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A YEAR OF HEROES: A 2022 Yearender

By Renato Reyes Jr., Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general

I will remember 2022 for the heroic sacrifices of comrades and friends who fought for a just, free and democratic society. While there are those are no longer with us, there are also those who continue on the path of resistance. I offer this year-ender as a tribute to all those who have departed while serving the people to their very last breath. I likewise give recognition to the tireless work done by the different sectors, groups and organizations who remain steadfast amid great difficulties. The propaganda machinery of the state will try their best to vilify them and tarnish their memory, but the people know better and these lies will ultimately be exposed.

The start of the year saw the passing of Rita T. Baua, our longest serving official in Bayan, after a battle with cancer. A week before her passing, she struggled to sit on the hospital bed, to raise her fist, for a picture that would be sent to comrades and friends, as if to challenge them to keep fighting.

Not long after Rita’s passing, we mourned the death of Chad Booc who was killed together with Lumad volunteer teacher Jojarain Alce Nguho III, health worker Elgyn Balonga, and drivers Roberto Aragon and Tirso Añar. The military claimed there was an encounter but witnesses deny this. Their deaths were again part of a “fake encounter” used to justify the extrajudicial killings. We also bade goodbye this year to Nelia Sancho, a stalwart of the feminist movement in the Philippines and former Gabriela founder and Bayan chair. This year, we also lost Marie Hilao Enriquez, the former chair of Karapatan, due to illness.

Towards the end of the year, we grieved the death of our dear friend Ericson Acosta, who was killed by the military in another “fake encounter” in Kabankalan, Negros . His death weighed heavily on us, coming a little over a year after the death of his wife Kerima Tariman. The outpouring of love and support however from various sectors and from the cultural community assures us that his memory will live on. The fight for justice will continue in 2024.

And then there was the death of the revolutionary trailblazer and thinker Prof. Jose Ma. Sison, 83, which was mourned all over the world, most especially by activists and revolutionaries in the Philippines. Tributes came in from different groups and personalities amid the relentless attacks by the enemies of the people and absurd restrictions and repeated take-downs by social media giant Facebook. His memory lives on in the people’s struggles for national and social liberation.

The electoral campaign

The year 2022 was marked by intense struggles, from the electoral campaign, to the resistance to a Marcos restoration, continuing human rights violations and the worsening economic crisis.

The first half of the year saw an upsurge in mass mobilizations during the electoral campaign in support of the Opposition forces against the Marcos-Duterte tandem. Hundreds of thousands of people joined the Leni-Kiko rallies across the country. Issues such as the Marcos ill-gotten wealth, human rights violations and abuse of power were discussed on a daily basis during the campaign. After two years of pandemic restrictions, it was time for the people to turn out in large numbers to let their voices be heard. Thousands of volunteers went house to house, and undertook a massive campaign to counter the well-funded machinery of the Marcoses.

The Marcos-Duterte tandem employed a combination of vote-buying, massive disinformation, red-tagging and fascist repression, together with a non-transparent automated election system, to be able to claim victory. It was apparent that despite the clam of 31 million votes, there were no spontaneous celebrations of so-called Marcos supporters in the aftermath of the counting. There were however protest marches in front of the Comelec, near the PICC, the CHR and in Plaza Miranda in the days after the election results were announced.

While Leni Robredo may have conceded the elections, many refused to simply accept the outcome and vowed to continue fighting. Ika nga, kapag namulat, kasalanan na ang pumikit. We welcome the many concerned individuals and activists who have taken the extra step beyond the electoral arena, and into the much wider arena of struggle for systemic change.

Political prisoners fight back

This year saw the release of several political prisoners including labor leader Dennise Velasco, and the Tondo 3 of Reina Mae Nasino, Alma Moran and Ram Carlo Bautista, Bayan Panay chair Elmer Forro, Bayan CL chair Pol Viuya, Karapatan human rights worker Nimfa Lanzanas from Laguna, and several others from Bicol and Cagayan. They are all victims either of questionable search warrants or plain trumped-up charges. The State, especially under Duterte, has resorted to the perversion of the legal system and gross violations of due process just so they could put activists behind bars. Many remain incarcerated on false charges, including several peace consultants of the NDFP. The political prisoners who continue to struggle even when behind bars, are among this year’s heroes.

