AKBAYAN files Opposition to the “People’s Initiative” petition submitted to COMELEC

AKBAYAN Representatives in Congress and UP Professor Randy David filed today a formal Opposition to the petition for a people’s initiative submitted by Sigaw ng Bayan leaders Raul Lambino and Erico Aumentado on August 25, 2006.

COMELEC announced recently that it shall respect the 1997 Supreme Court decision that bars the body from taking up any petition for a people’s initiative because of the absence of an enabling law.

We are urging COMELEC to dismiss the petition immediately on the following grounds:

  • The process of people’s initiative cannot be undertaken, in light of the absence of an adequate law to cover the system of initiative on amendments to the Constitution.
  • The process of people’s initiative cannot be used to introduce revisions to the Constitution as such process is limited only to introducing amendments.
  • A “people’s initiative” undertaken by the Executive branch with the use of government resources and personnel and with the expenditure of public funds runs afoul of the spirit and nature of a genuinely people-initiated process contemplated by Article XVII, Section 2 of the Constitution.

Get a copy of the Opposition here.

August 28, 2006 at 12:27 pm Leave a comment


If you want to stop terrorism, then curb the arms trade. One concrete step that government can take to stop the killing of journalists and political activists is for it to stop buying small arms and light weapons and to create stricter laws to regulate the use of firearms. Here’s a speech i delivered in support of the Control Arms campaign.

CONTROL ARMS NOW!

Privilege Speech by Ana Theresia Hontiveros-Baraquel
AKBAYAN Representative
August 7, 2006

Ginoong Speaker, mga ginagalang na kapwa kinatawan, magandang hapon sa inyong lahat! I rise today on a matter that kills more than half a million people every year worldwide.

Ginoong Speaker, there are 638 million small arms in the world. By 2020 the number of deaths and injuries from war and violence, which are aggravated by the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, will overtake the number of deaths caused by killer diseases such as malaria and measles. In fact, no less than UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that “the death toll from small arms dwarfs that of all other weapons systems–and in most years greatly exceeds the toll of the atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

In the Philippines, the longstanding conflicts in Mindanao and the decades-long communist insurgency and state counter-insurgency severely affect the economy and livelihood of common people and place women and children in hostile situations. Because of the high demand for weapons to fuel the insurgencies, the small scale gun manufacturing industry is a booming business. PNP statistics recorded 800,000 registered guns and 415,000 loose firearms in the country. The proliferation and uncontrollable spread of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) pose a serious threat to peace, safety, security and has also led to escalation of armed conflicts and adversely affects the lives of millions of people and innocent civilians, especially women and children.

SALW are used by all armed forces, including internal security forces for self-protection or self-defence, close or short-range combat, direct or indirect fire, and against tanks or aircraft at relatively short distances. Broadly speaking, small arms are those designed for personal use and light weapons are those designed for use by several persons serving as a crew. While small arms and light weapons are designed for use by armed forces, they are also of particular advantage for irregular warfare or criminal and terrorist action. Ginoong Speaker, small arms in irresponsible hands breed lawlessness and violence. We are for stricter gun measures and transfers and against the proliferation of small arms in conflict situations.

Internal conflict is a factor that contributes to the proliferation of arms. The presence of strong Non-State Armed Groups (NSAGs) in our country, such as the MILF and the NPA, which have been waging armed struggle as a means to achieving their goals, is a strong point that identifies with the creation of new laws regarding arms proliferation and a stringent implementation of existing regulations.

The recent spate of killings of political activists and journalists by motorcycle-riding assassins is another point that inarguably presents evidence to the accessibility of SALW to civilians and non-civilians alike. It also provides another proof that the growing arms trade encourages the use of illegal and legal arms illegally. Clearly, human rights are explicitly violated when indifference towards the proliferation of arms is widespread.

This year, the additional 1 billion budget for the Armed Forces would entail the purchase of more arms to strengthen the security sector and to finance the ominous all-out war against the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army. These SALW are also prone to end up in the country’s arms black market and eventually into the hands of civilians, non-state armed groups and prospering criminal networks.

According to “Shattered Lives: The Case for Tough International Control”, a report by Amensty International, Oxfam, and International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), in Mindanao, 70% of the population owns one or more guns. Machine guns can be bought for as low as Php19,000 and revolvers for Php 750. The demand for small arms for protection, power and prestige is great and sources are various and complex. The illegal gun shops in Mindanao are a thriving industry with 45 local manufacturers of firearms providing the supply for local and international demands.

