The Alternative Budget Initiative: Round 3

By Leonor Magtolis Briones
abs-cbnNEWS.com | 09/28/2008 7:59 PM
THE BUSINESS OF GOVERNANCE

On Tuesday, September 30 , 2008 another milestone in the history of budgeting in the Philippines will take place. The civil society members of the Alternative Budget Initiative (ABI) convened by Social Watch Philippines will present their alternative budget for 2009 in the areas of education, health, agriculture and the environment. ABI will also present its critique of the macroeconomic assumptions underlying the proposed budget.

The presentation marks the third year of organized citizen participation in the budget process. Citizens groups have always participated individually in the budget process. ABI is significant in that civil society organizations united and went into partnership with legislators who shared their advocacy. ABI’s advocacy is supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) . Both institutions support the world wide movement for participatory budgeting.

Appropriations Committee Chair Junie Cua will continue the historic practice started by former Appropriation Committee Chair Edcel Lagman .The latter initiated the first hearing on the proposed alternative budget for the 2008 budget. Budget hearings are traditionally conducted on the Executive’s proposed budget. Last year, civil society organizations were given the opportunity to present their alternative proposal for social development to the Appropriations Committee. The legislators asked very detailed questions. They were aware of the historic implications of the hearing.

The past two experiences in participatory budgeting were different. Round 3 promises to be different also. The budget process remains the same—budget preparation, budget authorization or legislation, budget implementation, and accountability. Nevertheless, recent developments make this round interesting and different.

First, the economic environment under which the budget proposal was made is very different. The country is suffering from an economic slowdown. It is buffeted not only by physical storms but also by turmoil in the external as well as domestic economy. Thus, it is more difficult to determine with certainty the state of the economy in 2009.

Second, it is also widely believed that the 2009 budget will be an election budget. Suspicions are rife that the budget is expected to provide funds which can be diverted to finance election spending. Thus, advocates and critics of the 2009 budget are edgy. Both sides are monitoring each other.

Third, consideration of the 2009 budget is taking place amidst issues concerning the practice of “congressional insertions”. Personally, I prefer to use the words “realignment” , “reallocation” and “amendment”. Congress has the duty to carefully review the president’s budget proposal and recommend amendments. Unquestioning approval will mean that Congress is a mere rubber stamp of the Executive.

The word “insertion” appears to refer to further allocations which are made during the Bicameral Committee meetings which are not open to the public.

The bitter Senate battle on the issue of double allocations has exposed the dark side of the appropriations process which is kept from public scrutiny: the bicameral committee negotiations.

Finally, it is anticipated that the 2009 budget will provide appropriation cover for expenditures which were alleged to be without legal basis in the 2008 budget . Remember the P500 giveaway to electric consumers? It is believed that the 2009 budget will ensure that allocations for even more giveaways will be specifically mentioned this time.

It is fervently hoped that the gains in budget reform which were achieved during the last two years will be protected and even enhanced in Round 3.

The day the Young Turks sang

It was a day for music. Adel Tamano sang “I’ll Never Say Goodbye.” Gilbert Remulla crooned a popular hit. TG Guingona sang the classic Visayan song “Usahay”. Danton got away by reciting “Rain, rain go away, Bring with you, GMA.”

The occasion was the Young Turks Forum at the U.P. National College of Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG). Adel, Gilbert, TG and Danton urged the SRO audience composed of students from U.P., Polytechnic University of the Philippines, City University of Caloocan, New Era University and the Eulogio Rodriquez School for Science and Technology to get involved in the electoral process by registering themselves as voters, participating in discussions about national issues and voting during elections.

Manila Concert Choir provided “choral music in the grand tradition” by singing “Pambansang Awit ” in martial tempo, delivering a powerful musical invocation based on Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, and singing two stirring nationalistic songs—“Kayumangging Malaya” and “Lupang Hinirang”—and the pop Tagalog love song, “Minsan Lang Kitang Iibigin.” More than one listener was moved to say “their hair stood on end” with Beethoven and “Lupang Hinirang.”

All in all, New Politics proved to be very enjoyable and palatable to the young with the Young Turks singing their advocacy while Manila Concert Choir’s soaring voices touched their hearts and reminded them of how wonderful it is to love God and country.