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The Filipino people observed the 50th anniversary of the imposition of Marcos’ martial law with a firm commitment to never forget and to fight historical distortions aimed at whitewashing the crimes of the dictator. During this period, there were lectures, historical tours, film screenings, and a huge gathering in UP, all with the same message of “never again” and “never forget”. Katips the Movie served as a timely counterpoint to Maid in Malacanang. The Bantayog ng mga Bayani became a classroom for lessons on history.

Revolutionaries are not terrorists

On the same day the Filipino people were commemorating the 50th anniversary of Martial Law, news broke that a Manila RTC judge dismissed the proscription case filed against the Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army. Overnight, Judge Marlo Malagar became the number one target of the mouthpieces of the NTF-ELCAC, which even earned one a show cause order from no less than the Supreme Court. The decision of Judge Malagar provides an interesting legal insight on why revolutionaries, and those who take up arms for clear political objectives and programs, are not necessarily terrorists. It also exposed the folly of the Philippine government’s attacks against the revolutionary forces, instead of addressing the roots of the armed conflict.

PH human rights record under scrutiny

The Philippine government’s human rights record came under heavy scrutiny by United Nations member-states during the regular Universal Periodic review. Several states called for accountability in the drug war killings under Duterte, an end to red-tagging of activists and journalists, and for the Philippines to rejoin the ICC. The Philippine government was put on the defensive over the lack of meaningful changes in the human rights situation in the Philippines after the Marcos regime took power. During the year, we witnessed intense militarization of the cities and countryside, including the bombings and artillery shelling of communities and forrest areas suspected of being NPA encampments. The practice of forcing civilians to “surrender” as members of the NPA, to be paraded in public as part of the so-called “localized peace talks” aka “surrender talks”, continues.

Another victory for justice was achieved when a Bacolod court convicted two military personnel over the killing of labor organizer and Bayan Muna coordinator Benjamin Bayles 12 years ago in Himamaylan, Negros Occidental.

Protests against Kamala, US military aid

During the second half of the year, US Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Philippines to promote the lopsided US-PH relations. The US continues to maintain its strategic interest in the Philippines and Asia, with Marcos Jr providing unqualified support for his imperialist masters. Marcos Jr, during his recent trip to the US, which was met with daily protests, Marcos said he could not imagine a future without the US. The US State Department meanwhile has pledged to provide $100 million in military aid to the Philippines, which will likely be used for state terrorism against revolutionary groups and the people. Marcos is seen moving closer to the US than his predecessor.

The economic crisis and the people’s response

The start of the Marcos II regime was marked by public debt at a historic high, soaring inflation, a weakening peso, and a clamor for higher wages and lower prices. Inflation and low wages were consistently the top two concerns of the people, according to surveys. This year brought us record high prices for gasoline and onions, bringing tears to the eyes of consumers.

Amid the economic crisis, the Marcoses were seen partying in Singapore for the F1 Grand Prix, an incident which drew widespread criticism of the ostentatious lifestyle of the President.

Before the year ended, labor groups and consumers were clamoring for a substantial wage hike and for government intervention to lower prices. Various labor groups joined forces for a huge march on November 30, the birth anniversary of the revolutionary Andres Bonifacio, to call for the implementation of the family living wage.

Mass transport crisis remains

As COVID restrictions were eased and the movement of people increased, the issue of the mass transport crisis again came to the fore. Free rides at the EDSA Carousel are about to end, and the Marcos regime is now thinking of privatizing the carousel. The NAIA is also slated for privatization. Instead of investing in mass transport and basic transportation facilities, the Marcos regime has chosen the discredited path of privatization which will inevitably lead to price increases and profit guarantees shouldered by tax payers. Just take a look at the water services which are set to increase again over the next five years, or the rising cost of privatized electricity which are a source of non-stop burden for consumers. Privatizing mass transport shows a lack of effort and long-term solutions on the part of the government.