An Oxfam International paper for the 2006 UN Review Conference showed that the arms trade is fuelling conflict, poverty, state repression, crime, domestic abuse and human rights abuses in the Philippines. Violence, grave abuses and death tolls rise when Philippine institutions are passive in engaging the serious issue of arms. Unregulated weapons in irresponsible hands have produced massive human rights violations, injured the welfare of individuals and communities, seriously set back sustainable development and exacerbated conflict.

The proliferation of small arms reinforces a climate of fear and a culture of violence. For instance, the Mindanao conflict in 2000 showed that of the 190 conflict-related deaths found, 86% of the civilians were victims of small arms. Because SALW have led to the escalation of conflicts between the MILF and the military in Mindanao, entire communities have been displaced. 70% of the civilian population of Central Mindanao was displaced during the course of the government’s assault against the MILF. During this time, 300 children died of preventable diseases because inadequate healthcare. In the recent Maguindanao crisis, the 9-day conflict caused 20,000 individuals or 4,000 families to become internally-displaced persons (IDPs).

If a comprehensive peace process with NSAGs (MILF and NPA) is to be implemented, then the regulation of SALW to curb the availability of weapons is an essential component for the terminal phase of disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and rehabilitation programs. The need for laws regarding arms transfers must be seen in the context of countering the culture of violence and criminality, and in implementing and sustaining peace agreements.

Ginoong Speaker, the proliferation of SALW impacts men and women in fundamentally different ways. Men, in fact, make up the majority of victims of SALW, which highlights the gendered nature of the problem. While men are more likely to make, sell, buy, own or use small arms and are more likely to be killed or physically injured by them, women disproportionately suffer from the availability and misuse of guns in relation to their usage and ownership.
Gun ownership is often closely related to conceptions of masculinity in society where SALW and gun violence are pervasive. In some cultures, boys receive guns as a part of coming of age rites.

In a 2003 report of Amnesty International and Oxfam International, the power of guns is inextricably linked with the notion of masculinity in both industrialized and traditional cultures. The power of guns is both symbolic and actual. Furthermore, the glamorization of gun violence in conjunction to hyper-masculinity has spread to many conflict zones and influences the way young men see themselves in the context of ongoing fighting, poverty and despair. We must strongly denounce the proliferation of small arms and its contribution in propagating gender inequality and in promulgating a culture of violence that enables the construction and continuance of a male-oriented society.

Violence affects women, men and children everywhere, cutting across boundaries of wealth, race and culture and weapons make this abuse worse. Whether it is violence in the family, on the streets or in armed conflict, weapons put women at a greater risk. Abundance of SALW increases the threat of intimidation and abuse of women and heightens the lethal nature of gender-based violence. Studies show that even in non-conflict situations, women are placed at a greater risk of being murdered by their partners or close relatives who have access to firearms. Threatening behaviours increase across cultures when SALW proliferate.

Constrained by fear of violence and exacerbated by the easy availability of SALW, women’s political participation, as well as our capacity to perform daily household functions such as food provision, water and fuel collection and other family sustenance activities, is severely curtailed. In a climate of fear and intimidation, women’s participation in all public sphere activities is constrained. Education, access to markets and formal employment all become more difficult under the threat of SALW violence.

What then, should be done? Five years ago, the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (POA) was approved, along with its proposed guidelines, the Global Principles for International Arms Transfers.

The Philippines neither signed nor ratified the UN Firearms Protocol but ironically supports the International Arms Trade Treaty. Indeed, the lukewarm and inconsistent support of countries like the Philippines has stunted the efforts of the international community to regulate the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. In fact, barely a month ago, the UN Review Conference on Small Arms collapsed without any substantive conclusion primarily because of strong dissenting positions from the US, Cuba, India, Iran, Israel and Pakistan. Until now, no effective international controls on small arms, abiding by the standards set by the International Humanitarian Law and international human rights exist.

Let us be at the forefront of waging peace, promoting human rights and countering the effects of violence in our region by developing, supporting and strengthening regional arms control agreements to uphold international human rights and international humanitarian law. As one of the pioneer members of the ASEAN, let us embody democratic values and uphold the sanctity of human life and human rights by supporting a regional and an international arms trade treaty. The following are proposed actions that we can spearhead:

1. At the national level, we must strive to improve our capacities and our own accountability to control arms transfers and protect civilians from armed violence in line with international laws and standards. This means having stricter regulation on access to SALW for private individuals and the State’s coercive arms. The Congress should call for the stricter implementation of existing legislations on the control, import, export and transit of arms and guarantee that human rights and international humanitarian laws do not suffer under commercial pressure.

