“Akbayan is already a party in power. It has significant influence in government and has undue advantage over others, given the position of their high officials.” — Bagong Alyansang Makabayan
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Akbayan is no longer a marginalized group but a party in power in the Benigno Aquino III administration.
This is the main argument of multisectoral groups allied with the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and anti-electoral fraud formations when they filed a formal petition for the disqualification of Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party from the party list elections last October 24 at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) offices in Intramuros. They said Akbayan is already a party in power, is no longer marginalized and is, in fact, overrepresented in government.
The petitioners include Archbishop Oscar Cruz, Kontra Daya’s Fr. Joe Dizon, Bayan’s secretary general Renato Reyes, Jr., Hacienda Luisita peasant leader Rodel Mesa, of the Ugnayan ng Manggawa sa Agrikultura, Peter Gonzalez of Pamalakaya-Southern Tagalog, Santiago Dasmarinas Jr. of the Confederation for the Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees, University of the Philippines (UP) Student Regent Cleve Kevin Robert Arguelles, Isabelle Therese Baguisi of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP), Henri Kahn, a concerned citizen and businessman, and Cristina Palabay Of Karapatan.
The filing was supported by various grassroots organizations of farmers, workers, urban poor and students who held a picket in front of the Comelec and demanded the cancellation of Akbayan’s registration in the party list elections.
“Akbayan is already a party in power. It has significant influence in government and has undue advantage over others, given the position of their high officials,” said Bayan’s Reyes.
In the petition, they listed names of present and former Akbayan leaders who are now holding high government posts. They are Ronald Llamas, presidential political affairs adviser, Loretta Ann Rosales, chair of the Commission on Human Rights, Joel Rocamora, chair of the National Anti-Poverty Commission, Mario Agujo, member of GSIS Board of Trustees and Percival Cendaña, commissioner-at-large of the National Youth Commission.
Its current nominees too are holding high government posts. Ibarra M. Guttierez III, Akbayan’s second nominee, is President Aquino’s undersecretary for political affairs while Angelina Ludovice-Katoh, its third nominee, is a commissioner for the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor.
Akbayan president Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, who will also be running for senator under the Liberal Party in 2013, is the spokesperson of the National Anti-Poverty Commission. She is an appointee of the president.
Daniel Edralin, chair of the Alliance of Progressive Labor, is also a commissioner of the Social Security System.
In recent weeks, a debate has raged in the mainstream media and social networking sites over Akbayan’s claim to be a group espousing the interests of the marginalized sectors. On television last October 16, , members of Akbayan were caught mauling members of the Anakbayan youth and students group who spoke out against Akbayan during a press conference the latter sponsored
In the Philippine Daily Inquirer report, Akbayan’s incumbent representative in Congress Walden Bello was quoted as saying that “Groups like Anakbayan and Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) are really upset that while they are drifting into irrelevance, Akbayan is successfully representing the marginalized. This is where this is coming from, this is not with respect to the formal qualifications of Akbayan. It’s because their politics, their political approach, is obsolete and anachronistic, whereas we’re showing that the politics of reform is fulfilling the interests of the marginalized.”
Bello said that critics of Akbayan were only “jealous of Akbayan’s success as a political party of the marginalized” and that those who wanted Akbayan disqualified were actually “front organizations of the extreme Left.”
Reyes countered that “Beyond Akbayan’s claims that its critics are jealous, the issue remains that it has not answered arguments that Akbayan is a party already at the helm of power because it has many officials and members who are already within the Aquino administration.
“There are many parties and groups, out of power, really marginalized and underrepresented that are qualified to represent these sectors,” he said. ” It is grossly unfair to parties and groups belonging to and representing marginalized sectors if we allow a party with Cabinet and high appointed government officials to join the party list system.”
The Bayan leader also pointed out that during the Macapagal- Arroyo’s presidency, Akbayan protested the entry of party list groups formed or joined in by members of the Cabinet and high ranking Malacañang officials. Akabayan officials Bello and Loretta Ann Rosales branded them in a public media gathering as Malacañang or government supported party list groups which must be disqualified.
