Groups mourn passing of nationalist senator Rene Saguisag

Groups mourn the death of human rights lawyer Rene AV Saguisag, part of the “Magnificent 12” group of senators who voted against the extension of the US-Philippines Military Bases Agreement in September 1991.

A stalwart of the legal profession, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) described Saguisag as a “Filipino patriot, staunch human rights lawyer and civil libertarian, indefatigable fighter for justice, nationalism and democracy.”

“We join the nation in giving thanks and paying tribute to Sen. Saguisag, an activist who never lost his bearings through the twists and turns of the people’s struggle. From taking the cudgels for human rights victims during the Marcos dictatorship, voting against the US Military Bases Agreement in the Senate, to opposing Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Rodrigo Duterte’s fascist regimes, Sen. Saguisag’s long life of service to the nation and the people will always be cherished,” BAYAN said upon learning of Saguisag’s death on Wednesday, April 24.

 Arrested due to his opposition to Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s declaration of martial rule in 1972, Saguisag joined the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) of Senators Jose Diokno and Lorenzo Tanada upon his release from prison.

He later co-founded the Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity and Nationalism, Inc. (MABINI) in 1980 with Tañada, future Senator Joker Arroyo, future Labor Secretary Augusto “Bobbit” Sanchez and future Vice President Jejomar Binay, among other civil libertarians.

After Marcos Sr.’s ouster in 1986, President Corazon Aquino appointed Saguisag her first presidential spokesperson who also encouraged his successful run for the Senate. Aquino reportedly referred to Saguisag as her possible successor to the presidency.

He however went against Aquino’s wish for an extension of the military bases agreement and honored his campaign promise to only become a one-term senator.

Saguisag (center) with former Senate colleagues Leticia Ramos-Shahani (+) and Victor Ziga (+). [Kodao file photo]

‘Magnificent until the end’

Fellow lawyers paid tribute to Saguisag, saying their colleague had been unswayed by power, “chasing away the darkness from Marcos Sr. to Marcos Jr.”

“We mourn alongside his children and family the loss of an indefatigable, incorruptible, and principled Filipino,” the group Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties (CLCL) said in a statement yesterday.

Saguisag co-founded CLCL in 2006 to help combat the spate of extra-judicial killings under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and was a founding convenor of the Manananggol Laban sa Extra-judicial Killings, set up at the height of the killings and abuses under President Rodrigo Duterte.

It counts among its members Binay, Bayan Muna chairperson Neri Colmenares, former De la Salle University Law Dean Chel Diokno, Ateneo de Manila University Law Dean Antonio La Vina, former Quezon Rep. Erin Tanada, and other human rights lawyers.

CLCL pointed out that even in his advancing age and deteriorating health, Saguisag stood against the return of US troops through the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Development Cooperation Agreement.

Saguisag also insisted in joining the petition against the Anti-Terror Act of 2020.

“Through the years, Sen. Rene with his signature wit and humor was a core of movements for free and impactful legal aid, for the rule of law, against disinformation and revisionism, and against all assaults on human rights,” CLCL said.

“Sen. Saguisag showed us how to recognize the insidious approach of anything dangerous or evil, and more importantly, how to slay it. He led by example, and there is no other way to honor his enduring legacy but to continue his work for the poor and the disenfranchised inside and outside the courtroom,” the group added.

But Saguisag once earned criticisms even from among his friends for pointing out the “unconstitutionality” of President Joseph Estrada’s ouster in 2001.

He however led investigations on the rigging of government contracts under Estrada who requested his participation in the probes. He also once described Estrada as a “substandard president.”

BAYAN said that even while Saguisag remained true to his legal profession, he remained their warm friend despite political and ideological differences in the pursuit for common aspirations such as people’s rights and welfare.