2. The local government and civil society must take effective actions to improve safety at the community level by reducing the local availability and demand for arms.

3. The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police should both adhere to the global principles of arms transfers and the international humanitarian law, which should be the standards for the implementation of existing national gun laws.

4. The security sector must use guns discreetly and must abide by the UN Basic Principles for the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, the Geneva Conventions and other international standards.

5. We must create new laws that control the manufacture, trade, possession and use of all arms. Congress also has the power to establish an inter-agency oversight committee with the participation of civil society organizations like Philippine Action Network on Small Arms (PHILANSA) as members to address the issue of small arms.

6. Congress must ensure transparency and promote regular and meaningful dissemination of information to the public about the production, ownership and transfer of arms.

7. Congress should enact immediately the Philippine Comprehensive Landmines Bill (House Bill No. 2675 and Senate Bill No. 1861) and the Act Regulating the Possession of Licensed Firearms and the Carrying thereof Outside of residence and for Other Purposes (House Bill No. 2804 by Rep. Abaya).

8. The House of Representatives should urge the Senate to ratify the UN Firearms Protocol and endorse a regional and an international arms trade treaty to prevent the international transfer of arms to high risk destinations where arms can be utilized to commit grave human rights violations.

9. The Congress must lobby the executive to create or support regional treaties on arms controls that address the transfers of arms, and instituting effective measures to limit the supply and reduce the demands for weapons and also reduce the widespread availability of arms.

Unless the laws provide guarantees that small arms will not fall into the hands of abusers, innocent civilians will continue to suffer. Unless international laws on arms proliferation and transfers include the global principles of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, arms-related crimes and abuses, and atrocities of non-state actors will continue to flourish. Unless the Congress “bites the bullet” and performs its duty our people will live lives–in poverty, fear, violence and abuses—or die by the bullet. Now is the time for an Arms Trade Treaty. Let us help make communities safer! Let us control arms now!

August 7, 2006 at 11:15 am Leave a comment

AKBAYAN still wants Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo impeached

We’ve been asked several times why AKBAYAN is still pushing for the impeachment complaint, when it appears that the process is doomed. Here’s a speech I delivered today to answer those questions.

On Impeaching President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

Privilege Speech
AKBAYAN Representative Ana Theresia Hontiveros-Baraquel
Delivered August 2, 2006

Ginoong Speaker, mga ginagalang na kapwa kinatawan, magandang hapon sa inyong lahat! I rise today on a matter that continues to divide this chamber bitterly.

Ginoong Speaker, immediately after the filing of the first impeachment complaint against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo this year, pro-administration legislators quickly announced the demise of the exercise. Several other complaints that contain the same allegations have been filed since June 26, 2006, and, without even looking into the details and contents of the complaints, they were instantly dismissed and readied by the House leadership for an early burial.

Based on what took place for the last twelve months, it is wise to presume that if the impeachment process this year gets shelved again for reasons other than a thorough consideration of the evidence being presented by the complainants, especially with the forthcoming elections.

More than a year since the ‘Hello Garci’ conversations have been made public, the political crisis that the controversy sparked continues to worsen. On the one hand, attempts to exact accountability from GMA have taken on various expressions – in the streets, in an impeachment process that was prematurely dismissed, and in restiveness in and an attempted peaceful withdrawal of support by elements in the military. The government, on the other hand, responded to each attempt through evasion, coercion and the use of government resources to secure the loyalty of its allies – all of which is done at the expense of our democracy and the imperatives of governance.

A year after Garci, and what we have now is a festering, protracted crisis that has paralyzed the country. Governance is now severely limited by whatever options that the GMA administration has in order to survive. Rather than engage the Senate in a constructive dialogue on the fate of the 2006 budget, it would rather take a hardline position and dismiss all efforts by Congress – the House of Representatives included 0 to exercise its oversight powers as examples of partisanship and political gridlock. If the Senate and the House of Representatives see surplussage in government spending, it is their duty to declare so and they are mandated to act accordingly.