SIM card registration

Before the year ended, mobile phone users were forced to register their SIM cards starting December 27. On its first few days, there were already problems that threatened the privacy of consumers. Selfies were required from people registering their prepaid SIM cards even if such was not part of the law. Some telcos made their subscribers sign waivers on the use of their data by the telcos, which proved the criticism of various groups that user’s privacy will be compromised as telcos attempt to profit from these. The collection of user’s personal information in a data base by telcos poses many problems which we are seeing unfold right now. It will only be a matter of time before this law is again challenged in the courts and in the streets.

Mandatory ROTC and Maharlika Fund

Before session ended, two measures were rushed by the allies of the President in the Lower House, These were the Maharlika Investment Fund, whose name was a deliberate throwback to the dictator Marcos, and the two-year mandatory National Citizens Service Training (NCST) program. The Maharlika Investment Fund was initially met with strong opposition when it proposed to utilize the pension funds of the SSS and GSIS. The proposal comes in the wake of massive public debt and a looming global recession in 2023. It has been branded as a vehicle for crony capitalism, wherein state funds are funneled into companies with suspected links to the families in power. The NCST meanwhile has been criticized as “mandatory ROTC in disguise” and as another means of extending the reach of the military inside educational institutions.

For the year 2023, we draw inspiration from our heroes who have passed on, and from the heroes who continue to fight on despite tremendous challenges. We have an unshakeable faith in the people, in their capacity to understand, act and triumph. Ang masa, ang siyang tunay na bayani, as the song goes. We remain ever optimistic and steadfast in the struggle. #

BAYAN urges Palace to summon, even expel, Chinese ambassador

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) urged the Philippine government to summon the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China and demand an explanation for the Chinese Embassy’s continuing disrespect of the country’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

In a reaction to the Embassy’s statement claiming the Julian Felipe Reef as Chinese, Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said Ambassador Huang Xilian should be expelled if his explanation is unsatisfactory.

“The statement of the Chinese Embassy claiming the Julian Felipe Reef as well as dismissal of our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the arbitral court decision of the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas (UNCLOS) is unacceptable,” Reyes said.

Reyes added that the Embassy’s assertion that the Philippines has no rights over its EEZ is disrespectful.

“We have sovereign rights over our EEZ. Chinese fishing vessels must not be allowed there. They should not decimate the riches of the sea that should only be for the benefit of Filipinos,” he said.

Bayan’s remark came after the Embassy dismissed Saturday demands by Philippine defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana for Chinese vessels to leave Julian Felipe Reef off the coast of Palawan province.

‘Chinese fishing ground’

In a statement, the Chinese Embassy said Lorenzana’s statement are “perplexing” and “unprofessional remarks.”

The Embassy added that what the Philippine calls the Julian Felipe Reef is called Niu’e Jiao that is part of China’s Nansha Islands.

“The waters around Niu’e Jiao have been a traditional fishing ground for Chinese fishermen for many years. The Chinese fishermen have been fishing in the waters for their livelihood every year,” the Embassy said.

“It is completely normal for Chinese fishing vessels to fish in the waters and take shelter near the reef during rough sea conditions. Nobody has the right to make wanton remarks on such activities,” it added.

More than 200 Chinese boats have been reported to have stayed near the reef for several weeks since March, raising howls of protest across the Philippines.

The Chinese said the boats have only sought refuge in the reef due to rough waters.

Lorenzana on Saturday said the remaining 44 Chinese vessels that are in Julian Felipe Reef should leave.

“I am no fool. The weather has been good so far, so they have no other reason to stay there. These vessels should be on their way out. Umalis na kayo diyan,” Lorenzana said.  (You should leave.)

In a later statement Sunday, Lorenza said the utter disregard by the Chinese Embassy in Manila of international law specially the UNCLOS is “appalling”.

Lorenza pointed out that the PRC is a party to the UNCLOS.

“Its nine-dash line claim is without any factual or legal basis. This, together with its so-called historical claim, was flatly and categorically rejected by the arbitral tribunal,” he added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Groups: ‘New ECQ is display of gov’t’s incompetence’

Groups condemned government’s announcement of plans to put Metro Manila and and provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Bulacan, and Rizal under the strictest quarantine measure anew.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) recommendation to President Rodrigo Duterte for another round of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) is a display of “never-ending cycle of incompetence.”