Remoto graces Tomas Arejola Literary Awards

by Kristian Cordero
The Bicol Mail
http://www.bicolmail.com

A MULTI-AWARDED writer and a teacher first before becoming one of the most promising young leaders in the country today, Professor Danton Remoto of Ateneo de Manila University surprisingly arrived and graced the 5th Premio Tomas Arejola Para sa Literaturang Bikolnon last September 13, 2008, which was held at the Holy Rosary Minor Seminary in Naga City. He also attended the traslacion festivities of the Our Lady of Penafrancia, commonly known as Ina by Bicolanos far and wide.

Remoto is also the Chairman of Ang Ladlad, the largest organization of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender Filipinos in the country today. Unlike other politicians now vying and realigning their political ambitions in the next election, Remoto came to Naga City without the pomposity of streamers, courtesy visits, and media hypes.

Instead, the English professor of Ateneo de Manila — who served as a judge in this year’s Miss Gay Bicolandia and Ginoong Bicolandia — quietly mingled and then conversed with the Naguenos and asked them of their dreams and aspirations in changing the political landscape of the country still in the grip of traditional and dyspeptic politicians. Remoto also donated two full college scholarships to two poor but bright candidates in the said contests. The scholarships are tenable at the University of Nueva Caceres, through the kindness of Ang Ladlad Bicol Region Coordinator Jack Hernandez.

In his impromptu speech during the awarding ceremony, Professor Remoto — who is the son of a Bikolano military officer and a Music teacher from Oas, Albay — encouraged the students, writers, and cultural workers to continue to promote and encourage the development of Bikol arts and culture. He said they should also join the Bikolano literary contests sponsored by the Palanca Memorial Awards and the National Commission on Culture and the Arts.

As a writer, Remoto is known for his landmark poetry collections and the three anthologies of Ladlad, a collection of Filipino gay writings, which he co-edited with UP Professor J. Nail Garcia. He has won various awards and scholarships abroad, among them, the ASEAN prize for the essay, 1979; the Palanca for the essay in 1987; the CCP literary award for poetry; the Stirling District Arts Council award for poetry and the short story in Scotland, the Philippines Free Press Award for the essay and short story, and Nick Joaquin Award for the Short Story from Philippine Graphic magazine.

He also writes a popular column called “Lodestar” for Philippine Star and blogs at http://www.dantonremoto2010.blogspot.com and http://www.oppositeofapathy.wordpress.com

The wheels of justice

By Danton Remoto
Remote Control
http://www.abs-cbnNEWS.com

In my last column, I detailed the findings of our group in the Supreme Court-initiated workshop on giving justice to marginalized groups held last July 7-8. The next items in our list of issues include the weak justice system in the fiscal and prosecution levels. The Supreme Court initiated the workshop to help hasten the administration of justice for all people. Our facilitator was the bright and efficient Court of Appeals Justice Magdangal M. de Leon.

The farmers in our group said that landowners are tolerated in filing multiple suits against farmers just to harass them. The spurious cases filed include qualified theft, although all parties know that the root cause of the problem is agrarian. Perhaps because some fiscals are afraid of these big landowners – or even beholden to them – the cases are allowed to be filed in court. The fiscals’ point is that since it is a matter of evidence, anyway, let the courts decide.

Moreover, some fiscals were scored for being abusive, meting out punishment too harsh and not commensurate to the crime. The farmers also asked for a Supreme Court directive that if a case is an agrarian dispute, the MTCs should refer it to DARAB because they have no jurisdiction over agrarian disputes. Some farmers also protested against fiscals who do not know land valuation. If the decision of the judges has been overruled many times, that means that they have a gross ignorance of the law. Therefore, our group suggested a monitoring of the decision of judges. The clerk of court should report the number of cases appealed and erroneous judges sanctioned, so they will think twice when penning their decisions.

Our group recommended that we follow the US judicial system in their anti-strategic lawsuits against public participation, or the anti-slap law. If a case is determined to be in violation of anti-slap provisions, then this is an additional ground to dismiss a case. The environmentalists in our group also said that the anti-slap provisions should also be applicable in the cases they handle. Our group also said that in some murder and rape cases against the police, the police officer is merely transferred, Mindanao being the choice spot for transfer – as if Mindanao deserves to be the hell’s pit for these scoundrels. And speaking of Mindanao, our group also recommended that the Shari’a courts be expanded to help ease the burden of the regular courts.