The dangers facing Filipino migrant workers in Lebanon illustrate best how this political crisis has paralyzed our country. Amidst the urgency of evacuating Filipino workers away from the worsening situation in Lebanon and despite the supposed existence of funds for emergency repatriation under the Overseas Workers Welfare Admistration (OWWA), the money is still not to be found. It is feared that the borders of Lebanon will soon be closed down due to the expected ground assault by Israeli soldiers against Hezbollah. Despite these threats against our workers in Lebanon, the government has been dragging its feet in releasing the much-neede funds to bring home our workers, or at least bring them to safer ground. If GMA was able to order OWWA to release half a billion pesos to finance the PhilHealth cards that the government distributed prior to the 2004 eletions, what’s then is the sense of dilly-dallying now, when the immediate release of the fund is extremely necessary?

A couple of days ago, another journalist and two more left activist were killed. Is this what GMA meant when she said that she condems extrajudicial killings? Or do these deaths symbolize yet another debt of gratitude to Gen. Palparan that GMA has to praise in her next speech?

The political crisis would not go away without the truth being known and without sincere promises of radical reforms and meaningful change in our politics. This is reality that each member of the House of Representatives-whether one is from the opposition or from the majority-has to consider in their decision onh the new impeachment complaint. This is the same reality that the House leadership has to consider as it continues its push for charter change-without any credible answer to persistent question on GMA’s legitimacy, a new constitution would be a mere document alienated from the very people whose soul it seeks to represent. We need to address the crisis head-on.

AKBAYAN is campaigning for the impeachment of GMA and has endorsed, through AKBAYAN Rep. Etta Rosales, one of the complaints. We have also supported democratic expressions of dissent in the streets. As expected, our actions have been treated by the allies of the GMA administration with disdain and condescension. According to them, what could be our agenda other than to destabilize the country and jeopardize the economic momentum that GMA has diligently worked on? After all, why rehash old charges?

Ginoong Speaker, let me therefore take this opportunity to lay down the agenda behind AKBAYAN’s push for GMA’s impeachment. We have been very transparent with our agenda such that it is even available in our website and no so-called “Left-Right conspiracy” has to be concocted to understand why we are taking this position.

AKBAYAN envisions a Philippines where all workers enjoy full employment. We want or doctors and nurses to practice their profession here, where their help is badly needed. We hope our teachers are in front of Filipino children, teaching them how to read and write, and not in foreign lands where they are appreciated for their capacity to fulfill domestic duties. We want our young workers to build our industries through innovation, and not through the mimicry of foreign accents in call centers.

AKBAYAN also wants relevant and modern social services, particularly in health care and education. Only 30% of Filipinos have access to essential medicines, while a significant number of Filipinos die without even having the chance of seeing a doctor. We are aspiring for an educational system where the goal of liberation from ignorance, and not markets, determines how and what we teach our youth.

We want a truly democratic and a more representative political system. We hope that our party system can be transformed such that the basis of political unity is not tactical access to resources or electoral machinery, but rather programs and political persuasions, so that they are able to effectively gather the aspirations of our people and transform them into concrete government programs. We want our political institutions to be more representative, and not mere platforms to control and retain political power.

What, then, is destabilizing about our agenda? It surely destabilizes corrupt practices in government, or the deficits in our democracy. Beyond that, we firmly believe that our aspirations resonate in the hearts of the Filipino people. Even the impeachment, which has been the subject of so many print advertisements from the allies of the administration, is supported by 56% of the Filipino people, as revealed today by a Pulse Asia survey.

We are aware, Mr. Speaker, that we will never be able to achieve our agenda by ignoring this sad episode in our democracy. We need to exact accountability from GMA to ferret out the truth because it is useless to move on without the wisdom that this political crisis has to impart. More than ever, Congress as an institution has to reclaim its stake to sieve the truth from all the lies that this nation has been subjected to.

Let me end by challenging the members of this chamber to look at the impeachment complaint as a necessary exercise of our collective conscience and an extension of good faith. Whether one is from the majority or the minority, our position on the impeachment complaint should be guided by our desire for truth and not by political vendetta or the perks that are promised for one’s loyalty to GMA. After coming full circle, putting an end to the political crisis is once again in our hands. Ginoong Speaker, mga ginagalang na kapwa kinatawan, let us not fail the nation once again.

Magandang gabi sa inyong lahat.

August 2, 2006 at 5:02 pm Leave a comment

Sending Philippine soldiers to Lebanon ‘suicidal’

Speaker Jose de Venecia today said that the government should send a peacekeeping contingent to Lebanon. We in AKBAYAN believe that with the problems facing our peacekeeping operations, such a move will be suicidal. Our troops abroad are underpaid and ill-equipped, so how are they going to survive the worsening situation in Lebanon?

