Ka Paeng: Representing and Living the Life of the Marginalized

Washing and ironing his clothes, cleaning the house, washing the dishes, and weeding the farm. Other politicians would hire maids to do these things for them. But Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Rep. Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano, the poorest congressman in the country, lives up to his sector’s way of life.

Vol. VII, No. 16, May 27-June 2, 2007

Washing and ironing his clothes, cleaning the house, washing the dishes, and weeding the farm. Other politicians would hire maids to do these things for them. But Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Rep. Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano, the poorest congressman in the country, lives up to his sector’s way of life.

Poorest and richest

With a net worth of P25, 085( $544.025 at an exchange rate of $1=P46.11), Ka Paeng ranked the poorest among 230 congressmen, followed by detained Anakpawis Rep. Crispin Beltran with a net worth of only P27,250 ($590.97).

On the other hand, re-elected Las Pinas Rep. Cynthia Villar, wife of senatoriable Manuel Villar, topped the list with P759.825 million ($16,478,529), based on the 2006 summary report of the statement of assets and liabilities and net worth of House members.

According to the report, the Villars, who made a fortune in real estate and banking, earned some P155 million ($3,361,526) last year making her still as the richest lawmaker.

Next to Villar is Iloilo Rep. Judy Syjuco with a net worth of P256.56 million ($5.56 million) while another Iloilo solon Rep. Ferjenel Biron is next with P207.42 million ($4.5 million).

The list of House millionaires included: Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio Arroyo with P160.22 ($3.47 million) million; Rep. Rodolfo Valencia (Lakas, Oriental Mindoro) with P150.46 million ($3.26 million); proclaimed Quezon Gov. Rafael Nantes with P125.55 million ($2.72 million); Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara with P106.40 million ($2.31 million); Cagayan Rep. Florencio Vargas with P105.96 million ($2.3 million); “graduating” Rep. Gilbert Teodoro with P102.9 million ($23 million); and Surigao del Norte Rep. Glenda Ecleo with P99.25 million ($2.15 million).

Presidential son Juan Miguel Arroyo is at No. 15 among the millionaires with a P89.6 million ($1.94 million) net worth.

House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. ranked 31st among the Lower House millionaires with a net worth of P60.59 million ($1.31 million). Majority Leader Prospero Nograles is at No. 36 with a net worth of P51.9 million ($1.13 million) while Minority Leader Francis Escudero of Genuine Opposition ranked 181st with P7.19 million ($155,931.47).

Under the law, government employees and officials from the president down to janitors are required to submit their respective statement of assets, liabilities and net worth at the end of each year. The reports are either sent to the Civil Service Commission or the Office of the Ombudsman, depending on the position of the filer.

Farmers’ representative

“Di dapat ikahiya ang pagiging mahirap,” (We are not ashamed of being poor.) Ka Paeng’s wife, Ka Lita, told Bulatlat, noting that the poor, not just the rich, should have their representatives in Congress.

This should not come as a surprise, said Joseph Canlas, Anakpawis coordinator for Central Luzon and Alyansa ng Magbubukid ng Gitnang Luson (AMGL or Alliance of Peasants in Central Luzon) chairperson. “Galing sila sa uring mahirap, walang lupa. Nakilala bilang lider magsasaka bago pa man mahalal na kumatawan sa Anakpawis.” (They are poor landless peasants. He became prominent as a peasant leader before he was elected to represent Anakpawis.)

The eldest of five children of a farm worker, Ka Paeng started helping out on the two-hectare land tilled by his father for a landlord in Nueva Ecija during his elementary-school years.

At an early age, he experienced first-hand the landlord’s rapacity. His father would usually be left with only a very small portion of the harvest, the bulk ending up with the landlord. The family incurred a lot of debts.

When Ka Paeng was in college, his father was stricken ill and he had to quit school and take up the responsibility of being a breadwinner. He became a full-time farmer. Then, their family and many others were evicted from their village in Quezon to give way to a government infrastructure project in the mid-1970s.

These experiences opened his eyes to the plight of the “exploited and oppressed” peasantry and he became involved in the peasant struggle.

He has been in the leadership of the AMGL, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Movement of the Philippines), Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance), and the International Alliance Against Agro-chemical Transnational Corporations before representing Anakpawis in the Lower House.

“Kahit na kongresista na sya, para pa rin siyang simpleng mamamayan,” said Canlas. “Hindi niya itinuturing ang sarili na isang kongresista kundi simpleng masa.” (Even if he is now a congressman, he still lives a simple life. He does not view himself as a congressman but as part of the masses.)

Simple lifestyle

Canlas recalled he would see Ka Paeng enjoying the food even if it was only malunggay (horseradish) with sardines. “Kung ano ang pagkain ng magsasaka, ‘yun din ang kinakain n’ya,” (He eats what peasants eat.) he said noting that the humble congressman does not have a cook unlike the wealthy ones.

Jim Fernando, Anakpawis Public Information Officer, said that unlike other politicians, anyone could have his/her lunch with Ka Paeng who often does not use utensils while eating.

He also said that their staff house’s kitchen never gets messy if Ka Paeng is around.

“Kahit kakarating palang niya, pag nakita n’yang may hugasin, kahit hindi kanya, lilinisin n’ya ‘yun,” (Even if he just arrived and he sees dirty plates in the kitchen he would wash them even if he was not the one who used it.) said Fernando, adding that the congressman himself would fill the plastic bottles with water and place them inside the refrigerator so that they would not run out of cold water.

This was confirmed by Ka Lita.

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