“These systematic attacks on us only prove that our fight against their corruption is getting into their skin. We have exposed the rottenness of Duterte and his administration.”
By JOHN AARON MARK MACARAEG
Representative Carlos “Kaloi” Zarate of Bayan Muna is a Mindanaoan to whom the issues of conflicting political ideologies, land grabbing, and the rights of press getting trampled upon were not foreign.
Before representing the people in Congress, Zarate had to first write and listen to their struggles as a journalist.
Back in college, Zarate was editor in chief of The Vox, the official publication of Notre Dame in Dadiangas University in General Santos. The university administration closed down their publication for its critical reportage, forcing Zarate and his staff to establish an independent student publication, The Voice.
“We asserted that the students have the right to have their student publication,” Zarate said.
After graduating, he decided to pursue human rights reporting in Mindanao rather than taking a licensure exam in Accounting. He wrote for Media Engage in Developing Integrated Alternatives in Mindanao News Services (MMNS), an independent media outfit during the height of the Marcos dictatorship.
Because of his reports, he also was once a victim of harassment, received death threats from paramilitary groups at the time of then President Corazon Aquino. This forced him to move to Davao City.
While working as a reporter for MMNS, he enrolled in law school in 1988 in Ateneo de Davao University. It was a path that he wanted to take back in college.
“During a campus strike, I got suspended for two weeks. For me, there was no due process,” said Zarate. “That pushed me to go to law school, to defend the rights of the people.”
Juggling his work and his study, Zarate also became active in fighting for the rights of the press. He was one of the pioneering members of Union of Journalist of the Philippines, now National Union of Journalist in the Philippines (NUJP) in Mindanao. In 1988, he also became a founding member of Kapisanan ng mag Manggagawa sa Media ng Pilipinas (KAMPI).
After passing the bar in 1995, Zarate served as a pro-bono lawyer in a prestigious law firm in Davao City and represented workers, urban poor and political prisoners.
His tedious job did not keep him from joining people’s movement. In 2000, his first engagement with Bayan Muna started as its counsel for Davao City chapter.
In 2010, he was chosen to become the third nominee of Bayan Muna.
Being the voice of ordinary people
Bayan Muna has been around for almost two decades now, winning the hearts of ordinary Filipinos and becoming their voice.
Zarate started his term in Congress in 2013 after the group won two seats, together with Neri Colmenares as the partylist’s representative. In 2016, Zarate got his second term as Bayan Muna representative.
In this year’s midterm election, Bayan Muna scored three seats with Ferdinand Gate and Eufemia Cullamat as new representatives, and with Zarate in his last term. The group landed on the second spot in the pastelist race with about 1.2 million votes, despite the massive vilification campaign the Duterte administration against them.
“Bayan Muna, and the whole Makabayan bloc, since its establishment have always been tagged as “reds” or communists…But I can say that during the midterm election, it still became unprecedented in a sense that all the resources of the government have been used before, during, and after the election [against us],” said Zarate.
Cases of distribution of published materials bearing names of nominees and logo of Makabayan bloc partylist tagging them as communist fronts have been reported across the country. There have also been cases of harassment and even killing of supporters and campaign leaders of the group.
“These systematic attacks on us only prove that our fight against their corruption is getting into their skin. We have exposed the rottenness of Duterte and his administration,” Zarate said.
Despite those attacks, Makabayan bloc still won six seats in Congress; three for Bayan Muna, two for Gabriela, and one for Kabataan Partylist. Anakpawis failed to gain a seat. Makabayan still declared themselves triumphant despite hardly putting up for advertisements.
“The vilification of us [Makabayan bloc] is definitely rooted from our vigorous efforts to unmask the dictator face of President Duterte. Makabayan bloc representatives have been successful in exposing the administration in their human rights violations and tyrannical rule,” Zarate said.
Zarate believes that their strength lies in their pro-people stance. “The Makabayan bloc is in the Congress not only to serve as fiscalizer but also being the voice of ordinary citizens,” said Zarate.
He then added that he, and the whole Makabayan bloc, considers that the congress is just another arena of the battle for genuine change. “It is through the people’s movement and mobilization that we can completely change the current rotten system,” Zarate said.