We also filed House Resolution No. 1313 to investigate the anomaly involving our peacekeeping operations with the United Nations. Download a copy of the resolution here.

Read below our press release on the issue:

Sending troops to Lebanon is ‘suicidal’

AKBAYAN Rep. Risa Hontiveros today called the proposal of Speaker Jose de Venecia to send Filipino peacekeeping soldiers to Lebanon a suicide mission. “We have been mistreating our soldiers by fielding them as underpaid and ill-equipped peacekeepers in conflict-prone areas. We in AKBAYAN fear that our troops will only be exposed to grave danger if we send them to Lebanon,” Rep. Hontiveros said.

The solon filed today a resolution to investigate the AFP’s policies in joining UN peacekeeping missions and the alleged misuse of the United Nations Support Fund for peacekeeping. Through a Memorandum of Understanding, the AFP gets reimbursement from the UN for the expenses that it has incurred for fielding Filipino soldiers in UN missions abroad. The reimbursements cover the US$1, 028 uniform allowance for per peacekeeper (the Troop Cost Allowance, or TCA), the soldiers’ subsistence, and the military equipments that are needed to support the troop during the entire mission (the Contingent-Owned Equipments, or COE).

Citing a report by Newsbreak magazine, the solon said that since 1999, when the country started to deploy troops again for UN peacekeeping missions, the AFP was able to save millions of dollars by recycling old equipments and by using vehicles and armaments donated by the country’s military allies like the US. “How can they protect themselves if they can’t even have new helmets or better vehicles?” asked Rep. Hontiveros.

The report also said that the AFP was able to scrimp funds from the UN money to construct an international peacekeeping center in Capas, Tarlac, which was later abandoned for its substandard materials.

“Furthermore, the decision to cut by 40% the allowance of Filipino soldiers in UN missions abroad means that the AFP is saving P8 million monthly from the TCA reimbursements,” Rep. Hontiveros said. “No one knows where the money goes. We believe that since the UN money is treated as a discretionary fund, then it is very prone to be used for corrupt practices such as conversion.”

Rep. Hontiveros urges Congress to investigate the policy of AFP on peacekeeping to prevent the misuse of the funds from UN. The government should focus its attention on the repatriation of Filipino migrant workers in southern Lebanon and northern Israel, the solon from AKBAYAN added.

July 31, 2006 at 3:21 pm Leave a comment

Another CON ASS Resolution

Despite its criticisms against the opposition for filing essentially the same impeachment complaints several times, the majority bloc was also busy during the recess in pursuit of Charter Change. On June 8, 2006, Rep. Prospero Pichay (1st District, Surigao del Sur) filed H.R. 1285, which calls for the convening of a Constituent Assembly to amend the 1987 Constitution.

Rep. Pichay is the only author of the new resolution. We wonder, however, if Speaker De Venecia was referring to H.R. 1285 when he said that the majority only needs 12 signatures to convene a Constituent Assembly?

Touted by administration legislators as the more progressive version of all Con Ass resolutions, H.R. 1285 is significantly different from the previous resolutions, especially the latest Jaraula version. It discarded the controversial amendments to the National Patrimony provisions of the constitution. Perhaps as an attempt to entice party-list representatives to support the resolution, H.R. 1285 also retained the PL system as provided by the existing law. (more…)

July 27, 2006 at 2:20 pm Leave a comment

Mega-projects mean P100 billion in the pockets of GMA supporters

Read between the lines: ‘Mega-projects’ mean Mega-Pork barrel for President GMA

The SONA sounded like a campaign speech because that is exactly what it was all about. She literally foisted the pork barrel upon Congress and the local governments in exchange for their loyalty.

The speech sought to accomplish two things. First, it was an order to kill the impeachment complaint. She was saying that despite her unpopularity, sticking with her certainly pays. (more…)

July 25, 2006 at 11:13 am Leave a comment

Boycott GMA’s State of the Nation Address (SONA)

President GMA can’t mega-bluff the real state of the country under her term. She has to stop these triumphal pretensions because the crisis on her legitimacy is not yet over. Since there is no reason why we should listen to GMA’s SONA, we will again join the protest rallies outside the House of Representatives.

Surrounding President GMA with celebrities and sports icons during the SONA won’t make her or her statements credible. Or geographic euphemisms won’t really mean better lives for Filipinos. Only truth and justice will make this government credible and only good governance will solve our poverty. (more…)

July 24, 2006 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

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