By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
As in the previous elections, their parties have been vilified and a number of their leaders, members, and allies have been harassed, threatened and worse, killed. Posters linking these party-list groups to the New People’s Army (NPA) and urging, or rather threatening, the masses not to vote for them have been seen all over the country.
The party-list elections have also been flooded with administration-backed groups pushing the total party-list votes to an astonishing 29 million or around 60 percent of the total number of registered voters. This, despite the fact that in a January 2010 survey conducted by Pulse Asia, only 3 out of 10 Filipinos knew about the party-list elections.
Notwithstanding suspicions of vote shaving affecting them, these party-list groups still managed to land seven seats in the Lower House, with Gabriela Women’s Party and Bayan Muna making it to the top 10, and added another party-list group ACT Teachers Party to its progressive bloc. Their representatives said that the total number of votes they received even increased compared to the 2004 and 2007 elections.
Pro-people Legislative Agenda
As soon as the 15th Congress opens, this progressive bloc of party-list groups aims to immediately push for its pro-people legislative agenda, with the help, of course, of the mass movement.
Bayan Muna will push for more bills on human rights and anti-impunity like anti-enforced disappearance and bills ensuring accountability.
For the bills that were not passed during the 14th Congress, the progressive bloc will once again push for the passage of the Genuine Agrarian Land Reform Bill, Freedom of Information Bill, Electoral Reforms, the salary increase for government employees and the P125 across the board wage hike for workers.
“Hopefully these bills will be passed especially the salary increase for the labor sector and government employees. The progressive bloc will hit the ground running on the first day of the 15th Congress,” said Colmenares.
With regards electoral reforms, the progressive bloc will also push for the review of Party List Law. Bayan Muna is also calling for the creation of an independent body to investigate complaints of electoral fraud. “We are definite that electoral fraud was committed, that is why we are calling for the creation of an independent body to investigate deeper into this and to hold accountable whoever the culprits are,” Colmenares said.
According to Colmenares, the automated election system did not eliminate the traditional means of electoral fraud such as vote buying, illegal campaigning as well as use of government resources. “These types of fraud are still massive, but we also take into consideration the internal fraud, which is electronic cheating,” Colmenares added.
In relation to this, the progressive bloc filed a joint resolution addressed to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for an expanded random manual audit of ten percent of all the precincts in the entire country on June 14.
Anakpawis, on the other hand, will once again push for the Rice Industry Development Act, a bill that prohibits land conversion of prime agricultural land, and House Bill 5095, which removes the power of the Labor secretary to issue assumption of jurisdiction orders.
“House Bill 1725, a bill declaring January 22 as National Farmer’s Day will also be refiled and other legislative measures that were filed in the 13th and 14th Congresses,” said Mariano.
They will also push for a bill that will implement a program for national industrialization, and a bill repealing expanded value-added tax (E-VAT) law, oil deregulation law and Electric Power Industry Reform Act, which caused the privatization of power generation.
The Gabriela Women’s Party will push for bills that will ease the burden of women such as removing the VAT in liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and assistance to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). “The OWWA should give the financial assistance outright to OFWs who were retrenched and were sent back home, instead of loaning it to them,” said Ilagan.
They will also re-file the bill seeking for a review of the OWWA Omnibus Code. “One of the issues here is that migrant workers have no access to the trust funds and some OFWs did not receive any assistance from the trust funds of OWWA,” Ilagan added. The bill calling for a review and repeal of the Mining Act of 1995 will also be re-filed.
The Act Teacher’s Partylist, will fight for the upgrading of salaries of public and private school teachers. “From the current rate of P14,000 ($300), we will push for a P25, 000 ($536) entry-level salary for teachers,” said Antonio Tinio, first nominee of Act Teacher’s Partly.
They will also push for resolutions and bills that will respond to the problems of government employees with regards the Government Security Insurance Service (GSIS). “There are policies that Winston Garcia implemented like the premium base policy, claims and loans interdependency program, etc. that are problematic and further deprived the rights of the members to get their benefits,” Tinio said. Garcia is the president of the GSIS and a close ally of Arroyo.
The ACT Teachers Party will also call for the regulation of miscellaneous fees. Aside from tuition, Tinio said miscellaneous fees are additional fees in private schools that should be regulated to lessen the high amount of fees that were being charged to parents. They will also push for the reversal of education budget as the Arroyo government has been allocating small amounts to education while spending more for defense and debt servicing.
“No matter how well crafted the bills you file, no matter how well we argue on the floor, in the end members of Congress will not look base their vote on your arguments. They are there for the preservation and furtherance of their economic and political interests. However, the people’s reaction is a major factor for their consideration,” Colmenares said.
Even if they foresee a more difficult battle in the 15th Congress, the progressive bloc is definite that with the help of the mass movement, there is room for optimism. Mariano said, “Representatives of the progressive bloc are also mass leaders and somehow the political clout and influence of the progressive party-list groups even within the reactionary parliamentary institution is getting stronger.”
“Our work in Congress is only adjunct to the people’s movement. We are in Congress only to amplify people’s issues, but in the end the clincher is the mass movement outside,” Colmenares said.
Big Shoes to Fill
Representatives Liza Maza and Satur Ocampo who have served the maximum of three terms would no longer be there to lead the progressive bloc. So for the 15th Congress, the remaining and the new representatives within the progressive bloc expect more work ahead of them.
“It is a combination of the neophytes and the old timers, so this is the first time in Congress when both of them as well as the late Bayan Muna and Anakpawis representative Crispin ���Ka Bel” Beltran will not be there. The progressive bloc will have to work harder because of the stature of steadfastness, commitment and dedication to the masses that they have established,” Colmenares said.
Colmenares said bigger challenges awaits them in the 15th Congress. First, because there are pseudo, Arroyo backed party-list groups that won a seat in the Lower House. Second there is Arroyo and her allies. And third, former representatives Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza have served their last term in congress.
“Definitely the loss of the three pioneers is a big factor. But their years in Congress will serve as an inspiration. We have to do better in conducting our legislative work,” Colmenares added. He also said that this is also a historical nodal point in their parliamentary work where the pioneers will not be working with the progressive bloc anymore in Congress.
When asked by Bulatlat if it is like starting all over again, Colmenares said “Not really, it’s just that the situation is not the same anymore compared to when they were still there.”
“We stand on the shoulders of these three giants. Because they are giants, when you stand on their shoulders you see further ahead. Also the assessment or the learning process of the ten years experience of the three pioneers would be a big help to us. So it is a very positive edge,” Colmenares said. (Bulatlat.com)