“We are going back to ECQ but without the government assurance that there will be increased free mass testing, better contact tracing and increased capacity of our hospitals including more health workers. We are going back to ECQ without the assurance of aid for the economically displaced,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said.

Reyes said the IATF recommendation again places the burden and sacrifice squarely on the people.

“We cannot merely rely on lockdowns to stop the spread of COVID. The lockdowns are only supposed to buy government time to beef up the health care system,” Reyes added.

In a Facebook post on March 27, Presidential spokesperson Herminio Roque Jr said the ECQ shall again involve the heightened presence of uniformed personnel to enforce community quarantine protocols.

Curfew shall also be imposed from six o’clock in the evening to five o’clock the next morning.

Nearly 10,000 new cases daily are being reported in the Philippines in the past few days, the worst in the Western Pacific.

Migrante International also scored the announcement, saying the new lockdown measures only show the Duterte government has failed in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

Migrante said the government’s militaristic response is to blame for the country’s failure to check the spread of the virus, including its new variants.

“Kaya po sa pagbabalik ng ECQ sa ating bansa, ang kailangan po natin ngayon ay panagutin ang mga nagkasala, ang mga nagkulang at naging palpak mula nang unang ipatupad ang lockdown noong isang taon,” Migrante International said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

BAYAN, ipinaliwanag ang #DutertePalpak sa pandemya

Ipinaliwanag ni Renato Reyes, pangkalahatang kalihim ng Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), ang aniya’y maraming kapalpakan ng gubyernong Rodrigo Duterte sa isang taong pagharap ng bansa sa pandemyang coronavirus. Sa harap ng Commission on Human Rights sa Quezon City noong Marso 17, 2021, inilahad ni Reyes ang kawalan ng maayos na sistema sa pagharap sa pandemya na nagdulot ng isang taong nagdurusa ng mamamayan sa mga hakbangin ng pamahalaan. Kabilang dito ang matinding pagbagsak ng ekonomiya, malawakang pagkawala ng trabaho, walang sapat na ayuda sa mga maralita, at patuloy pagdami ng nagkakasakit ng COVID – 19.

Beyond late night pep talks

By Renato Reyes, Jr.

The government tries hard to convince us that we are doing fine compared to the rest of the world despite the widespread complaints and sufferings of the people who are under lockdown due to the corona virus disease (Covid-19).

The Philippines has had to resort to extreme quarantine measures precisely because of the failure of the Duterte regime to impose travel restrictions, do proper contact tracing, and recognize in a timely manner the local transmission that had been ongoing in the country. Don’t tell us we are better off. We are in this difficult situation because government downplayed many of the red flags early on. Remember that time when a patient from Greenhills with no travel history was infected with the virus, and health secretary Francisco Duque said that’s not local transmission because it’s just one person?

The people want the spread of the disease to stop through the necessary health measures such as community quarantine, mass testing, isolation and treatment of patients. The expanded quarantine has become necessary to slow down the spread of the disease given that our health system cannot cope with the rise of new cases. Slowing down the spread of the disease entails stopping the movement of people, especially when we do not yet have a clear picture of the extent of the infections. A University of the Philippines study projects that as many as 140,000 to 550,000 can be infected especially in densely populated urban poor communities.

Lifting the quarantine will be done based on two factors according to the DOH: lower number of new cases and the increased capacity of the health system to treat patients (enough hospital beds, respirators, doctors). The lifting may not be done abruptly because of the dangers of the virus infecting more people. This may require calibrated or gradual lifting of quarantine measures or lockdown. Some areas may take more time because they have a high incidence of infections.

What will prolong the lockdown is the failure of the government to implement the necessary health measures to confront the pandemic. What will prolong the lockdown is the failure of government to implement the needed economic support for the people. A hungry populace will not stay put and will break quarantine protocols, and will be more vulnerable to sickness. Kaya talagang mahigpit na magka-ugnay yung health at economics.