In the 2007 midterm elections, Akbayan launched the Bare the List campaign to force the Comelec to disclose the names of all nominees of all accredited party-list groups.
“Many of the accredited party list organizations for the 2010 race are the same as those which we challenged as administration-fielded bogus groups in the 2007 elections,” Rosales was qouted as saying.
Representating the marginalized?
Akbayan purportedly represents the following sectors: labor, peasant, women, youth, lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT), fisherfolk,urban poor and overseas Filipinos. Akbayan’s nominees, however, do not appear to belong to any of these sectors.
Migrante International scoffed at Bello’s claim that he belongs to and represents overseas Filipinos and that they comprise a marginalized sector. Bello is currently the chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Overseas Workers’ Affairs (OWA).
“‘Overseas Filipino’ refers to any Filipino working abroad, even the ambassadors. Bello claims to be a representative of ‘overseas Filipinos’ yet Filipinos abroad hold no affinity with him. Even during his short stint in the United States, he was not part of any OFW advocacy group or migrants’ rights organization. So we ask now how Bello perceives himself to be a representative of our sector?” said the group’s president Gary Martinez.
Martinez said neither can Akbayan claim to have actively led any particular campaign or advocacy concerning the upholding of the rights and welfare of overseas Filipino workers.
“It was silent and remain silent to this day on issues that continue to plague OFWs. It hasn’t presented a clear and categorical stand against the Aquino administration’s continuous, more rigorous and more vigorous implementation of a labor export policy,” he said. “In fact, Bello’s short stint in the United States and his succeeding trips and activities with Filipino communities abroad stirred nothing but his and his groups’ usual red-baiting against known Filipino organizations abroad. So how can he claim to represent OFWs when he has failed to unite and be in solidarity with them, their interests, campaigns and demands?”
Akbayan officials in the Aquino government
Based on the party-list system law, qualified parties or organizations for elections should not be an adjunct of, or a project organized or an entity funded or assisted by, the government.
“By the very nature of the party-list system, the party or organization must be a group of citizens, organized by citizens and operated by citizens. It must be independent of the government. The participation of the government or its officials in the affairs of a party-list candidate is not only illegal and unfair to other parties, but also deleterious to the objective of the law: to enable citizens belonging to marginalized and underrepresented sectors and organizations to be elected to the House of Representatives,” it states.
Akbayan alleges that it is registered as a political party with national constituency since October 28, 1997. In its website and other links found in the internet, however, it’s said that it was formally established in January of 1998 through its Founding National Congress.
In May 1998 it began participating in the party-list system of elections and fielded and ran in local elections and won seats.
Through the year, its representatives in Congress have been Loretta Ann P. Rosales (11th, 12th and 13th Congress, 1998-2001, 2001-2004, 2004-2007 ); Mayong Aguja (12th Congress, 2001-2004): Risa Hontiveros (13th and 14th Congress (2004-2007); Walden Bello (14th and 15th Congress, 2007-2010 ; and Kaka Bag-ao (15th Congress).
Akbayan’s founding members are Ricardo Reyes, Ronaldo Llamas, Bello, Carmel Abao and Rosales. In the May 2013 polls, it is fielding Bello, Ibarra M. Gutierrez III, Angelina Ludovice Katoh, Sylvia Estrada Claudio, Francis Q. Isaac, and Edwin A. Bustillos.
Llamas is the former president of Akbayan and is currently President Aquino’s political affairs adviser. Rosales, in the meantime, was also a former Akbayan president is currently the chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights. Joel Rocamora, former Akbayan president, is currently the chairperson of the National Anti-Poverty Commission. Aguja is currently a member of the Board of Trustees of the Government Social Insurance System (GSIS).Percival Cendaña, former Akbayan youth chairman, is currently the National Youth Commission commissioner-at-large. Gutierrez III, Akbayan’s second nominee is an Undersecretary for Political Affairs. Ludovice-Katoh, the group’s third nominee is a Commissioner in the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor. Hontiveros-Baraquel, incumbent Akbayan president and representative, is the Spokesperson of National Anti-Poverty Commission. Daniel Edralin, chairperson of the Alliance of Progressive Labor, is now a commissioner of the Social Service System.