Our group also recommended that more judges should be hired for a more efficient disposition of cases. Moreover, there should be an immersion program for prosecutors so they would know the actual implementation of the law, not just its theoretical aspects. The various sectors must also have a voice in the appointment of fiscals and judges. And then, there was a suggestion where everybody’s heads nodded in unison – higher pay for judges and security for them, since more judges are being gunned down.

The next body – the National Labor Relations Commission – received a lot of brickbats not just from our group but also from the reports issued by the other groups. Allegedly, this quasi-judicial body handles the cases with the pace of a turtle. Therefore, the Supreme Court should issue time-frames within which cases would have been decided. Another recommendation is for the cases to go directly to the Supreme Court from the NLRC. The group also mentioned that some employees in NLRC serve as fixers; when there is no grease money, allegedly the cases ground to a halt. Moreover, the NLRC arbiters settle cases even without the presence of the workers’ lawyer, thus leading to a settlement that is way too low, to the detriment of the workers.

The complaints were so loud and vociferous that at one point, in my presentation, I said that the NLRC, in its present state, should be fumigated.

The urban poor in our group also lamented the fees that have to be paid in court, i.e., filing fees, for the cases to proceed. These fees seem to be a source of income for the courts. For example, if a laborer wants a re-computation of his back wages, he has to pay a fee of P500 again. Since the laborer is already out of work, the P500 is an additional burden.

The urban poor also lambasted some people in government for their insufficient knowledge of RA 7270, the Urban Development Housing Act. The bull’s eye of complaints was targeted at the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA). The MMDA has its own ordinances on demolition of shanties; thus, the parameters of the MMDA powers should be clarified. Moreover, they accuse the MMDA and the National Housing Authority of demolishing shanties even in private properties, with cases still pending in the courts. Our members also asked for a special court for the urban poor – or an urban land reform and housing court – to expedite the disposition of their cases.

Specifically, our group asked the Supreme Court to issue an opinion to clarify and settle conflicts in laws pertaining to the urban poor. For example, the SC needs to clarify the United Nations ES|R Report General Comment No. 7 versus Republic Act 7279, the Urban Development and Housing Act of the Philippines; and the Building Code. The Supreme Court also has to delineate the lines between RA 8975 and RA 7279, and that between the Water Code and MMDA Resolution 03-96. Our urban poor also asked the Supreme Court to remind the judges that there is an SC circular 03-72 implementing Executive Order 152, requiring a certificate of clearance before shanties could be demolished.

Moreover, our urban poor sectors are also praying for a resolution to amend OCA 72 to ensure that there won’t be displacement prior to demolition of shanties. The members of the judiciary should also be educated in the law and ramifications of the UDHA, related laws, and the international legal instruments on housing rights. This education should be complemented with fora like these, when actual cases are discussed, ideas and insights shared.

As for public-sector workers who comprise 1.5 million, our group recommended the expansion of workers’ rights. The Civil Service Commission and the government agencies handle a lot of administrative cases. The backlog can be eased if we allow paralegals of the civil service to handle the cases of public-sector workers. Only criminal cases should be left to the Ombudsman.

Moreover, paralegals should be allowed to represent cases involving farmers, laborers, and other marginalized groups. The arbiters are not aware that this is allowed under the Rules of Court, and thus frown upon this suggestion.

I was happy to be there for two days, serving as secretary and later, as reporter for our group. I saw democracy in action. Issues were raised, debated, sieved. Then they were reported, collated, and I told my friends in the Supreme Court that the next task is the most difficult – to work.

And exactly a week later, Supreme Court Justice Reynato Puno began his Justice on Wheels tour, where the justices when to the prisons to expedite cases by holding trials in buses. And two months later, the Supreme Court dismissed a Court of Appeals justice, sanctioned another one, and admonished another in connection with the attempted bribery in the Meralco-GSIS case. It was a humiliating case and I was cheering the retired justices who went through the cases and the evidence at hand with the solid, stern, and serious air of school teachers.

The wheels of justice grind exceedingly slow, but with Justice Puno as helmsman of the Court, I see some kind of hope.

I wish I could say the same thing for the Presidency or the Congress. But I would be a big cheat to myself if I do.