And if the lockdown is lifted, we have to fix major issues in the workplace, housing, sanitation, mass transportation, education and so on. We cannot just return to the way things were — with gross inequality and government neglect of social services laying the basis for more infections. The first thing we will be demanding after the lockdown is lifted is CHANGE. We do not want to go back to the way things were.

Those telling us we are doing fine are the ones that got us into this dire situation in the first place. They best heed the growing demands of the people and undertake the needed health and economic measures, else we will be looking at a longer lockdown period and more suffering and unrest among the population. Kaya na lang ganoon kadiin ang protesta at pagpapahayag sa gobyerno. Ayaw nating dumami ang tatamaan ng sakit, at ayaw nating humaba pa ang pagdurusa ng mamamayan. #

#TulongHindiKulong
#MassTestingNowPH
#IbigayAngAyuda

(The author is the secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.)

A new hope: The issues and struggles of 2019

By Renato Reyes Jr.

The year 2019 has got to be one of the most difficult 12 months for the Filipino people. We witnessed an unprecedented escalation of political repression on various fronts. The attacks were vicious and relentless and tested our collective resolve to fight back. The backward economy experienced new challenges with the continuing neo-liberal policies this regime chose to uphold. Under attack this year were human rights, national sovereignty, democracy and the rule of law. Through it all, the struggling Filipino people stood their ground, made significant advances, pushed back against tyranny and scored victories for the people.

Push-back against fascist attacks

The year 2019 saw the worst attacks on human rights including the killings and mass arrests in Negros, the militarization of Eastern Visayas, continuing Martial Law in Mindanao, trumped-up charges and arrests in Manila, extrajudicial killings in the drug war, red-tagging and attacks on academic freedom, the right to organize and freedom of expression. The National Task Force to End Local Armed Conflict repeatedly reared its ugly head and led the crackdown on dissent in the name of “counter-insurgency”. The “whole of nation approach”, which called for the militarization and weaponization of the civilian bureaucracy in the service of counter-insurgency.

The call “Defend Negros” reverberated as human rights defenders showed solidarity with the people of Negros facing extrajudicial killings, mass arrests, harassment and militarization. The courageous people of Negros are standing up to tyranny thanks in part to the nationwide and international solidarity that came after the series of violent attacks in the island. There remain many detained on trumped-up charges and justice remains elusive for those killed like the Sagay 9, Atty, Ben Ramos, Toto Patigas and Atty. Anthony Trinidad, among many others.

The October 31 raid on legal offices of activist groups in Negros and the arrest of as many as 51 individuals including minors, was one of the worst incidents of wholesale political repression against activists in the country in recent history. Majority of those arrested were eventually released for lack of probable cause or after posting bail. There are many however who remain incarcerated because of trumped-up charges and planted evidence. At around the same time in Manila, five activists were arrested based on warrants issued by the same QC judge that issued the Negros search warrants.

In the face of these escalating attacks, the people pushed back, waged mass actions, called nationwide attention to the abuses, built alliances, and amplified the call to defend human rights. The lies of state forces were eventually exposed, including the manufacture of spurious search warrants used to raid offices of legal activists. A solidarity mission was held and the groups arrived in time for the release of many of the arrested individuals.

The September 21 commemoration of Marcos’ Martial Law and the December 10 International Human Rights Day mobilizations bannered the calls against tyranny and dictatorship. Thousands participated nationwide in protest of the worsening human rights situation under the fascist Duterte regime.

The struggle for justice for all human rights victims continues in 2020.

Bato, bato who?

In August, neophyte Senator Bato dela Rosa attempted to conduct his own McCarthyist witch-hunt of youth activists in several universities, citing the alleged “missing of minors” who were recruited to the NPA. Such claims however were belied as there were no “missing minors”. The purpose of the hearing was to actually attack academic freedom and activism in schools by delegitimizing dissent. The efforts of Bato were soon exposed and the students fought back by holding protests and walk-outs across the country.

One week after his tirades on student activists, Bato would find himself at the crosshairs of a senate probe on the early releases of high-profile inmates convicted of heinous crimes. Bato used to be Bucor director and under his watch, anomalous GCTA releases took place.

Atin ang Pinas!