In their petition, the complainants argued that Akbayan is not qualified to run in the party-list elections because it is no longer a marginalized and underrepresented political party. They said that its nominees do not belong to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors, and most glaringly, the group itself enjoys government support and funding which gives it undue advantage over other party-list groups.
“Akbayan is a supporter of the reactionary, anti-people, and anti-nationalist Aquino regime. It has a track record of subservience to this regime. It feigns “disagreement” with Aquino, only when the need arises, such as when their subservience is exposed in public. Has Akbayan at anytime, protested against Aquino? Can their track record boast of anything that would resemble a strong opposition to the anti-people policies of this regime?,” Reyes said.
Access to government resources
Akbayan’s alleged influence over and access to government resources is also being put into question.
The CHR which Rosales has headed since 2010, has a budget of P925.278 million ($ 22.03 million) in 2011; P1.420 billion ($33.8 million ) in 2012; and P2.782 billion ($66.24 million) in 2013. The NAPC which Rocamora heads since 2010 had P73.189 million ($1.742 million) The National Youth Commission, led by Cendaña since 2011, had a budget of P60.741 million ($1.446 million) in 2011; P64.452 million ($ 1.534 million) in 2012; and P74.497 million ($1.773 million) in 2013.
The PCUP, in which Ludovice-Katoh is a commissioner, has a budget of P60.031 million ($1.429 million) in 2011; P77.684 million ($ 1.849 million) in 2012; and P93.089 million ($ 2.216 million) in 2013.
In the meantime, various members and officers of Akbayan are currently employees or consultants of the National Anti-Poverty Commission: Arnold Tarrobago, Akbayan member, is in the Office of the Secretary and a consultant for Community Participation; Magistrado Mendoza Jr. is a senior policy consultant, but he is also the executive director of Kaisahan Inc., a non-government organization allied with Akbayan. Jet Evangelista is employed as staff in Rocamora’s office; he is as an LGBT organizer of Akbayan and a staff of Hontiveros since 2011. Maripaz Galang is in the AFHRMS and a management and human resources consultant, but also holds the position of staff of Partnership for the Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas (Philhdrra), a peasant NGO of Akbayan.
The complainants also argued that Akbayan is able to benefit their members through access to government: they alleged that most of Akbayan members are recipients of poverty reduction projects of the government, such as the KALAHI (Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kapirapan: Link Hands in the Struggle Against Poverty) / CIDSS (Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services) and the Conditional Cash Transfer program, implemented by the NAPC and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
Recently, there has also been a Commission on Audit report which questioned NAPC’s hiring of consultants and it’s supposed “overpayment” to its officials, which were in excess of the allowable limit set by law.
NAPC is only allowed to maintain 50 personnel and staff based on its approved budget, but the COA noted that it hired 81 employees under Contract of Service, 19 consultants and 49 others to augment its personnel complement, incurring expenses for Other Professional Services amounting to P27.97 billion ($666.666 million).
The CoA said that the hiring of non-plantilla people was NAPC’s single biggest expenditure item in 2011. It also questioned how the agency justified hiring part-time employees as the move entailed additional expenditures.
The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the Kaisahang Pambansa ng mga Magsasaka sa Koprahan (Koprahan) blasted the claim of NAPC’s Rocamora’s claim that “there is nothing extraordinary or anomalous about the practice of hiring consultants and contract of service staff” by the NAPC.
““None of Rocamora’s 81 consultants faced us when we went to the NAPC to warn them against stealing the multi-billion coconut levy funds owned by small coconut farmers,” said KMP deputy secretary general Willy Marbella.
In a related development, Interaksyon.com and gmanews.tv reports revealed that three Aquino sisters were the biggest contributors to Akbayan’s campaign during the 2010 party-list elections. Both reports revealed that Akbayan received P112.183 million ($2.67 million), with Aquino sisters Kris Aquino, Ballsy Aquino-Cruz, and Viel Aquino-Dee contributing a total of P14 million ($333 thousand).