Despite old age and ailments, Saguisag also became an active convenor of the Movement Against Tyranny (MAT), the No to Cha-cha Coalition, and the Pilipinong Nagkakaisa Para sa Soberanya (P1NAS) that opposed China’s bogus claims over the West PH Sea as well as the US’ increasing role in stoking the PH-China conflict.

“May Sen. Saguisag’s life serve as a shining example and inspiration to our fellow Filipinos in their continuing struggle for freedom, justice, and democracy,” BAYAN said.

Bar topnotcher, top-notch journalist

Born in a poor family on August 14, 1939, in Mauban, Tayabas (now Quezon Province), Saguisag grew up in Pasig City where he graduated from Rizal High School (RHS) with honors. He was schoolmates and friends with the late Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria, reported top leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines he described to Kodao as two of the brightest RHS alumni ever.

Saguisag earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Beda University in 1959, graduating cum laude while serving as editor-in-chief (EIC) of its college student publication The Bedan.

The Bedan eventually honored Saguisag by naming him as its EIC emeritus.

He earned his law degree from the same school in 1963 and placed sixth in the bar examinations of the same year. He went on to earn his Master of Laws from Harvard University as a scholar in 1968.

While building a successful career, he was invited to teach at his alma mater where he eventually became its law college’s assistant dean from 1971–1972.

It was while he was dean-in-charge that he recommended Duterte’s dismissal from the school for figuring in an in-campus shooting incident.

In the Senate, Saguisag was one of only two who lodged perfect attendance in all 415 session days from July 1987 to June 1990.

He co-authored the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (R.A. 6713) with his uncle and former Senate President Jovito Salonga and was the main author of the Ombudsman Act of 1989 (R.A. 6770).

After his Senate stint, Saguisag became a long-time columnist for The Manila Times and build a loyal following for his witty column “TGIF”. He also authored several books, notably “Saguisag Wit-1” and “Saguisag Wit-2.”

Saguisag was married to Dulce Quintans who later became Department of Social Work and Development secretary. They had five children.

Saguisag and wife figured in a vehicular accident on November 8, 1997 that killed Dulce and seriously injured the lawyer. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Karapatan slams Tolentino’s ‘witch-hunt proposal,’ lauds Legarda’s peace call

A senator’s proposal to require government personnel to disclose relatives allegedly connected with criminal or so-called terrorist groups will only result in crackdowns on public officials, employees and their kin, a human right group said.

Reacting to Senator Francis Tolentino’s privilege speech on Tuesday, rights group Karapatan said that the legislator’s proposal will open the floodgates for possible violations on the right to due process, freedom of thought or opinion, privacy and threats to life and security and liberty of government workers and their families.

“What Sen. Tolentino is suggesting is a crackdown on officials and employees in the public sector and their relatives, based on the much-questioned, vague and arbitrary definition of terrorism under our laws,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

In his speech, Tolentino proposed amendments to the filing of Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN) by public officials and employees to include relatives who may be involved in criminal and underground activities.

“I think it is right that when one enters the government to perhaps declare that you have a relative who is a member of a terrorist organization or criminal syndicate up to the fourth degree of consanguinity,” Tolentino said.

The senator’s proposal came after higher education commissioner Prospero de Vera III’s admission that an elder sister is a member of an underground revolutionary organization.

Poet Adora Faye de Vera was arrested in Quezon City last August 24. Her supporters however have only described her as a martial law survivor who suffered torture and rape in the hands of government soldiers.

Karapatan said Tolentino’s proposal is way off mark while the Senate was deliberating on government efficiency in the midst of an economic crisis.

The group said “the senator’s proposal of a witch-hunt and pointless red-tagging in the public sector workforce is a huge disservice to the public.”

“Isn’t it more important to check government officials and agencies that engage in influence peddling, graft and corruption for self-serving interests rather than make proposals on irrelevant issues?” Palabay asked.

Group lauds Legarda

Meanwhile, Karapatan lauded Senate Pro Tempore Loren Legarda’s reply to Tolentino, pointing out that having political beliefs different from the status quo does not make one a subversive or a terrorist.