I want to share with you an excellent article by Conrado de Quiros on the MOA on Ancestral Domain and the Peace Process. I like the article so much that I intend to borrow his phrase “embark(ing) on a peace process remembering only the peace and not the process.” It so perfectly encapsulates why the MOA has self-destructed and why many are opposed to what may seem as a workable peace agreement. What the MOA proponents forget is that a peace settlement is by nature political and thus needs broad political and social support to work. Also, the article shows how erroneous it is for the MOA proponents to argue that those opposed to the memorandum are – ipso facto by their opposition – against the peace process. We must remember that both peace and process are inextricably linked and failure to give due importance to one will, ultimately, undermine the other.

Theres The Rub
Way to peace
By Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:57:00 09/15/2008
Most Read
Last Friday, a group of Muslim, Christian and indigenous-folk leaders gathered in Quezon City to pay tribute to the “Magic 5,” the members of the peace panel who made the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) possible. The five are retired Lt. Gen. Rodolfo Garcia, assistant prosecutor Leah Armamento, Prof. Rudy Rodil, Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman, and Sylvia Paraguya.

“We’d like to affirm that you did a great job,” said Mary Ann Arnado, secretary general of the Mindanao’s People Caucus. “We’re very proud that you’ve brought the negotiation to this point. There’s a fruit in the negotiation, and it’s just unfortunate that some people and some sectors are not yet ready for this fruit.”

The tribute-givers agreed that the panel’s biggest accomplishment was getting the MILF to agree to jaw-jaw rather than war-war. “It’s almost impossible to convince a liberation movement to put their struggles through a democratic process,” said Sitti Hadja Hataman, secretary general of the Moro Human Rights Center. “In a way, you restored people’s trust in the role government plays in talking peace with groups,” said Karen Tañada of the Mindanao Solidarity Network.

These lavish words do sound sublimely ironic and discordant in light of the swath of death and destruction government’s MOA with the MILF has cut. Outside looking in, the group seems to be living in another planet, completely oblivious to what has been happening in the country over the last several weeks. “Heroes” is the last thing most Filipinos today would call them. Restoring trust in anything is the last thing most Filipinos would credit them with, appearing as they do to have done the exact opposite, almost overnight single-handedly resurrecting the active distrust and hostility with which Filipino Christians and Muslims have traditionally held against each other.

Yet, strangely enough, despite the flames leaping high in Mindanao, I personally do not mind giving the panel some slack, though I would stop short at sending words of commendation their way. I know some of the people who have been involved in the peace process. I know they have been hard at work trying to forge an agreement they believed would finally put the hostilities in Mindanao to rest. They’re decent and high-minded. Their hearts do burn for the cause of peace—the kind of peace that goes with justice and not the one that goes with the dead.

There’s nothing wrong with the initiative they took. What is wrong—deeply and awesomely so—is the way they went about it. They embarked on a peace process remembering only the peace and not the process.

How you seek peace determines what peace you get. The disastrous consequences of the (aborted) MOA underline very clearly the two non-negotiable requisites of any peace process: transparency and consensus. This one had neither, and so produced those consequences.

This one in fact was bathed in secrecy. Most Filipinos knew nothing of a Bangsamoro homeland to be given to the MILF until the eve of the MOA signing. Which they had every right to know. The MOA did not just have to do with Muslim Mindanao, it had to do with the entire country. It needed to apprise not just every Moro of its existence and intent, it needed to apprise every Filipino of it.

What especially made transparency vital in this case was this: The MILF could always be expected to negotiate outside the ambit of the Philippine Constitution. Why shouldn’t it, since it had never recognized that Constitution? But the Philippine panel was bound by the most sacred of oaths to negotiate only within the framework of that Constitution. Certainly it could not offer an arrangement that could be possible only under a new Constitution. To do that was to commit treason. This one did.

Had the negotiations been done openly, publicly, transparently, in the spirit of trust and goodwill, none of that would have happened. From the start the objections would have flown thick and fast. At most, what could have happened was for this proposal to have been offered the MILF: Maybe a Bangsamoro is politically viable, but that depends on the Filipino people ratifying it in a plebiscite. That cannot happen until a new Constitution is made, which itself can happen only two years from now to make sure it does not serve selfish interests. The Moros have waited for a long time for an ultimate solution, they can wait a little longer. Meanwhile there is this openness and dialogue to keep the peace.