Another banner issue for 2019 was the West Philippine Sea. The campaign to defend our sovereign rights in our Exclusive Economic Zone and protest the puppetry of the regime united a broad range of patriotic forces. The protests against China’s violation of our sovereign rights was sustained: April 9, June 12, the days after the sinking of the MV Gem-Ver, July 12 anniversary of the Hague ruling, and the biggest anti-China protest on the occasion of Duterte’s State of the Nation Address. The pressure from the public forced Duterte to address the issue of the China and the West Philippine Sea during his SONA.

Labor unrest

This year saw several workers’ strikes take place, with almost all being brutally attacked by private goons and state forces. Notable workers’s struggles include the workers of SUMIFRU, Super 8, PEPMACO, NutriAsia in Cabuyao, Laguna, Nissin-Monde and Regent Foods. Most common issues are contractualization, the right to unionize, collective bargaining, and poor working conditions.

Trade union repression has worsened this year with the frequent use of police forces to break up picket lines and arrest striking workers. Some of the worst violations happened with the NutriaAsia workers whose strike was violently attacked and leaders arrested and detained for several months. The same violence was imposed on the striking workers of Regent Foods in Pasig, with union leaders and supporters also arrested. The timely intervention of Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto helped secure the release of the detained workers.

The attacks on striking workers spurred a boycott of products of the companies suppressing workers’ rights. The boycott of PEPMACO, NutriAsia and Regent Food products remain in force to this day.

Electoral struggle

It was a difficult year for the electoral struggle as progressive partylist groups and candidates faced fascist attacks from the entire state machinery. The regime also used considerable resources at is disposal to ensure the election of their candidates. Pera, pananakot at panlilinlang ang ginamit para mailuklok ang mga kandidato ng administrasyon at sagkaan ang oposisyon. Despite the tremendous odds, partylist group Bayan Muna achieved three seats in Congress and placed second in the partylist race. ACT, Gabriela Women’s Parety and Kabataan got one seat each. Anakpawis will definitely do better in the next elections even as attacks continue against the peasant sector.

On May 17, more than a thousand marched to the PICC to protest election fraud under the Duterte regime.

Rice crisis

This year was bleak for millions of Filipino rice farmers reeling from the effects of the rice liberalization and the massive importation of rice. The Philippines gained the distinction as the biggest rice importer in the world as palay prices dipped to P9 per kilo in some parts of the country. More than 50,000 farmers signed a petition for the repeal of the Rice Tariffication Law and public outrage over the state of agriculture was clearly felt. This forced Duterte to order government to purchase more palay from local producers. However, the regime stopped short of actually halting rice importation and repealing the law.

Mass transport crisis

Commuters continued to suffer in 2109 with what Bayan has described as a “mass transport crisis”. Trains continued to break down, a jeepney phaseout was being pushed, and the quality of life of Metro Manila workers and students continued to deteriorate due to the long commute. Not even the commute stunt of Presidential Spokesman Sal Panelo could cover up the reality that mass transport in the country is utterly lacking and problematic. The regime of privatization has failed to address the transportation needs of the public and the problems are expected to continue in 2020.

GCTA and ninja cops

The PNP faced its worst crisis yet with the issue of the “ninja cops”, an offshoot of the probe into the Good Conduct Time Allowance. The supposed release of heinous crime convicts such as Mayor Antonio Sanchez led to the conduct of a senate probe into anomalies in the GCTA. Even Sen. Bato, a former Bucor chief, found himself in the hot seat for the releases under his watch, Like many things in the corrupt bureaucracy, the system could be bought. In the course of the investigation, the issue of “ninja cops”was raised by former CIDG chief and now Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong. This led to a new round of investigations that centered on no less than PNP chief Oscar Albayalde. The PNP Chief was implicated in protecting his personnel who were involved in the recycling of illegal drugs. Albayalde was allowed to resign, though disgraced and without fanfare. Until now, Duterte has not appointed a PNP chief. He has ordered DILG Secretary Eduardo Ano to “handle” the PNP until 2022.

The entire drug war has been exposed as a sham. So many families cry out for justice for the thousands of victims of extrajudicial killings brought about by the brutal drug war.