“Apart from her assertion of the fact that the anti-subversion law has been repealed, what can be gleaned from Sen. Legarda’s comments is the irony in a so-called democratic state, where the prevalent practice of government officials and State security forces remains to be that of intolerance for progressive beliefs, persecution and dangerous red-tagging,” Palabay said.

Karapatan said Legarda is correct in calling for a review of the Anti-Terrorism Law and the resumption of peace talks between the Manila government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

“[T]he common goal of leaders of our country, whether we are elected in the Senate, or even working with a grassroots organization deemed subversive or Left by the government, but not really proven, can work together towards more equity, peace and authentic real reforms in the countryside,” Legarda said during Tuesday’s hearing.

Legarda added said she would like the Anti-Terror Law to be reviewed, pointing out that she voted against it at the House of Representatives. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Employees and senators fight back vs. NICA, Badoy

The Senate employees union and several Senators condemned National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) director general Alex Paul Monteagudo and communication secretary Lorraine Badoy’s latest anti-communist witch-hunt.

The Sandigan ng mga Empleyadong Nagkakaisa sa Adhikain ng Demokratikong Organisasyon (SENADO) said Monteagudo’s allegation it exists as the eyes and ears of Communist groups in the Senate was malicious, baseless and dangerous that endangers the lives of its leaders.

“We are apprehensive that our leaders will now be the subject of vilification, harassment, arrest as they did to other union leaders affiliated with COURAGE (Confederation for the Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees) and, worse, killing which is happening now against unionists,” SENADO said.

The group said it believes it is being attacked for condemning earlier red-tagging activities by government agencies against legitimate public sector unions.

SENADO demanded that Monteagudo take down his post and apologize to all Senate official and employees “for his disrespect and profanity directed to the institution that is the stalwart of democracy and human rights.”

NICA chief Alex Monteagudo’s Facebook page that earned condemnation from Senators and government employees.

In a Facebook post, Monteagudo alleged that the Senate union serves as the eyes and ears of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines to hijack government projects and plans.

Communications secretary Lorraine Badoy also red-tagged the union in a column published by the Philippine News Agency.

Senators have come to the defense of the union.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he should know if the union is hijacking the government from within.

“[Monteagudo]) must have been misinformed. I would be the first to sense of such if ever. I’ve been there (in the Senate) since 1992,” Sotto said. 

He lauded SENADO for having led the passage of three Collective Negotiating Agreements for Senate employees’ rights and benefits.

Four opposition senators also condemned Monteagudo and Badoy’s allegations as “dangerous.”

“These are not just baseless attacks and vilification against the employees but against the institution of the Senate they represent,” minority bloc senators Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros and Leila de Lima said in a statement.

The four senators pressed for the passage of Senate Bill 2121, or the proposed “Act Defining and Penalizing Red-Tagging”.  

COURAGE meanwhile said its ranks will not back down under such repeated attacks and vowed to work harder for wage increases, job security, union rights and democratic and nationalist governance. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Senate unanimously opposes sugar liberalization

By Visayas Today

The Senate has unanimously opposed the executive branch’s plan to liberalize the sugar industry and will conduct an investigation, in aid of legislation, into the matter.

Senate Resolution 213, introduced by Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, said the planned inquiry is aimed at “safeguarding the welfare of 84,000 sugar farmers and 720,000 industry workers in 20 provinces of the country.”

It noted that liberalizing the sugar industry would be “irrelevant and very untimely” since the Sugar Industry Development Act of 2015 “is barely four years in effect, and much of the programs and projects it envisions to implement for the development of the sugar industry are not yet fully realized.”

In a statement, Zubiri acknowledged the role of the industry alliance Tatak Kalamay for raising the issue and prodding him to rally his fellow senators against the plan.

“They (the senators) heard Tatak Kalamay’s plea and for as long as we are in the Senate, we assure you of our support and protection and we also urge the economic managers to conduct proper consultation before announcing such plans,” he said.

