The role of the progressive party list bloc in 15th Congress

Below is the privilege speech Rep. Casiño delivered before the House of Representatives on Aug. 2, 2010

Ginoong Speaker, mga kagalang-galang na kasama sa Kongreso.

At the opening session of the 15th Congress last week, Bayan Muna and the other partylist organizations comprising the progressive party list bloc – Gabriela Women’s Party, Anakpawis, Kabataan, and Act Teachers Party – voted with the majority in electing Congressman Feliciano Belmonte as Speaker of the House.

Nung una naming ipinahayag ang malamang na pagsapi namin sa Mayorya ilang linggo bago bumukas ang Kongreso, hindi iilang reporter at ilang kapwa kinatawan ang nagtanong, ibig sabihin ba nito’y mananahimik na ang inyong bloke? Bilang bahagi ng mayorya, pipigilan n’yo b ang sarili sa pag-kwestyon ng mga disisyon at legislative agenda ng administrasyong Aquino at ng liderato ng Kamara? Nangangahulugan ba ito ng pagbabago ng aming papel bilang mga kritiko ng administrasyon at ng status quo?

Mr. Speaker, kauna-unawa ang mga tanong subalit nagpapakita ng kakulangan sa pag-intindi sa papel ng party list representative, partikular ang mga progresibo o tinataguriang maka-Kaliwa, sa Kamara. Nakadagdag ang nakaraang eleksyon sa kalituhang ito. Ang pag-domina ng mga party list group na sinuportahan ng mga makakapangyarihang political dynasty at malalaking interes sa negosyo ay nagsasalaula sa sistema ng party list at nagbibigay duda sa kakayanan nito bilang paraan ng pangangatawan sa mga dehado at walang boses sa Kongreso.

Indeed, what is the role of the partylist representative? To answer the question, may I first quote the Supreme Court in its landmark 2001 decision in Bayan Muna vs. the Solicitor General.

“It is ironic” the High Court said, “that the marginalized and underrepresented in our midst are the majority who wallow in poverty, destitution and infirmity. It was for them that the party-list system was enacted – to give them not only genuine hope, but genuine power; to give them the opportunity to be elected and to represent the specific concerns of their constituencies; and simply to give them a direct voice in Congress and in the larger affairs of the State.

“In its noblest sense,” the Court further said, “the party-list system truly empowers the masses and ushers a new hope for genuine change. Verily, it invites those marginalized and underrepresented in the past – the farm hands, the fisher folk, the urban poor, even those in the underground movement – to come out and participate, as indeed many of them came out and participated during the last elections. The State cannot now disappoint and frustrate them by disabling and desecrating this social justice vehicle.”

Ayun po, Mr. Speaker, my distinguished colleagues. Malinaw na malinaw. The party lists are in Congress to represent and fight for the oppressed and downtrodden. To be a powerful voice to those whose voices are hardly heard in the corridors of power. We are here to use every opportunity for social change and the betterment of the marginalized masses. To be the genuine opposition to the oppressive and bankrupt social system that has afflicted our nation for so long.

We are at our best as a conscience bloc, as proponents of progressive and alternative policies, as champions of social reform and the politics of change. For us in the progressive party list bloc, our work in Congress is a mere extension of the people’s movement for justice, freedom and national democracy.

It is in this context that we join the Majority in the 15th Congress.

Hindi ito ang unang beses na kami’y makikipagtulungan sa ruling coalition. In 2001 until 2005, we sided with the majority without formally joining the “Sunshine Coalition” of then Speaker Jose de Venecia. We retained our independence and initiative within this working relationship, taking positions on important issues and legislative measures pushed by the majority consistent with our principles.

There are many similarities between that time and now. In 2001 as in today, we had a new administration claiming to be a product of People Power. In 2001 as in today, we had a president who vowed to hold officials of the previous administration accountable for corruption and plunder and to be the exact opposite of her predecessor. In 2001 as in today, we had a president who vowed to reduce the ballooning budget deficit. In 2001 as in today, we had a president who promised more jobs and equitable development via public-private partnerships and by cutting red tape.

We all know where those promises of the former President went, Mr. Speaker. Will the incumbent President do any better?

In 2001, then President Arroyo declared in her SONA that the ultimate goal of nation building is to “transfer power over the state from the traditional economic and political bosses to the people.” In her inaugural address, she called for a new kind of politics based not on personalities but on principles and programs. On these premises we joined the Majority and expressed our readiness to overcome our historic and well-grounded skepticism of the ruling elites, provided the new leadership deliver on its promises. Alas, our skepticism turned out correct.

Nine years and one administration later, President Aquino expresses much the same thing in more mundane but populist terms. “Kayo ang boss ko. Walang wangwang, walang counterflow, walang kotong. Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.”

Magagandang salita, Mr. Speaker. Noon at ngayon, magagandang pangako. Ngunit ang tanong, nasaan ang pagbabago ng sistema na matagal na nating inaasam-asam?

We in the progressive party list bloc can not help but be more skeptical this time around. The same old problems face the new administration. The same old solutions are being offered. Parang walang nagbago.

Ano ba ang problema ng sistema at bakit nais natin itong baguhin? Mr. Speaker, we are an underdeveloped country still dominated by the colonial powers led by the United States and continually being exploited and plundered by their big banks, corporations and multilateral financial and trade institutions.

In the countryside, our farmers are mired in chronic poverty, shackled by age-old feudal and semi-feudal relationships and oppressed by big landed families that comprise the political dynasties in their areas.

Democracy remains a pipe dream, with the political system dominated by the ruling elites. The civilian bureaucracy and military forces are mere adjuncts of the elite, and government is treated as one big business meant to be plundered for the benefit of oneself and one’s relatives and friends.

Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, nowhere in the President’s pronouncements did I hear any policy change or proposal addressing these root problems.

It was no surprise, Mr. Speaker, that the Minority Leader, Congressman Edcel Lagman, in his contra-SONA last week, boasted that the Aquino government is actually adopting many of the programs and policies of the previous administration. It seems that under President Aquino, we will see even more liberalization of the economy, more deregulation of strategic sectors, and more privatization via public-private partnerships. I am particularly apprehensive about such partnerships considering the government positions now occupied by former executives of big corporations involved in electricity generation and distribution, water distribution, infrastructure, real estate and telecommunications. From being service oriented, our utilities will now be profit oriented.

Ang sabi ng Pangulo, maling pulitika daw ang pagpigil sa pagtaas ng presyo ng tubig, kuryente at pasahe sa MRT. Ano ho ang ibig sabihin nito, itataas na ang presyo ng tubig, kuryente, pamasahe at iba pang batayang serbisyo? Siguradong pumapalakpak ang mga bangko at mga negosyanteng may interes sa mga proyektong ito.

When the President spoke to us, there was no mention of agrarian reform. No mention of the plight of our workers and their demand for higher wages and better working conditions.

We hoped that the efforts to hold the Arroyo regime accountable for its crimes would include not only cases of plunder, graft and corruption but human rights violations as well, which is a bigger concern even in the international community. To our dismay, it seems the more than one thousand victims of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and other human rights atrocities under Arroyo will not find justice under Aquino. Cases of human rights violations were left out of the Truth Commission’s mandate. The Alston report continues to gather dust, its recommendations ignored. The state of denial continues.

It also seems that under the new administration, the peace process with the MILF and NDF has dim prospects with the government’s insistence on various preconditions, like a ceasefire, for the talks to resume. It was totally inappropriate for the President to dare the NDF to give concrete proposals. In fact, the various agreements and talking points since the 1992 Hague Agreement, including the 1996 agreement on human rights and international law and the proposed agreement on social and economic reforms in 1998, show so many concrete proposals from the NDF that were never reciprocated by the Philippine government.

Muli, ang punto ay, nasaan ang pagbabago? Hanggang wangwang na lang ba? May makabuluhang pagbabago ba para sa mahihirap at inaaping mamamayan na aming kinakatawan?

Ang sabi ng iba, bigyan ng pagkakataon ang Pangulo na patunayan ang kanyang sinasabi. Kailangan daw ng panahon para madama ang pagbabago. Sana nga. Sana nga. Subalit sa aming nakikita at naririnig, mukhang malabo pa ito.

Sa ganitong kalagayan, Mr. Speaker, ang papel namin ay hindi lang tiyaking tinutupad ng administrasyon ang kanyang mga pangako, subalit palawakin pa ito para maging tunay na makabuluhan para sa masang Pilipino. Sa ganitong balangkas kami’y nakahandang makipagtulungan sa mayorya sa Kongreso at sa iba’t-ibang ahensya ng pamahalaan.

Sa kabilang banda, hindi kami mangingiming ilantad at tutulan ang anumang kontra-mamamayang patakaran o batas na itinutulak sa Kongreso o kahit na anong ahensya ng gobyerno, maging ito’y galing sa administrasyon o oposisyon. Sa ganitong balangkas kami’y nakahandang makipagtunggalian.

Sa kagyat, may isang dosena kahingian ang sambayanan na dapat matugunan ang administrasyong Aquino:

1. Panagutin at parusahan ang dating pangulong Arroyo at mga kasabwat sa kanilang mga krimen sa bayan.
2. Bigyan ng hustisya ang mga biktima ng human rights violations, ipatupad ang mga rekomendasyon ng Alston report kaugnay ng Oplan Bantay Laya at iba pa.
3. Ipamahagi ang lupa ng Hacienda Luisita sa mga magsasaka at ipatupad ang tunay na reporma sa lupa.
4. Ipasa ang isang legislated, across the board wage hike, itigil ang kontraktwalisasyon sa paggawa.
5. Ibaba ang presyo ng mga bilihin, tanggalin ang VAT sa langis, kuryente, tubig at mga batayang serbisyo’t produkto. Itaas ang buwis sa malalaking korporasyon at may kaya.
6. I-repeal ang PD 1177 at ire-channel ang badyet ng debt service patungo sa edukasyon, kalusugan, pabagay at ibang batayang serbisyo.
7. Bigyan ng subsidyo ang mga magsasaka at protektahan ang mga manggagawa at negosyong Pilipino laban sa mga dayuhang produkto at kapital.
8. Baliktarin ang liberalisasyon sa mga produktong may lokal na katumbas, i-atras ang deregulasyon at pribatisasyon sa power generation, distribusyon ng tubig, industriya ng langis at pagmimina, at paggamit ng ating likas yaman.
9. Ibasura at bumaklas sa mga kontra-mamamayang kundisyon ng mga free trade agreements at iba pang dikta ng IMF, WB at WTO.
10. Paigtingin pa ang laban sa korapsyon. Lansagin ang sistema ng pork barrel, ipasa ang mga batas para sa pagpapalakas ng papel ng mamamayan sa pagsugpo ng korapsyon.
11. Ibalik ang peace talks ng walang kundisyon.
12. Itigil ang Balikatan exercises at ibasura ang MDT, VFA, MLSA at iba pang di-makatwirang kasunduang pang-militar.

Ginoong Speaker, mga kagalang-galang na kasama, asahan ninyong sa ika-15 Kongreso, isusulong namin ang mga ito upang higit pang mapaglingkuran ang masang Pilipino.

Maraming salamat po.

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