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Not Joining Walk-Out on VAT bill is not tantamount to support January 29, 2005

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AKBAYAN Party-List Representative Loretta Ann Rosales today decried malicious news spreading through text messages falsely accusing her and other legislators like Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada of voting in favor of the value added tax bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives 126-11 last Wednesday night.

“Just to make it clear, I was one of those 11 who decided to stick it out through the entire session,” clarified Rosales. “And AKBAYAN had been consistent in its call that the real problem has been plugging the loopholes in the collection and administration of the tax system,” she added.

“Let it be stated for the record that at 3:15 a.m., I cast my dissenting vote to the VAT bill. And that is a fact,” said Rosales.

“Whoever is behind this ‘text attack’ is obviously grossly misinformed, or would like the public to think that AKBAYAN, and me specifically, have reneged on our vow to closely watch the tax measures proposed by Malacañang,” Rosales said.

“While we respect the right of other legislators to walk out of the session because of the patent railroading that went on, we didn’t want to add to the drama anymore,” Rosales explained of her decision to stay put. “We wanted to register our opposition to the measure up to the last minute, and if that meant no media coverage then so be it,” Rosales added.

“We do not know who is behind the text attack nor the motivation, but it was specifically aimed at me and Erin Tañada,” said Rosales. “But sad to say they were wrong, and whatever the reason behind such misinformation is, the records will prove that we never turned our back on the people’s interests,” she said.


LTTE: re Rep. Mariano’s attacks on Marcos bill January 13, 2005

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The recent Inquirer article on left-wing solons fighting over the rights compensation bill (January 8, 2005) is an excellent opportunity to correct an apparent misunderstanding of the bill through assertions made by neophyte Rep. Rafael Mariano, obviously oblivious of the process the bill had gone through since the filing of two separate bills on the rights compensation by Akbayan and Bayan Muna in the opening of the 13th Congress.

Two versions of the bill (Akbayan’s HB 1319 and Bayan Muna’s HB 2962) have been filed and consolidated into Committee Report 117 on House Bill 3315, which was entered into the Record of Business of the House Journal in plenary session before Congress went into recess last December 17.

The Committee members who signed the Committee Report, which contained the consolidated compensation bill included, among others, Reps. Satur Ocampo, Joel Virador, and Liza Maza, who are current members of the Committee on Human Rights. Mariano is a co-author of the Bayan Muna bill.

To set the record straight, the consolidated bill underwent a series of deliberations both at the technical working group and Committee levels. In every Committee and TWG meeting, Bayan Muna and Selda, together or separately, participated in all deliberations of Committee and TWG meetings. PCGG Chair Haydee Yorac was present in both the TWG and Committee meetings to guide us on some technical and legal issues involving the bill.

One of the contentious issues involved the “automatic” inclusion of the 9,539 class suit claimants and direct action plaintiffs who won $1.9 billion in compensatory and exemplary damages in the Honolulu Court back in 1995. Chair Yorac correctly advised the Committee that there cannot be a conclusive presumption that the plaintiffs in the Hawaii case are HRV victims for purposes of the bill. They have to go through the process of screening by the Compensation Board to be set up under the bill. Even in the Hawaii case itself, fake or redundant claimants were discovered.

The challenge that Mariano must instead focus his attention to is the immediate passage of the bill, and helping ensure that the Compensation Board, once constituted dispenses with its duties with speed and justice. That would be a healthier exercise of his authority as an elected official instead of swinging with fiery, but misleading and empty rhetoric against other legislators just doing their jobs.

Rep. Loretta Ann P. Rosales

Etta: Peace Panel should look into landlord and NPA collusion in Bondoc Peninsula January 8, 2005

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The plight of helpless peasants in Bondoc Peninsula in Quezon province provides a test case to measure the sincerity of both the government and NDF panels in upholding the provisions of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Law (CARHRIL).

The NDF will have to answer for the charges brought before it by Reymundo Tejino Jr., a farmer-leader against the Maria Teresa de Leon Command (MTDLC) of the NPA for violations of the Geneva Convention against unarmed civilians it has harassed, coerced, threatened, robbed and in the case of Reymundo Tejino, murdered.

Government, for its part, should show the political will necessary to implement agrarian reform in the Bondoc Peninsula, by compulsorily acquiring the landholdings illegally claimed by the Uy family, and calling on the NDF to ensure that the NPAs desist from meddling in farmers’ efforts to place their lands under CARP coverage.

