BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Bayan Muna (People First) Rep. Satur Ocampo admits that for a while, amid what he describes as “political persecution” of representatives from progressive party-list groups, there were those within their ranks who raised questions on whether it is still worth it to participate in the parliamentary arena. “If we leave the parliamentary arena, the anti-people leaders in government will easily have their way,” he told Bulatlat in an interview.
“They were convinced that giving up this arena would be victory for the persecutors, who want us out of Congress in the first place,” Ocampo said.
Ocampo is one of five representatives now known as the Batasan 5. The others are Teddy Casiño and Joel Virador, also of Bayan Muna; Rafael Mariano of Anakpawis (toiling masses), and Liza Maza of the Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP).
The Batasan 5 had to seek the protective custody of the House of Representatives after eluding attempts to arrest them without warrant at a press conference in Quezon City on Feb. 25, a day after Arroyo issued Proclamation No. 1017 declaring a state of national emergency.
The Arroyo government purportedly issued Proclamation No. 1017 to prevent a coup attempt by elements of the “extreme Left” and the “extreme Right.” The said proclamation was issued hours after the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) claimed to have thwarted a mutiny to be led by Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim and Col. Ariel Querubin of the Philippine Marines.
The issuance of Proclamation No. 1017 led to the arrests of a number of progressive leaders and other opposition personalities – including Anakpawis Rep. Crispin Beltran, who is still in detention. Authorities likewise tried to arrest the representatives now known as the Batasan 5.
Beltran and alleged Magdalo officer 1Lt. Lawrence San Juan were charged with rebellion. The DOJ subsequently filed an amended information that included the Batasan 5 and 49 others in the charges. The amended information cited, among others, a chain of events beginning from the reestablishment of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in 1968 and included the Plaza Miranda bombing in 1971.
The amended information was junked by Judge Jenny Lind Delorino, who handled the rebellion case which was filed at the Makati City Regional Trial Court, on May 4, and only Beltran and San Juan remain as defendants in the rebellion case filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
A few days after the junking of the amended information, the DOJ recalled a standing order to the Philippine National Police (PNP) to arrest the Batasan 5. This signaled their exit from the House of Representatives.
Delorino inhibited herself from the case against Beltran and San Juan on May 10. In her decision to inhibit, Delorino cited accusations from the DOJ that she handled the case with partiality, which she denied.
Delorino’s decision to inhibit herself from handling the rebellion case against Beltran and San Juan prompted the filing of a new case against the Batasan 5 and the 49 other personalities charged in the amended information, Senior State Prosecutor Emmanuel Velasco told media on May 12.
On May 12, the amended information to the case against Beltran and San Juan was filed as new information, thus making a new case against the Batasan 5 and the 49 others charged together with them.
When asked if the plight of the Batasan 5 is comparable to the 1946 experience of the Democratic Alliance (DA), a broad formation of leftist elements and progressive liberals united on the program of assertion of sovereignty and advancement of nationalist industrialization, Ocampo said yes.
That year the U.S. supported moves to unseat from Congress six elected members of the DA.
Staunch opponents of the Bell Trade Act which granted U.S. corporations equal “rights” with Filipino businessmen in exploiting the country’s economic resources, the DA’s representatives constituted a block to a two-thirds vote on the said bill. With aid from the U.S., President Manuel Roxas and his political allies filed ouster cases against the DA representatives on spurious grounds of electoral “terrorism.” They succeeded in unseating the DA representatives and the Bell Trade Act was able to pass in Congress.
“Our plight and the DA experience are similar in the sense that like what the Roxas regime did to the DA representatives, the Arroyo administration is using legal maneuvers and filing trumped-up charges against us in a bid to prevent us from performing our duties as elected representatives,” he said.
Before the rebellion charges were lodged against them, Ocampo said, Bayan Muna and the other progressive party-list groups had experienced other forms of political persecution.
In particular, Bayan Muna – which went into the electoral arena three years ahead of Anakpawis and GWP – experienced Red-smearing as early as 2001, Casiño told Bulatlat in an earlier interview.
In 2004, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales came out with what he called an expose branding six progressive party-list groups – Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, GWP, Anak ng Bayan (Sons and Daughters of the People) Youth Party, Migrante Sectoral Party (MSP), and Suara Bangsamoro (Voice of the Moro People) – as “front organizations” of the clandestine CPP and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA). A year later, the six party-list groups would appear among other groups as “enemies of the state” in a powerpoint presentation of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP), titled Knowing the Enemy.
The so-called “enemies of the state” included such groups as the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI or the Philippine Independent Church), the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP), the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), IBON Foundation, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).
And now, they have the DOJ lodging rebellion charges against them – two cases in a span of less than three months.
Aside from the political persecution, members and supporters of the three progressive party-list groups are being killed with impunity.
Based on the latest data from the human rights group Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), there has been a total of 601 political killings since 2001, the year President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was catapulted to power through a popular uprising. Of the 601, Karapatan data further show, 257 were confirmed to be affiliated with cause-oriented groups.
Ninety-three of the victims were Bayan Muna members while 20 were from Anakpawis.
The highest number of political killings under the Arroyo administration occurred in 2005 with 172 victims. Since 2005, there is at least one political killing every two days.
“With that there is always the danger that even we who represent these groups in Congress be physically eliminated,” Ocampo said. “The only thing that could be preventing them from annihilating us is the historical reality that when they hit national figures, the public response is intense, as shown by the cases of Ninoy Aquino, Ka Lando Olalia and Lean Alejandro.”
Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. was a prominent opposition politician who was assassinated on August 21, 1983 upon his return to the Philippines. He was viewed as the chief political rival of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos.
Rolando “Ka Lando” Olalia was the chairperson of Partido ng Bayan (People’s Party), a left-leaning political party that participated in the 1987 congressional elections, and chairperson of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May 1st Movement). Ka Lando, together with his driver Ka Leonor Alay-ay, was assassinated on November 13, 1986. Lean Alejandro was the secretary-general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) at the time he was assassinated on September 19, 1987.
“They are really bent on getting us out of Congress,” he added.
Even then, he said, it is worth it to continue participating in the parliamentary arena, Ocampo said. “In this arena we are able to amplify the concerns of the mass movement and intensify pressure on the government to hear these,” he pointed out.
Likewise, Ocampo also said, there have been a number of laws authored by progressive legislators that were intended to benefit the common people. He also said there have been several instances where the progressive legislators were able to block anti-people provisions in the administration’s legislative agenda, or at least lessen the impact of these on the people.
“If we leave the parliamentary arena, the anti-people leaders in government will easily have their way,” he said. (Bulatlat.com)