Water crisis and the crisis of privatization

March 7 marked the start of the water crisis in Metro Manila as Manila Water customers suddenly found themselves without water. Long lines were formed in Mandaluyong, Pasig and San Juan as people waited for water supply in the streets. Maynilad will also follow suit with its service interruptions. Water services, which had been privatized since 1997, again failed the the consumers. The private water concessionaires incurred widespread public anger because of their failure to prepare for the El Nino and provide new water sources to keep up with their expansion. Their proposed water rate hike was widely opposed. Eventually, their contracts were scrutinized and exposed as having been onerous and grossly disadvantageous to the public. The statements from Malacanang and the DOJ were a vindication of the Left’s position on water privatization and the onerous contracts entered into by the Ramos regime and extended by the Arroyo regime. Even Duterte grudgingly acknowledged this on December 3, when he discussed the concession agreements: “Itong Left inunahan tayo. Kana si [Sal?] narinig mo si ano? Inunahan — nakaamoy ang mga ulol and they think that they are the savior of the…”

The water service interruptions continue, and are expected to be the “new normal” possibly beyond summer 2020. The public awaits the outcome of the contract reviews. It is time for government to take back water services, not give it to another crony of the regime. This should be on our campaign agenda next year.

The end of Martial Law in Mindanao

After more than two years, Martial Law in Mindanao will end midnight of December 31. The period covered by Martial Law saw many human rights violations and abuses by state security forces. This includes extrajudicial killings of peasants and indigenous peoples, the militarization of communities, closure of Lumad schools, mass arrests and the filing of trumped up charges. Mindanao has borne the brunt of the counter-insurgency operations of the regime. Their heroic resistance continues.

A recent survey indicated that 65% of those polled wanted Martial Law to end this year.

Peace talks ituloy!

A most welcome development at the end of 2019 was the revival of peace efforts between the GRP and the NDFP. Backchannel talks were held, a 15-day reciprocal ceasefire was put in place and confidence-building measures were sought. The peace talks stand to benefit the Filipino people through the forging of substantive agreements that address the root causes of the armed conflict. It also has the effect of countering the fascist attacks of the regime against the people. The news of the revival of the peace talks was welcomed by many, especially peace advocates. Some 130 lawmakers have signed a resolution supporting the peace talks. Despite efforts of peace spoilers and war hawks intent on sabotaging the peace talks, there appears to be positive advances with the reconstitution of the GRP peace panel and the inclusion of Executive Secretary Bingbong Medialdea in the panel.

We need to press for the release of all political prisoners, including NDF peace consultants who will participate in the peace talks.

The peace spoilers are bent on sowing intrigues to sabotage the talks. They also want to banner their so-called achievements in “localized peace talks”. Unfortunately for them, their latest fakery in the supposed “mass surrender” of NPA’s in Masbate was quickly exposed as a sham. The resumption of the peace talks is proof of the failure of the localized talks and the “whole of nation approach”.

A new hope

In the immortal words of Rogue One’s Jyn Erso we subscribe: “Rebellions are built on hope”. The resistance to tyranny and oppression is fueled by the hope that a better world, a more just and human society, is indeed possible. Our hope is likewise fueled by the resilience and tirelessness of the oppressed masses. Time and again, they who are most oppressed and downtrodden have taught us the meaning of courage.

We welcome the new year with a new hope and a firm resolve to fight for our people and for a better future. #

The author is the secretary general of the New Patriotic Alliance/Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.

‘There IS a mass transport crisis and that long term solutions are needed’

“Congratulations Sec. Panelo for arriving in one piece in Malacanang after nearly 4 hours of commute! Medyo late na kayo kung government time yan na 8am. Just the same, we hope this whole experience underscored the fact that there IS a mass transport crisis and that long term solutions are needed.”–BAYAN secretary general Renato Reyes Jr.

Ombudsman indicts Abaya, 16 others over P4.2 billion MRT maintenance contract

The Office of the Ombudsman indicted former Department of Transportation (DoTr) secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya and 16 others over a P4.2billion contract with several private companies for a three-year maintenance service of the problematic Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT3).