MILF panel member apologizes after calling Tamano ‘ex-Moro’

This is a month-old news item but I’m posting it here to show how the MOA on Ancestral Domain has caused such deep divisions, not only between Christians and Moros but also within the Moro community. It also demonstrates that with respect and dialogue, conflicts – no matter how acrimonious – can be resolved:

MILF panel member apologizes after calling Tamano ‘ex-Moro’
BY JOHANNA CAMILLE SISANTE, GMANews.TV
08/20/2008 | 10:15 PM

MANILA, Philippines – A member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) negotiating panel apologized Wednesday for calling United Opposition spokesperson Adel Tamano an “ex-Moro.”

The apology came during a public forum at the University of the Philippines College of Law where lawyer Musib Buat of the MILF peace panel had called Tamano a former Moro and “yellow” for opposing the ancestral domain pact.

“Former Moro, ex-Moro Adel Tamano…he has changed his color from green to yellow. Green is the Islamic symbol, and yellow is the symbol of the traitors,” Buat said.

“I understand that the Ulama in Lanao has renounced Mr. Adel Tamano,” he added.

Tamano, along with former Senate President Franklin Drilon, and Liberal Party President Sen. Mar Roxas openly supported the opposition raised by Mindanao local officials against the proposed MOA.

They were able to secure a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court to stop its scheduled signing last Aug. 5 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Tamano had expressed his disappointment in Buat, whom he called “Papa Musib,” saying the MILF leader has resorted to personal attacks such as name-calling.

“It is most unfortunate that instead of a dialogue, Atty. Buat has chosen to insult me personally. Atty. Musib Buat has called me a former moro, essentially a traitor and that my color is yellow. yellow of course being the color of cowardice. not it were not for my respect for law, and my respect for my elders, I would show Atty. Buat how incorrect he is in his assessment,” said Tamano.

“I am a Moro. That is my birthright, no one, not even the MILF can take that away from me. But I am also proud to be a Filipino, and I will fight through all legal and constitutional means to keep this nation whole. You know what, I like the color yellow. It is on the Philippine flag,” added Tamano, who had on a yellow neck tie.

Tamano, the son of former Sen. Mamintal Tamano, was the first Filipino Muslim who studied under a Harvard Law Scholarship.

He is a Maranao, the eighth out of nine children of the late senator Mamintal Tamano and Haja Putri Zorayda Abbas Tamano.

Tamano had earlier said that he has also received threats over text and email because of his opposition to the MOA.

“The MOA and the stand of the MILF intensely focuses on our differences, our differences in culture, in religions, our differences as Muslims, as Christians, and fails to seriously consider what unites us: our common hsitory, our common race. Why is it that in so many other countries people with different faiths, creeds, and even races can come together and unite under a concept of one nation?” he said.

The flap was ironed out later after passions cooled.

Tamano and Buat shook hands hours after they exchanged heated comments on each other’s stances on the memorandum of agreement (MOA) on ancestral domain.

“Sorry…I was carried away by my emotions,” Buat told Tamano, whom he referred to as “son” and “nephew” several times throughout the forum.

He added that he had known Tamano even when the latter was still a child.

“Mamaya suntukin mo ako,” he added jovially as the crowd applauded when Tamano stood up to shake his hand.

Also during the day, Tamano appealed to the public not to stereotype Filipino Muslims as “terrorists” as a result of the unprovoked killing of unarmed civilians allegedly by renegade members of the MILF in Central Mindanao last Monday.

He said such unfair characterization would be “a serious threat to the peace-process in Mindanao.”

“While all-peace-loving Filipinos must condemn the attacks on civilians by MILF, we must strongly resist the temptation to stereotype all Moros as violent or terrorists,” Tamano said in a statement.

“The vast majority of Filipino Muslims are law-abiding citizens who want nothing more than to find decent jobs and education for their children, just like all other Filipinos,” he added. –

Stop the War and Stop the Hatred

I received this comment on our website from Tomawis Sobair, from the name I presume to be a member of my tribe, a Maranao and a Muslim, which I will share in order to get a sense of the deep emotion that is generated by the MOA on Ancestral Domain issue-

MAKIISA KA NA LANG SA PAKIKIBAKA NG BANGSAMORO DAHIL ANG MGA “KAFIR” LALO NA JAN SA MANILA EH NATUTUWA SILA I’M SURE DAHIL IKAW AT ANG ILANG MUSLIM AY DI NAGKAKASUNDO SA PANANAW. WAG MONG HAHAYAANG MATULAD KA SA ILANG NON-MUSLIM NA ANG ALAM LANG AY MAGING HYPOCRITE TOWARDS MUSLIMS. ANG MGA YAN AY SOBRA PA SA HAYOP NA MAKAMUNDO

The term “kafir” generally means non-muslims but is often used as a derogatory term. If you check Sobair’s other posts, the anger and even hatred is so evident: anger towards me for not supporting the MOA and anger against the media and majority Christian population.

