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PHILIPPINES: The Rough and Rugged Road toward Change

Citizens Action Party (AKBAYAN) | 05.07.2011 04:51 | Analysis | Social Struggles | Workers' Movements | World

Akbayan Party’s Statement on the First Year of the Aquino Government

The country just marked the first year of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III’s administration, a government put into power by the Filipino’s hope for a better future, an administration that the people hoped would be radically different from the despotic nine-year reign of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The people’s expectation for this new administration to perform is naturally high, since the previous government systematically stripped us of our political, civil, and economic rights, that horrid experience taught us to value democratic entitlements all the more. It also reminded us how to hope, leading us to recover our collective desire for change.

Stains of the Past: Arroyo’s Decade of Corrupt and Ineffective Governance

For this reason, it is not surprising that the Filipino people welcome the Aquino government’s first year with feelings of disappointment and anxiety coupled with a more cautious hope, sentiments the Aquino government must learn to embrace and keep near its heart. The people are disappointed because they believe that this government is different from the previous one and capable of effecting needed change. However, the public is still hopeful albeit now in a more cautious way because they know too much is already at stake for them to slide back into the dark years of Arroyo past.

Truly, the change we are direly working for does not happen overnight, especially because of the legacy of corrupt and ineffective governance that was put into practice by the previous government, which like a stubborn stain, is hard to wash off. Arroyo’s henchmen are now busy subverting our aspirations for reforms by making the journey toward change more difficult and the straight path crooked.

The people must not be seduced by their political rancor and lies. The people must not let them exploit our occasional impatience and distract us from the straight path toward change. We must not let Gloria Macapagal Arroyo win in the end.

First Year: Planting the Seeds of Change, Winning Important Battles

Truth is, not all is unwell. A year has passed and the Aquino government has already planted the seeds of meaningful change, won important battles in order to reverse Arroyo’s brand of corrupt and crooked governance, and begun reclaiming our lost political and economic gains. These are major accomplishments, which Akbayan Party, being a coalition partner of the government has contributed significantly.

Anti-corruption and political reforms

As such, Akbayan joins the administration in celebrating the significant gains we made in cleansing the bureaucracy of erring public officials who were glaring symbols of corruption and obstacles in the dispensation of justice.

Together with the Filipino people, Akbayan celebrates it victory in removing an inept ombudsman, who chose to serve the interests of the corrupt over that of the people. Her removal cleared the way for the people to call erring public officials to account, leaving Ms. Arroyo, her family and cohorts no other choice but to face the music.

We also express joy in the advances we made in prosecuting the corrupt. Justice Secretary Leila De Lima’s swift, yet judicious, handling of the plunder charge against Ms. Arroyo and the criminal case we filed against the Sandiganbayan Justices who approved the lopsided Garcia plea bargain deal is laudable. The same goes for the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s courageous pursuit of big-time tax evaders including Mikey Arroyo.

Furthermore, we commend the Aquino government for heeding the Filipino people in its decision not to give the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos a hero’s burial. We support President Aquino’s decision on the matter, which is firmly based on the truth and consistent with the just struggle of the people against tyranny and oppression.

We also celebrate the passing of the GOCC Governance Act of 2011, which is a step in the right direction to end endemic cronyism and political patronage in government-owned and controlled corporations, something practiced capriciously by the previous regime.

Likewise, we recognize President Aquino’s firm support for the passage of the Reproductive Health bill, an important legislative measure, which Akbayan is resolutely pushing for its passage. Despite the strong opposition of the Catholic church hierarchy and its threat to withdraw support from his administration, Aquino’s decision to advance women’s rights and Filipino families’ just claim to have another chance in life is remarkable.

The same can be said of our victory in synchronizing the election of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with that of the national in 2013. Now the region has ample time to implement essential reforms to promote peace and political modernity and work towards the elimination of warlordism and electoral violence that was hideously exemplified by the Ampatuan massacre.

Foreign Policy

In the international scene, we welcome the Aquino government’s firm stand on the Spratlys conflict. We laud its effort using diplomatic channels in fighting for our sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea. However, we caution the government in relying on the United States to help resolve the issue. We believe the conflict is a regional issue and any intervention from another superpower will only complicate matters.

Addressing the immediate needs of the poor

In the economic front, we support the government’s effort to address the country’s poverty problem. Its swift and bold implementation of the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program as a poverty-containment measure points to its sensitivity to the needs of the poor, who for the longest time have been told to wait for the promises of trickle-down economics.

This poverty containment measure is reinforced by the subsidies the state provided to mitigate the series of economic crises such as the skyrocketing prices of oil, which fell hardest on the ordinary people.

Lastly, we celebrate the issuance of Executive Order No. 23, which provides for an indefinite log ban in all national and residual forests. Such executive directive is not only timely but also crucial in a period when climate change is a grim reality. It also demonstrated that the hue of the Aquino government’s politics is not only yellow but could also be green.

