“Politics of change.” This was the platform that the militant group Bayan Muna carried in its successful campaign for seats in the House of Representatives. Three years after and with only a few weeks of sessions left, only two of the bills it actively supported got passed the labyrinth of intertwining personal and political interests called Congress and signed into law. So, was Bayan Muna and its “politics of change” an idea that the dominant and reactionary political system is not willing to accommodate – yet?
By ROWENA CARRANZA
Bayan Muna created history when it topped the party-list elections in 2001, garnering a vote of 1.7 million and enabling it to have three seats, the maximum that a party-list group can hold, in the House of Representatives. It even outvoted the immensely popular Mamamayan Laban sa Droga (MAD) which had movie idol Richard Gomez as number one nominee.
But since lawmakers are supposed to make laws, the measure of a representative’s effectiveness – and the party-list groups voted – is the number of laws enacted. Of these, Bayan Muna has impressive figures: 44 bills filed and 205 resolutions passed.
A majority of the bills however ended up in the congressional trashcan, meaning they are simply referred to the committees concerned, often not even getting past the committee level. A few were able to get to as far as the plenary discussion, even getting support from several congressmen who agreed to
co-sponsor. An example is the proposed P125 across the board wage increase. The public then was hot on the issue of wage increase, given the numerous increases in the prices of oil and basic commodities. But when the issue died, the proposed bill was quietly shoved to the bottom of the House agenda.
“It is mainly the measures proposed by the LEDAC (Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council) that get passed,” explained Mike Ac-ac, Rep. Satur Ocampo’s staff, in an interview with Bulatlat.com. He said that the presence of a progressive party-list group does not change the character of the House of Representatives or the Senate.
“It is still a Congress dominated by the elite, so how can you expect progressive legislation to be passed here? Certainly, bills that would hurt the interests of the businessmen and landlords – who comprise 90 percent of the representatives – would get killed at the very first level,” said Ac-ac.
He added, “To have two out of 44 bills passed is I think already something to be proud of. Many spend six years in the Senate and three years in Congress without sponsoring a bill.”
According to the House’s official website, the 12th Congress has, as of this writing, passed only 34 laws, of which only 22 are of major issues.
Amy Padilla joined Bayan Muna during the campaign period in 2001. Like other activists, she was excited by the prospect of the Left joining the electoral struggle. Padilla became one of the legislative staff writers in the office of Rep. Satur Ocampo, who together with labor leader Crispin Beltran and feminist activist Liza Maza were the Bayan Muna representatives.
Padilla came from a Church-based non-government organization while Ac-ac was from the Ibon Foundation, a research institute that has close ties with progressive groups. Padilla and Ac-ac are typical of the Bayan Muna representatives’ staff – activists who came from militant people’s organizations and NGOs.
Interviewed separately by Bulatlat.com, both Padilla and Ac-ac talked of their frustrations in their work in Congress.
“Writing resolutions that you know won’t be passed, drafting House bills that entail so much research but you know won’t also be passed, as well as the privileged speeches that are good only for the 10 minutes they are read on the floor and won’t even be interpellated… it is frustrating,” lamented Padilla. She said that this is especially true of resolutions that are “touchy,” particularly human rights issues.
“Even if you already know that Congress is basically reactionary, that pro-people measures have no chance of being passed… but still, to see for yourself how a bill is maimed is so frustrating,” said Padilla.
She cites as example the impeachment case against Ombudsman Aniano Desierto.
“It’s a classic case. They said so many things- ‘I read the complaint, etcetera, etcetera.’ But you know it’s all crap. Not one could give a good reason why Desierto should not be impeached. It was obvious that it is their interests that decide how they will vote, not the issues.”
Another was the bill on compensation for martial law victims, she said. “They did a blatant sabotage of the bill.”
But Padilla and Ac-ac note how many people have put their faith on Bayan Muna. “Many come to the office to ask for advice and support,” said Ac-ac. They cited cases of peasants who have land problems traveling all the way from the provinces, persons who were beaten up by policemen and even that of a person who wanted to have the entire Supreme Court impeached for what she perceived was an unjust ruling.
Mike also observed how other legislators were at first wary of the Bayan Muna representatives. “It was the perceived association with the NPA. And of course, since more congressmen are from reactionary classes, they are allergic to perceived leftists. But later on, Bayan Muna was able to build alliances. Some even volunteered to co-author our bills. They find our issues worth supporting.”
“One thing sure is the respect for Bayan Muna. When Bayan Muna speaks of issues, particularly issues identified with the left, such as the peace talks and the war, they listen. For example, during hearings on agrarian reform and Ka Satur is present, they would give him the floor and he would explain the land problem.”
Ac-ac cited Rep. Roseller Barinaga of Zamboanga who once commented that Bayan Muna representatives are like senators who can speak knowledgeably of national issues, unlike most of the congressmen who are limited to parochial issues of their districts.
In its third national convention held last Jan. 13 at the Bahay ng Alumni in the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Bayan Muna secretary general Nathanael Santiago gave a performance report of Bayan Muna.
A matrix of Bayan Muna’s bills and resolutions showed how the group tackled the issues of marginalized sectors such as wage hike, human rights, compensation to victims of human rights violations under the Marcos regime, opposition to water and electricity rates, globalization, US policies, and others. These were supported by mass campaigns, coordinated with other militant groups.
As important as the measures they advanced were the measures that the Bayan Muna representatives opposed. Among these were the Charter Change bill, Anti-terrorism bill, Special Purpose Assets Vehicles Act, Anti-Money Laundering Act, and other bills the group believed were as “destructive” and “anti-people.”
Santiago also boasted of 673 projects involving health services, livelihood programs, roads, and school buildings in difference regions.
Ocampo and the two representatives also spearheaded the lawmakers’ opposition to the U.S. war, encouraging other legislators to express their opposition through dove pins and participation in the peace rally organized by Bishop Ted Bacani early last year in the Rizal Park in Manila. The three were among the legislators who staged a walkout to protest U.S. President George Bush’s address before a special joint session of Congress on Oct. 18 last year, joining later the tens of thousands who took to the streets to protest against U.S. intervention in the Philippines and the U.S. war on terror.
The national convention was obviously crucial in preparing Bayan Muna chapters and members for the coming electoral campaign. And prepare it must, for this time, the road to electoral victory is going to be more complicated than 2001.
Bayan Muna would be running this time without the euphoria of Edsa II and with the Macapagal-Arroyo government now on the other side of the fence. It would also be competing with other progressive party-list groups (six in all), aside from the more than a hundred that have applied for accreditation.
And it is not only the Bayan Muna bills that are being killed. Its members too are being victimized, with 40 Bayan Muna members killed since 2001, as of Jan. 17.
Ocampo however is optimistic. He said that the disillusionment of the people with the Macapagal Arroyo government is pushing them to find alternatives. Bayan Muna, he said, provides this alternative.
For the Filipino people, the moment when Macapagal-Arroyo was sworn into office after the successful and peaceful second Edsa uprising was a moment of hope. After three years of disappointing rule, marked by corruption, violence and opportunism, this hope has almost died out.