Even without addressing Sobair’s claims, it would be impossible to have a true dialogue when the person that we wish to speak too is too full of hate and anger to see the other persons points calmly and intelligently. And that is what we need – dialogue and not war. I have been against all out war from the beginning even if this clashed with the political views of my principals in the United Opposition. However, how can we dialogue when those like Sobair resort to name-calling and insults? Are name-calling and insults an Islamic way of discussing serious issues?

Sobair, you have to cool down and realize that it is possible that people like me – yes I am a Muslim an as far as I know God did not appoint you or anyone to be able to decide with certainty who is a Muslim and who is not – to disagree with the MOA and have the interests of the Moro people at heart.

My track record speaks for itself that I have consistently advocated for respect for Moros in the media and through my writings. In fact, when I was achieving things like being the first Moro to graduate from Harvard Law School and the first Filipino Muslim to be a University President of a major University in Manila, many Moros embraced me as their own and said that my accomplishments were theirs as well. But now that I have taken a principled stand against the MOA, some Moros treat me like rubbish insulting me and threatening me without even taking the time to scrutinize my position on the matter.

Sobair, you might think that your insults affect me and you would be right but not in the way that you think. Personally, in terms of my own self-esteem and self-worth, insults and threats mean nothing to me – I know who I am and, frankly, I like who I am. But I am affected because I am disappointed in you and others like you who are so quick to judge and so fast to hate.

This for me is the ultimate question – How do you – and Moros like you – hope to build a just and fair society, whether you term it BJE or whatever, when you will not give people like me the democratic space to disagree with you?

The heavy burdens of Lady Justice

By Danton Remoto
Remote Control
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com

Last July, I was invited by the Supreme Court to join a forum-consultation with leaders of so-called marginalized groups. So there I was, with leaders from the peasant, fisher folk, factory, women, physically handicapped, elderly, indigenous peoples, environmental, and youth sectors for a two-day meeting held at the Court of Appeals.

The succinct speech by Supreme Court Justice Reynato Puno set the tone of the meeting of minds. He said that the court is aware of the importance of consultation especially with those from the marginalized groups, who are often at the receiving end of injustice. I remember them now, since controversy has rocked some justices in the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court itself has just handed its shameful verdict that NEDA Chairman Romulo Neri was exercising executive privilege when he was talking to Mrs. Arroyo about the NBN-ZTE deal. Really?

But hope was regnant on that day. Aside from the forum in Manila, a similar forum was being held in Cebu City and Cagayan de Oro City. And thanks to the wonders of teleconferencing, we were able to see and listen to what was happening to the two other cities during the two-day forum.

On the afternoon of day one, we were divided into different break-out groups, the better to list down our manifold concerns. I served as the rapporteur of Group Six. Our facilitator was Justice Magdangal M. de Leon – a justice with a good grasp of the law, but more important for me that day, a keen listener to our many words.

The next day was reportage day, and we handed our PowerPoint presentation early. But lo and behold, just a minute before I would speak, our PowerPoint could not be found. It would have made another soul quake in his or her boots, but remember I have been teaching English for 22 years, and what is a report without a PowerPoint presentation?

So I gamely strode to the stage and gave our report, which I had read ten times already and therefore memorized thoroughly. I annotated it with crisp words in Tagalog and vivid examples from popular culture. I think I woke up the audiences in Manila – as well as in Cebu and Cagayan de Oro – from their post-lunch torpor.

Lumads and mining

It turned out that we had common concerns. The issues I reported on had similar threads coming from the other groups. The framework of our discussion began with the barangay, all the way to the Supreme Court issues. Highlights include the following.

An indigenous people’s leader in our group said that the barangay justice system is run by people who do not know the culture of the IP in their midst. Therefore, they cannot understand the underlying layers beneath the issues because of cultural differences. An even more basic question had to be sieved: who exactly are the IPs? Are Muslims part of the IPs in Mindanao, or just the lumad? Our group leaders also reported on IP cases in the Davao provinces and the Cordilleras that remain undecided to this day.