Social Contract to Broaden and Deepen Reforms

Definitely, we have planted the seeds of change, and have emerged victorious in important battles against corruption. However, the seeds need proper nurturing and the war against corruption is yet to be won. As much as we celebrate our triumphs in the struggle for reforms, more work are yet to be accomplished.

Being a member of the coalition government serious in its reform agenda, Akbayan Party would like to make the following recommendations to the Aquino administration to sustain the momentum of change. We believe now is the time for President Aquino to enter into a social contract with the people to implement broader and deeper reforms in the political and economic fronts. Here are some proposals:

Prosecution of the Corrupt and Recovery of Ill-gotten Wealth

The Aquino government must not lower its guard against corruption. The public demands no less than the prosecution of big-time corrupt public officials starting with Ms. Arroyo, her family and cronies. President Aquino must also see to it that all ill-gotten wealth amassed by the previous regime is expropriated. The same must go for the illicit wealth accumulated by the re-emergent yet still unrepentant Marcos family.

Human Rights

Concurrently, we call on President Aquino to certify as urgent the Marcos Compensation bill that would give indemnification to all human rights victims under the brutal Marcos dictatorship.

We also urge the government to step up its drive against state and non-state human rights violators. Particularly, the Aquino administration must curb the alarming incidents of extrajudicial killings of journalists and political advocates.

Political Modernity

We ask President Aquino to certify the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill as urgent to address the state’s deficit in transparency and accountability. Similarly, Congress must pursue legislation that would drastically reform the party-list system and transform it into a viable arena for proportional representation.

Economic Development

Now that CCT is in place, it is imperative to implement more strategic economic programs to complement its tactical ones.

Primarily, labor-intensive infrastructure programs must be implemented to generate more jobs and give the economy a boost. This must go hand in hand with emergency employment provided to poor households that were not included in the CCT to complement the initial poverty-containment strategy.

Strong regulation on oil prices must also be imposed to stop the erosion of the people’s welfare. We need a group that would direct the government’s intervention comprised of the Energy secretary, independent technical experts, consumers and representatives of the big oil companies. The mission of this team: to keep fuel prices at a reasonable, minimum price to allow the people respite from the economic hardships of today.

Consequently, we request President Aquino to craft an energy policy relying on renewables rather than depending heavily on dirty technologies such as coal and fossil fuel.

Moreover, the country’s debt problem must be seriously addressed. A comprehensive debt audit starting with the illegitimate debts accumulated by the previous administration is a good way to begin this endeavor.

We also need to redesign the rules governing contractual work and ensure workers’ security of tenure. We are alarmed by the growing violations on the rights of workers such as those demonstrated in Hanjin shipyard. We therefore urge President Aquino to certify the Security of Tenure bill pending in Congress as urgent.

Agrarian Reform and Justice

With only 2 years left before the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program- Extension with Reforms (CARPER) expires, there remains around 1 million hectares of undistributed agricultural lands. It is therefore urgent for the government to ensure the swift distribution of all lands.

Also, it is incumbent on President Aquino to use his moral and political suasion to resolve the Hacienda Luisita issue in the event the Supreme Court fails to render a just decision. The HLI issue strikes at the very heart of the every Filipino farmer. If they cannot obtain justice from the court of last resort or anywhere else in this country, then it is the onus of the President to put right this historical injustice.

Urban Poor

We call on the Aquino government to impose an indefinite national moratorium on the demolition of all informal settlements. The duration of the moratorium must be used to develop comprehensive state policy on mass housing, which will lead to the realization of state-subsidized, onsite and in-city low-cost housing programs.

We likewise call on President Aquino to support House Bill No. 4022 mandating all private developers of subdivisions to allot 20% of the total subdivision area for socialized housing.

Universal Health Care

Lastly, we must put a premium on ensuring the universal coverage of improved publicly provided health care. For this, it is important to expand the membership of PhilHealth towards universal coverage, and ensure the adequate access and upgrade of health facilities. Accordingly, the government must step up on its capacity-building, particularly in enhancing barangay health workers’ skills that is crucial for the implementation of public health programs in poorer municipalities across the nation.

These are some of the daunting tasks we face in the coming years.

Challenges beyond the first year

While one year is too short to judge the performance of any respectable government, it is already enough to give a fair appraisal of its commitment to meet the promises it made to the Filipino people. From planting the seeds of change and winning several important battles, the Aquino government, in its first year has proven its sincerity and resolve in accomplishing the challenging tasks of restoring the integrity of democratic institutions, social justice and ensuring the economic welfare of the people.

The next step is to build on the initial gains and lead the people into a vision of a better future where it can reap the fruits of what they sowed. Akbayan Party, being a coalition partner of this government and with the support of the Filipino people will strive to significantly contribute in this endeavor by helping sustain the momentum of effecting change.