The situation in the area reveals the urgency of the farmers’ plight. Out of the 1,542 residents (or about 268 households) in the estimated 3,500 hectares, within San Narciso, 98% eke out a living as share tenants with a 60%-40% sharing arrangement in favor of the landowner. Organizing themselves into several people’s organizations, these farmers have tried several times to boycott the usurious sharing arrangement with the Uys, but in some instances, it was even the NPAs which told them to keep paying the landlord.

In the course of their struggle, four farmer leaders have already been killed. These were Edwin Vender on June 8, 1998, Roding Romero on October 3, 2003, and Felizardo Benitez on March 20, 2004, all in the hands of goons hired by the landowner Uy. The NPA, self-proclaimed protectors of the poor and marginalized and which supposedly draws strength primarily from the ranks of peasants, do not even think these murders are an issue, since these farmers are AKBAYAN members. Viewing these farmers as counter-revolutionaries justified their grisly slaying of Reymundo Tejino on February 3, 2003. The same danger is now faced by Dioscoro Tejino Jr., Reymundo’s brother who is also a farmer leader.

Aside from the murder of Tejino, the NPAs also committed the following abuses: threats and intimidation; assassination attempts against farmer leaders; robbery; threatening a six-year old boy to crawl at gunpoint; acting in collusion with the landowner in harassing farmers and depriving them of their means of livelihood. The NPA believes such actions are justified because these farmers dare to seek agrarian reform independently of their leadership, and it is this daring which they cannot afford since it erodes the credibility of their revolution. The farmers, on the other hand, assert their right to the kind of land reform and development path that they envision.

The combined difficulties of an oppressive landlord on one hand, and on the other, a coercive NPA unit which views with contempt their choice to petition their lands for CARP coverage make the struggle for agrarian reform a truly dangerous endeavor in San Narciso in the Bondoc Peninsula.

Last August 1, 2004, the NPA-MTDLC issued a statement declaring legal farmers organizations and NGOs as legitimate targets of the revolutionary action, in view of these people’s steadfast agrarian reform struggles in contrast with the NPA’s agrarian revolution model of land redistribution after seizure of state power and in the meantime, toeing the line of the 60-40 or 50-50 sharing arrangements with the landowners.

Groups like the Association of Religious Superiors of Women in the Philippines (AMRWSP) have already come out with statements calling on the government to make haste in alleviating the plight of the Bondoc Pen farmers. They have also called on the NPA to allow for peace in the area, where the farmers who refuse to support them only want to finally own the land they have been tilling for years.

The case of small coconut farmers in Bondoc Peninsula is a glaring blemish on the moral high ground pretension that the CPP-NDF continually seeks to project in its peace talks with the government. It shows that the revolutionary forces of the CPP are no better than the government it denounces when it comes to their capacity to commit the same atrocities they are only quick to condemn.

Dioscoro Tejino, Reymundo’s brother has filed a case with the Joint Monitoring Committee of the Negotiating Panel for the Peace Talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front. His complaint deals with the insistent threats to his life being made by the NPA. Tejino is an unarmed civilian, who is protected from harm by International Humanitarian Law, which forms the framework for the GRP-NDF’s CARHRIL. The Peace Panel should look into this matter, and the Bondoc Peninsula struggle as a whole, which has already been the subject of a Congressional inquiry in the 12th Congress.

Unfortunately, the CPP’s founding Chairman, Jose Maria Sison, who now goes under the title of Chief Political Consultant for the Negotiating Panel of the NDF conveniently forgets to address the Bondoc Pen situation in his tirades against more prominent members of the progressive movement outside the orbit of the CPP-NDF. Sison denies the existence of a CPP hit list, countering that the revolutionary movement he founded does not assassinate ideological opponents. But the case of Bondoc Pen farmers illustrates in the most concrete terms how such a policy can be nothing but a lie. Once convinced that a perceived opponent is guilty of a crime, it becomes only a matter of time before a hit squad is dispatched to eliminate such a threat. The issue may prove tricky and difficult for known figures, but forces on the ground such as the Tejinos, poor and little known, proves an easy target for the NPA.

Regardless of the source, violence has no part to play in the struggle for agrarian reform. The government bears the ultimate responsibility of ensuring that lands long due for acquisition and redistribution should go to farmers at the soonest possible time. No shedding of blood for land is necessary. Recalcitrant landlords of the criminal kind such as those of the Uys and their henchmen should be made to answer for their transgressions. At the same time, private entities with no clear accountability like the CPP-NPA should be held against their proclaimed adherence to standards of humanitarian law and human rights.