The environmental leaders decried the mining going on in Rapu-Rapu island in Albay, which is a flagship project of Mrs. Arroyo’s administration. Studies have shown that the mining activities there are dangerous. There are even spills now, but no action is being done even in the barangay level. The NGOs have done technical studies.

But the burden of proof is being placed on the marginalized sectors, to show that there indeed are toxic substances being released. In short, the victims are the ones being asked to show proof of the toxicity of the environment after the spills. Too poor to pursue the case in court, they are also browbeaten by local media which, they claim, are trying to paint a scenario of low toxic levels in the area.

Barangays

On the other hand, our women leaders said that the barangay leaders are not aware of the barangay protection order for women and children. Barangays play a big role in the implementation of the republic act on Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC). The barangay protection order provides an immediate shield for the women and children victims. However, in reality, the barangays cannot give the immediate protection that they are mandated by the law to do.

Instead of giving help, the barangay officials connive with the men and issue excuses and even insensitive comments, for example, that these are squabbles internal only to the family. The barangay officials lack training and act as judges when they should only be mediators. That is, if you can find the barangay officials in their posts at all. You have to go to their houses to plead your case. And our informants claim that even some councilors are not aware of the R.A. on VAWC.

For their part, our farmers complained that they are forced to attend conciliation proceedings that are done to force a settlement even before the case reaches the court. Many of them agree to forced settlements because of poverty. They have no money to pay the lawyers, and thus, no issues are resolved.

The basic problems in the law itself is not addressed, i.e., the stock distribution option in the land-reform program. Moreover, some sheriffs just demolish shanties even without any order to demolish from the courts.

They also decried the lack of a Barangay Agrarian Reform Chairman, which is part of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program(CARP). Thus, there is nobody with a technical knowledge who could settle controversies involving agrarian reform issues.

Police training

The Juvenile Justice Law is also violated when the under-aged offenders are punished even at the barangay level. Our informants even detailed cases of torture and abuse. The urban poor in our group stressed the right to have adequate housing and again, demolition with due notice.

On the other hand, our fisher folk questioned the parameters and limitations on the authority of the barangays to implement the law. For example, the military men would block the fisher folk who would go out to sea at dawn, citing insurgency problems. The barangay officials would do nothing when complaints are filed.

More IP problems involved the intrusion of military elements in their areas. The military dictates the people’s schedule, on who could come in and go out of the areas they live in. In the indigenous justice system, the old folks settled the disputes, banking on the traditional wisdom of the elderly. But nowadays, young barangay officials who know nothing about the culture and history of the IPs decide on their cases.

A solution to this is the creation of an Office for Indigenous People’s Affairs. There is already one in Quezon City, as well as in La Trinidad, Benguet; Iriga City in Camarines Sur; Davao del Norte and Davao del Sur; as well as in Talipao, Sulu. This office should fall under the Local Government Units, per the law, but it is not implemented.

Our group also protested the curtailing by the police of the people’s right to seek redress for their grievances. The no-permit, no-rally rule constitutes abuse of authority, they said, since the police cannot permit or not permit rallies – they can only re-route the rallies. Moreover, the police are color-blind when it comes to protest rallies, considering all of them as enemies of the state out to disturb the peace and bring down the government. They just blindly follow illegal orders from their officers, who are insensitive and not aware of the rights of the protestors.

Maximum tolerance should be implemented by the police, but such is not the case. The protestors are subjected to physical abuse, as we see on TV, and not follow guidelines in containing mass action, despite law and jurisprudence to this effect. A torrent of verbal abuse and excessive force is rained down on the protestors on the streets.

The police need more training in handling complaints and in inquest proceedings. Moreover, some policemen act as “hired guns” of mining companies. Truly, the time when the police were called Manila’s Finest have come and gone, along with so many things we could be proud of in the country.

Next: problems with fiscals, the National Labor Relations Commission, Court of Appeals and Supreme Court.

TAÑADA: “ANALYZE SIDE NOTES, EXACT ACCOUNTABILITY FROM JPEPA NEGOTIATORS”

Representative Lorenzo “Erin” R. Tañada expressed confidence that the Senate would rigorously analyze the implications of the side notes that were submitted to supposedly cure the constitutional infirmities that JPEPA has.