The straight path may be a rough and rugged road and could indeed be the hardest path, but that is what the straight path is, a road less traveled, but a path that we must necessarily take to realize the change we want.###

Hontiveros to GMA: Bitterness and lies won’t reverse your fate

Former Akbayan Representative Risa Hontiveros chided ex-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) today, saying that her “nobody’s home” remark smacks of bitterness and even jealousy of President Aquino.

“Hers was a solitary, lonely presidency. She was in Malacanang for nine years, reviled by the public and had to rely on a cabal of crooks for her own political survival. She had to call an election official to ‘win’ the election, and she would never know what it means to have the trust of the people. Of course she is bitter,” the former congresswoman said.

Hontiveros said that GMA’s baseless attacks against Aquino won’t shield her from the resolve of the current administration to hold the previous government accountable.

“If she thinks that the she is gaining sympathy, she is wrong. If she believes that this would soften the anti-corruption agenda of the government, then she is severely mistaken. Her day in court is forthcoming,” warned Hontiveros.

She likewise said that she is not all bothered by the criticism leveled by GMA against President Aquino. “I am confident that the reform agenda of the current administration won’t be derailed by GMA’s denunciation of what the government is doing. In fact, an attack from Arroyo means that Aquino government is doing good and that it is in the right track,” she said.

Hontiveros expressed pity for the former President, who had to create a castle of lies to perpetuate herself in power. “Hers was governance by deception and corruption,” the former solon said.

“What did she accomplish? The so-called nautical highway, which disregarded studies that Ro-ros are not for archipelagic waters, hence the accidents involving ro-ros that we’ve witnessed? She and the Marina head under her term, whom she continues to employ as her spokesperson, should own up for those deaths,” Hontiveros said.

“GMA claims that the economy was better under her administration when in truth the economy grew despite the Arroyo government. People became desperate and voted with their feet - they left the country in record numbers, and it was their remittances that kept the economy afloat, not GMA’s governance,” Hontiveros said, noting that remittances grew from US$13 billion in 2006 to US$17.3 billion in 2009.

“To claim that the economic growth that the country experienced was her doing is an insult to overseas Filipinos. Despite the hardship that they encounter abroad, overseas Filipino workers sent back their money to help their loved ones in the Philippines survive. GMA should never assume that the remittances were meant for her or her government,” Hontiveros said.

Hontiveros said that Arroyo had nine years to impose grand deception and fabricated accomplishments to cover up her incompetence and abuses. “The era is already over. Nobody bought her lies, but we sure will have her own up for what she did and what she failed to do,” she said. ###

Akbayan reiterates call for moratorium on demolition

Akbayan party today reiterated its call to the Aquino government to impose a blanket and indefinite national moratorium on the demolition of informal settlers in the country amid the devastation wrought about by Typhoon Falcon.

Former Akbayan Representative Risa Hontiveros said the government must show compassion to the informal settlers who were hardest hit by the tropical storm.

“We’ve received numerous reports that many urban poor communities were severely affected by the storm. As such, even as we call on the government to provide the necessary assistance to aid all the victims, we also call on the government to officially declare a blanket and indefinite moratorium on all demolition to provide the informal settlers ample time to rebuild their lives, properties and rise from the recent catastrophe,” Hontiveros said.

Hontiveros said the threat of forced demolitions which she described as a “Damocles sword” hanging over the heads of informal settlers must be removed from the equation.

“President Aquino must restore peace to the troubled minds of our informal settlers. Masyado ng marami silang binabalikat na mga problema. Sapat lamang na tanggalin ang banta ng mga demolisyon upang makabawas man lang sa kanilang mga suliranin,” Hontiveros said.

Hontiveros also said the context of the moratorium is not only because of the devastation of Typhoon Falcon. She said the more important context of the moratorium is to provide the government the necessary time and space to develop its comprehensive policy on mass housing.

“Our group together with different urban poor communities have been demanding this since the start of the Aquino government. But because of the series of powerful typhoons besetting our country and which falls hardest on informal settlers, the proposal for a national moratorium on demolition makes it more urgent,” Hontiveros stressed.

Hontiveros proposed that during the duration of the moratorium, the government must develop and implement policies which will lead to the realization of state-subsidized, low cost mass housing programs for the poor coupled with job creation, and distribution of social services and other subsidies.

Hontiveros also said the government must ensure the safety of informal settlers living in danger zones, saying they should be immediately relocated provided that they will be receive decent housing programs from the government.

It was reported that one in every four residents of Metro Manila lives in informal settlements, according to Interior Secretary Robredo.

Robredo said 556,526 families, or about 2.7 million of the national capital’s roughly 10 million residents, live in slums or informal settlements, representing a 2.14 percent increase from the MMDA’s 2007 figures.

Typhoon Falcon battered the country particularly Luzon affecting 50,000 families, many of which were informal settlers. ###

Citizens Action Party (AKBAYAN)

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