Rep. Loretta Ann P. Rosales

AKBAYAN solons call for debt relief to tsunami and disaster-struck countries January 7, 2005

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AKBAYAN party-list legislators in the House of Representatives today spearheaded a resolution campaign among solons to support international calls for immediate debt cancellation to Asian countries devastated by the killer tsunamis that have killed more than 150,000 people and left 5 million homeless and dislocated.

Rep. Loretta Ann P. Rosales said that the resolution, now signed by 31 solons but is still going through the rounds, seeks to call for the total cancellation of the foreign debt of tsunami-disaster countries, especially from among the hardest hit in South and Southeast Asia such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India and parts of Malaysia.

“These countries have some of the highest levels of poverty in the world, such as Bangladesh, which ranks a low of 138th and India which ranks 127th out of 177 countries on the UNDP’s Human Development Index,” Rosales explained. “Indonesia, which bore the brunt of the casualties in conflict-laden and poverty-stricken Aceh ranks 111th on the HDI,” she added.

Further, Rosales adds, these are the very same countries – India, Indonesia, Maldives and Bangladesh who also figure prominently in a list of low-income countries with debt sustainability problems, having GNP averages not so far off the threshold of USD765 a year,” she said, “It is unimaginable that despite this massive tragedy, foreign creditors led by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund would expect that debt repayments be made as if it was business as usual.”

Rosales said several donor Western governments such as those of Germany, Canada, Britain and France have already agreed to discuss the possibility of freezing debt repayments from these countries “at a forthcoming conference which President GMA is herself attending,” Rosales said, “and it would be a most welcome move on the part of our government to show commitment to convincing the WB and IMF that in the twin burdens of disaster and debt, debt must give way to allow disaster-struck countries to get back some semblance of normalcy,” she said. “Naturally, given our own recent experience with disasters, particularly those of the typhoons that battered the country late last year, the Philippines knows only too well the problem of managing a disaster and paying off loans,” she added.

Rosales, together with fellow AKBAYAN representatives Mayong Aguja and Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, said the resolution calls on the government to support a debt-for-rehabilitation and disaster management swap with the IMF and WB. “There is an opportunity now for indebted governments everywhere to show creditors that the debt problem is placing an added burden to poor countries everywhere like the Philippines,” Rosales said. “Disasters which can in part, as in the case of the Philippines, be traced to policies tied to IMF-WB loans in the first place,” she said.

On the proposed executive clemency for ex-Congressman Jalosjos January 6, 2005

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How soon we forget that one rich and influential political figure had already beaten the odds and got away with a medical treatment in Hong Kong even as he faces charges on a non-bailable offense! Now here comes another political figure, a scion of a backward political clan who is in the spotlight for possibly getting away with a crime he has not even shown remorse for.

He is already receiving more than his fair share of special treatment in incarceration, but what makes Jalosjos so special that the idea of a clemency seems so urgent now, at this time? “What is the story behind the story?” one is forced to ask.

So often do we see the poor and the powerless suffer even more terribly for what seems like lesser crimes than the one Jalosjos has been convicted of – statutory rape – and yet do we see any semblance of credible and thorough reforms in our judicial system, including the terrible conditions of our prisons? The law should be upheld to hold all individuals equally responsible for their transgressions against the rights of other human beings. A clemency for a rich and powerful man like Jalosjos essentially tells us that there are two sets of laws working in this country – one for the poor, and another one, riddled with “if”s and “but”s for the influential.

Rep. Butz Aquino’s comment that Jalosjos’s victim should be asked if she was willing to forgive Jalosjos before a pardon is considered is also ill-advised. Statutory rape is not a crime of passion but a crime against one of our society’s cherished principle. That a person in a position of power, like Jalosjos, does not enjoy any privilege to abuse his discretions to violate a girl-child’s right against sexual predation, an abuse so rampant and difficultly addressed in a society in which victims are often forced by stigma and fear to hide behind the pains they have gone through.

Under no condition is Jalosjos even eligible for a clemency. He has a long way to go to serve out the required one-third of his two life sentences, and neither is his “medical condition” so extraordinary as to warrant the same special treatment that Estrada undeservedly got.

Estrada’s escape from the rule of law is more than enough cause for outrage. Jalosjos should not compound the idea that you can get away with a crime if you have the right connections. Let him stay in jail.