“Yet, we should not gloss over the fact that JPEPA actually still faces outright rejection from the Senate because of the bungling of our own negotiators in handling it. It is still very much possible that the side notes are not sufficient to address those defects. The side notes must be made public but let us not forget, our negotiators should be held accountable for putting our country in an embarrassing position,” he said.

The JPEPA problems could have been avoided if we have a Philippine Trade Representative Office that is mandated to seek a priori negotiating mandate from Congress, effectively consult with various stakeholders, have a strong research and legal arm and be the overall seer of all trade negotiating efforts. Such a proposal is embodied in House Bill 318 and House Bill 949 authored by Representative Tañada and Speaker Prospero Nograles respectively. The bill has passed the Committee on Government Reorganization and is merely awaiting approval of the Committee on Appropriations. A counterpart measure authored by Senator Mar Roxas is pending in the Senate.

Tamano Reacts to Speakers at Ateneo MOA Forum

Allow me to share the points that I raised as a reactor to the forum in the Ateneo de Manila University, College of Law, last Friday, which will help to clarify the issues regarding the MOA on ancestral Domain between the GRP and the MILF

REACTIONS

Speaker: Olayer – human rights advocate who informed us that there were nearly 130,000 IDPs or internally displaced persons as a result of the recent conflict in Mindanao

– My Reaction → It breaks your heart to see the real face of war, specifically the suffering of IDPs and civilians, which must remind everyone that war and violence are always a non-option

Speaker: Atty. Candelaria – GRP Panel Member. He said that the sad situation “could have been prevented”

– My Reaction → I agree had the GMA Administration been transparent and sought consensus of all stakeholders not just the MILF but also, among others, the MNLF, the local leaders, the lumads, and the Christian-dominated communities that would be affected by the creation of the BJE– and yes even the members of Congress to whom the Constitution has allocated the power, save for a People’s Initiative, of suggesting amendments to the Charter. As a fellow Constitutional Law professor Atty. Candelaria knows that due process – a sense of basic and fundamental fairness to all stakeholders, and that includes you and me – demands a broad consultation.

Speaker: Atty. Zen Malang – Peace Process Analyst who said (1) Why can’t we change the Constitution to resolve the Mindanao Conflict? We have changed the Constitution many times in our history, (2) that there were Moro Nation-States before the coming of the Spaniards, and (3) that those opposing MOA pandering to prejudice and xenophobia

– My Reaction to No. (1) → Sure that is an option but aren’t there other intra-constitutional solutions to the Mindanao Conflict. The MOA, simply, is a false idol. It is not the only solution to the Mindanao conflict and not a panacea or a magic-bullet to solve the problems of peace between Muslim and Christians.

– My Reaction to No. (2) → I won’t even assail the correctness of the historical claims of Atty. Malang but the simple historical fact – painful as it is – is that these so-called “Moro nation-states” were later subjugated as was the rest of what would later become the Philippine Republic. While there is a need to address the historical injustices done to Moros, similar to the situation of Indians and Aborigines in the Americas and Australia. But America and Australia did not create a separate State just for them. Again, very simply the MOA is a false idol and there are alternatives to it.

– My Reaction to No. (3) →Finally, not all those who oppose the MOA are pandering to prejudice and xenophobia, there are some who oppose the MOA for valid, reasonable, and even patriotic, reasons. Also, the proponents of the MOA do not have a monopoly of altruism, commitment to peace, and love for the Moros. Perhaps the MOA oppositors have some of this too.

Speaker: Father Bernas

– Out of respect for my Professor in Constitutional Law, I will not react to the points that he has raised

Speaker: Senator Frank Drilon

– Since we are co-petitioners questioning the MOA-AD, I affirm all the points raised by Senator Drilon

My Last Point → How ironic it is that – as some of you may know – today we celebrate the 45th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream Speech” where a commitment to non-violence and a commitment – not to separation by oppressed communities – but to integration with justice was expounded. How sad it is that throughout modern history, in the vast majority of nation-states, people of different creeds, faiths, and even races can come together as one nation and here we are in the Philippines, the claim is made, through the MOA, that the only solution to peace is for Muslims and Christians to live apart, Muslims in BJE and Christians elsewhere.

We all want peace but the price that the MOA asks of us is too high and the MOA is, ultimately, on the wrong side of history.