Zubiri urged government economic managers to abandon plans to liberalize sugar and instead “help us by ensuring the restoration of the full SIDA budget in order to make our industry competitive globally.” #

Group challenges Senate: Stop Charter change

Research group IBON is challenging the succeeding Senate to prove its independence by rejecting the proposal to amend the 1987 Philippine Constitution or Charter change (Cha-cha). Lawmakers should keep in mind the dangers that Cha-cha poses on Philippine economic sovereignty, said the group, and not be swayed into passing other laws that fulfill the consistent goal of Cha-cha to open the economy to full foreign participation.

In December last year, the Lower House transmitted its approved, consolidated version of proposed constitutional amendments, Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) 15, to the Philippine Senate. Aside from establishing a federal state and removing term limits, Cha-cha would implement neoliberal amendments to the Philippine constitution.

IBON said that while RBH 15 expires on June 30 this year, the Duterte government has sustained its espousal of Cha-cha by organizing an Inter-Agency Task Force on Federalism and Constitutional Reforms and can easily restart or expedite deliberations under an administration-dominated 18th Congress.

Partial unofficial tallies show a majority win for candidates backed by the Duterte administration, IBON noted. An administration win can bring standing Upper House support for Cha-cha to 11 comprised of incoming senators Bong Go, Ronald dela Rosa, Pia Cayetano, Imee Marcos, Francis Tolentino, Sonny Angara, Aquilino Pimentel III, Bong Revilla, plus incumbent senators Vicente Sotto III, Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Manny Pacquiao.

IBON stressed that Cha-cha would strike out the nationalist provisions of the constitution and liberalize the economy to foreign investors. Moreover, said the group, Cha-cha will limit government’s role in protecting the Philippine economy and allow foreign ownership of natural resources, educational institutions, mass media and advertising, public utilities, and strategic enterprises.

The proposed amendments also remove pertinent provisions affecting Philippine employment opportunities, labor rights, and access to basic social services.

Cha-cha would remove provisions on using the preferential use of Filipino labor and limiting professions to Filipinos, noted IBON. This will worsen the country’s jobs crisis. For instance, more Filipinos go abroad for work than new jobs are created locally. In the first semester of 2018, the average number of Filipinos who went abroad for work daily was 5,757, while only 2,263 new jobs were created on average per day during the same period, said IBON.

The group added that important stipulations on labor rights such as security of tenure, humane conditions of work, and a living wage, are deleted in the proposed Cha-cha. Already, IBON observed, 2018 data shows that 8.5 million workers of private companies and 985,000 workers in government agencies are still non-regular workers. Meanwhile, the Family Living Wage (FLW) as of March 2019 is at Php1,004 for a family of five compared to which the National Capital Region’s (NCR) minimum wage of Php537 falls short.

The proposed Cha-cha also narrows government’s role in providing basic social services such as health development and affordable housing by adhering to the neoliberal policy of privatization, IBON said.

The group further warned that proposals to open public utilities to full foreign ownership such as proposed amendments to the Public Services Act (PSA), and to increase areas that are open to foreign investments such as through revisions to the foreign investments negative list (FINL), are in the works and ground breaking the eventual neoliberalization of the highest law of the land. IBON said that legislative amendments such as these are being prioritized by government and will serve the same purpose of opening the economy for big business and foreign profit-seekers. Nationalists and people’s rights defenders among the country’s lawmakers, if there are any left standing, should be vigilant against these moves.

IBON pointed out that the midterm elections are fast concluding with incredible results that will be favorable to the Duterte administration’s neoliberal legislative agenda. The Filipino people have reason to doubt that the passage of Cha-cha and other laws surrendering national patrimony will not be as ‘magical’ as the election results, IBON added. This will be so unless nationalists and people’s rights advocates shall continue to challenge the Philippine legislature.#

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. #