concerns and help provide relief for their economic hardships.

“We hope this welcome move by the House Special Committee can encourage President Duterte to go back to the negotiating table and work towards a just and lasting peace,” Agcaoili said.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza for his part thanked the Committee, adding the GRP has not totally terminated the talks.

“We know very well that the President had already cancelled the peace negotiations, but he had said the table for the door for resumption is still wide open. We did not totally shut this,” Dureza was quoted as saying by the House of Representatives Press and Public Affairs Bureau.

Open and without preconditions

In his statement, Agcaoili said the NDFP said it is always open to resumption of peace negotiations but in accordance with all signed agreements with the GRP and without preconditions.

He said the agreements include The Hague Joint Declaration, the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantee, and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.

Agcaoili added that when Duterte unilaterally terminated the peace talks, significant advancements in the negotiations have already been made, such as tentative agreements on the sections of agrarian reform and rural development and national industrialization and economic development of the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER), coordinated unilateral ceasefire, and amnesty of all political prisoners listed by the NDFP.

“These agreements had been formulated and initialed by representatives of the GRP and NDFP during the monthly informal or back channel talks from March to June 2018 and were subject to finalization in the aborted fifth round of formal talks [last] June 28,” Agcaoili said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

UNITED PEOPLE’S SONA 2018: ‘Walang forever na diktador!’

Tens of thousands of protesters filled the main avenue leading to President Rodrigo Duterte’s third State of the Nation Address last July 23, 2018.

The march and protest rally, dubbed the broadest SONA protest against arroyo gathered groups from many political colors and stripes, leading Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. to quip that they should thank Duterte for uniting them.

Former Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares’ speech was greeted with cheers when he announced that Duterte’s address had been delayed due to the tug-of-war for the Speakership of the House of Representatives.

Journalists slam bill wanting jail time for generic use of the word ‘Lanao’

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) slammed a bill at the House of Representatives wanting to jail journalists who generically use the word “Lanao” to refer to both Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur Provinces.

In a position paper, the group “strongly urge[d] the House Committee on Public Information to reject Lanao del Norte 1st District Rep. Mohamad Khalid Q. Dimaporo’s House Bill 4780 proposing jail time of up to six years and fines of up to P100,000 for journalists if they fail to distinguish between the Lanao provinces in their reports.

“If passed, the bill would violate Article III, Section 4 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, to wit: ‘No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances,’” NUJP said.

At a House hearing last last week, Dimaporo said Iligan City and Lanao del Norte suffer whenever reports use the generic name “Lanao” when these refer to Lanao del Sur because of the ongoing conflict in Marawi City.

“We lose potential investors because they think that Lanao del Norte is also involved in the ongoing war in our southern neighbor,” Dimaporo explained.

The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) in the same hearing also opposed the measure.

“Such practice is only probably due to space and time limitations and not malice,” the KBP representative said.

Dimaporo admitted during the hearing he failed to consider talking first to journalists and media outfits before filing his bill.

The NUJP said Congress should not readily craft laws punishing journalists, adding good journalism could not be legislated.

“Because journalism, while a profession, is also an extension of the right to free expression in the service of the people’s right to know, we believe it is the duty of the state to encourage and support good journalism instead of seeking to craft laws that would only serve to stifle or force into conformity the freedom of the press and of expression,” the NUJP said.

The Union also took exception to Iloilo Rep. Sharon Garin’s recommendation for a review of laws that may protect “bad journalists.”

“We maintain that no such laws exist, only laws that are invariably used to suppress good journalism, such as the criminal libel law,” the NUJP said.

“We reiterate our long-standing demand to decriminalize libel,” it added.

Citing other bills before the committee saying the Philippines is among the countries with the most number of media killings, NUJP said journalists need more laws to protect and promote – not suppress – good journalism and free expression. # (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)

 

Activists defend rights commission, slam 1000 budget by HoR

BANGKOK, Thailand—Activists came to the defense of the beleaguered Commission on Human Rights (CHR) after the House of Representatives (HoR) gave the agency a thousand-peso budget in 2018.

In a statement, human rights group Karapatan said the 119 representatives who approved the punitive budget are “sycophants…(who) are having a field day with their fascist and anti-people schemes in the past days.”

Karapatan added the HoR decision is an attempt by the chamber’s so-called super majority to clip the functions of a constitutional body mandated to check on the human rights violations of State actors.

“We view the recent attempts of the (Rodrigo) Duterte administration to de facto abolish the CHR as a dangerous step that undermines available mechanisms for redress for human rights violations in this so-called democratic form of government,” Karapatan said.

A representative who voted against the budget said Duterte’s HoR wants to cripple the CHR.

“(The thousand peso) budget for the CHR will cripple it amidst the extrajudicial killings, military and police abuse, (and) state-sanctioned violence,” Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago said.

In the plenary debate on the 2018 General Appropriations Bill Tuesday night, 1-Sagip Rep. Rodante Marcoleta moved for the P1,000 budget , accusing the CHR for failing to investigate alleged violations by terrorists.

Marcoleta’s move mirrored HoR Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’s threat last August 7 to give no budget to the CHR.

“Kung ako ang tatanungin ninyo e, zero kapag ganyan ang performance. Bakit? Hindi natin ia-abolish kasi constitutional budget, eh di wag mong bigyan ng budget yan,” Alvarez said.

Asked to comment on the HoR vote, Alvarez said his desire for a zero budget was not actually granted.

“Hindi naman zero. One thousand. Kasi hindi nila ginagawa ang trabaho nila. Yung mandato nila under the Constitution, hindi nila ginagawa,” Alvarez said.

The speaker said if the CHR wants to protect the rights of criminals, it is better off asking the criminals for a budget.

Duterte, for his part, blamed CHR chairperson Chito Gascon for the HoR decision, saying the agency chief had it coming.

“Dilawan talaga iyan e,” Duterte in a press conference said.

Meanwhile, Gascon said they are saddened by the HoR’s “whimsical and capricious display of vindictiveness” but are grateful to the 32 representatives who voted against the budget.

We were heartened by many members of the House who stood their ground to defy the tyranny of numbers shamelessly exhibited tonight (Tuesday),” Gascon said in a statement.

“We draw strength from their solidarity as we press on with pursuing our mandate to uphold and defend the human rights of all,” he added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)