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales found probable cause to charge Abaya and the other respondents for violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (Republic Act No. 3019) over the anomalous MRT3 maintenance contract.

Abaya was transportation secretary under the Benigno Aquino administration.

Also facing charges are DoTr Undersecretaries Edwin Lopez,  Negotiating Team head Rene Limcaoco and his deputy Catherine Jennifer Francis Gonzales; MRT3 General Manager Roman Buenafe, Assistant Secretary for Procurement Camille Alcaraz, MRT3 Bids and Awards Committee Vice-Chairperson Ofelia Astrera, Attorney Charissa Eloisa Julia Opulencia, Engineering Division chief Oscar Bongon, Engineer Jose Rodante Sabayle.

Private respondents Eldonn Ferdinand Uy of Edison Development and Construction, Elizabeth Velasco of Tramat Mercantile Incorporated, Belinda Tan of TMI Corporation, Inc., Brian Velasco of Castan Corporation, and  Antonio Borromeo, Jun Ho Hwang and Elpidio Uy from Busan Universal Rail, Inc. (BURI) were also included in the indictment.

Rigged for a single provider

The Office of the Ombudsman’s Special Panel of Investigators found that in October 2014 and January 2015, the DOTr conducted two biddings for the three-year maintenance service contract for the MRT3.

Both biddings failed due to non-submission of bids.

On 28 January 2015, Abaya issued a Special Order creating the MRT3 Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) for the procurement of goods, infrastructure projects and consulting services of the MRT3 system, the Ombudsman said.

On March 2015, the MRT3 BAC issued Resolution No. 002 recommending it resort to Negotiated Procurement through Emergency Cases under Section 53.2 of the Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations (RIRR) of the Government Procurement Reform Act (Republic Act No. 9184).

Documents, however, show that the contract was set to be awarded to a single maintenance service provider that would establish a Single Point Responsibility for several services, the Ombudsman said.

Table by the Office of the Ombudsman

On 21 December 2015, the MRT3 BAC issued Resolution No. 14 Series of 2015 recommending that the project be awarded to Busan JV.

On 07 January 2016, the DOTr, the MRT3 and the Busan JV entered into a contract for the long-term maintenance contract.

‘Incapable of undertaking maintenance project’

In its Consolidated Annual Audit Report (CAAR) for 2016, however, the Commission on Audit (COA) observed that the “DOTr still failed to provide the riding public with a safe and comfortable transport system even with the procurement and delivery from August 2015 to January 2017 of 48 new LRVs with a total cost of P3,759,382,400.00.”

“Despite four years in the procurement process and total payments of P527,761,083.00 (equivalent to 14 percent of the contract price) to Dalian, the LRVs remain inoperational and unaccepted by the DOTr as of reporting date  due to glitches in the power supply and signaling system.  These resulted from the DOTr’s poor planning and other major procurement lapses,” the COA added.

The Special Panel of Investigators found that respondents extended unwarranted benefits, advantage and preference to the contractor when it awarded the project to Busan JV, an ineligible and unqualified entity, the Ombudsman said.

“In sum, the Busan JV was not technically, legally and financially capable to undertake the MRT3 long-term maintenance contract.  Despite its being unqualified, the contract was still awarded to it by the DOTr, in violation of Section 53 of the RIRR of R.A. No. 9184, which requires that in negotiated procurement, the procuring entity should negotiate with a technically, legally and financially capable supplier, contractor or consultant,” the Ombudsman said.

The panel said then Secretary Abaya has immediate and primary responsibility for all government funds and property pertaining to his agency at the time of the questioned transaction.

Welcome decision

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. who led the filing of the complaint against Abaya last November welcomed the Ombudsman’s decision

“These maintenance contracts involving what we alleged are unqualified providers were partly to blame for the sorry state of the MRT3,” Reyes said.

“We are still a long way from achieving justice for commuters and taxpayers but we hope that the case will lead to genuine accountability,” he added.

Reyes advised the Rodrigo Duterte government to likewise examine the policy of privatizing the train system, its functions and maintenance.

“This has been routinely abused by both government officials and private groups to the detriment of the commuters and taxpayers,” Reyes said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)