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[Featured Article] 28 killed in alleged political killings in Escalante under mayor’s term By Merck Maguddayao

28 killed in alleged political killings in Escalante under mayor’s term
By Merck Maguddayao

escalante poster

They always left their gates open.

In this rural village of Libertad in Escalante City, Negros Occidental, the only forbidding entity for village chief Fernando and wife Teresita Damalerio were the neighborhood drunks who, after long drunken stupors would engage in shouting matches, chases, and fistfights. Being the elected peace maker, Fernando would step in to settle the tipsy men, most of the time within the gates of his home.

Other than those occasional fracases, the people of Libertad lived their life slowly by tending their own farm or construct projects in good old bayanihan (collective labor) fashion, unlike the atomized atmosphere of the Metro. That’s why in the peripheries of urbanizing Escalante, it is okay to leave the gates open.

But not until November 8, 2007. Elected a month earlier as barangay captain, Fernando, together with his son Ferjun and kagawad (village councilor) Neptali Narvasa, went to the Commission on Elections branch office in downtown Escalante to file his statement of campaign expenses. At nightfall, as they approached home, violence occurred, but not the type carried out by drunkards.

In an interview, Teresita Demalerio narrated in a mix of Cebuano and Filipino that six armed men emerged from a curve at the corner of their house.

“One person approached our gates, went straight to Fernando who was on his way home, aimed his gun at him while shouting ‘Hapa! Hapa!’ (lie down) My husband raised his two arms and tried to thresh the matter out with the gunman. A second man entered our gate,” Teresita narrated.

Moments later, Teresita witnessed the first gunshot. It felled her son, Ferjun.

April 20 mobilization against killings in Escalante. Photo from Merck Maguddayao

April 20 mobilization against killings in Escalante. Photo from Merck Maguddayao

“Ferjun went out of the gate with his arms raised and uttered ‘Unsa may problema?’ (What’s the problem?) but was unable to finish his question when he was shot on the chest,” she continued.

In a snap, Fernando shoved the gunman who was aiming at him, and ran for cover inside his compound to his house. He was shot on the waist but the wound was miraculously shallow as his belt seemed to have dissipated the impact of the bullet.

Teresita followed her husband and while on her way, she noticed one of the gunmen lying down on the ground, who most probably was accidentally shot by his comrades during their attack, according to her account. She noticed a grenade in the hands of the felled assailant, picked it up, ran inside the house through a backdoor, and handed it to Fernando, who threw the grenade at the three other assailants. They disappeared after the blast.

The couple survived the ordeal, but not their youngest son Ferjun, who was a fresh college graduate with a degree in customs administration. He was felled down by a seemingly emerging gang of vigilantes, who would kill 27 other men in a span of six years leading to the May 2013 elections, which included Teresita’s brother Sergio Villador, who was killed a few months later.

September 21, 2013 Mobilization against killings in Escalante. Photo from Merck Maguddayao

September 21, 2013 Mobilization against killings in Escalante. Photo from Merck Maguddayao

28 felled men in six years, under two consecutive terms of incumbent and newly-elected mayor of Escalante City, Melecio “Beboy” Yap. The common denominator of the killings is that 18 of the felled men, as well as their surviving immediate relatives, were supporters of former mayor Santiago “May-May” Barcelona, whose term expired in 2007 but ran and lost in 2010 and 2013. Ferjun, though not an active supporter of Barcelona—his parents are—was an unfortunate fatality who absorbed a cheap but fatal shot from a trigger-happy gunman. Nine other victims were para-military volunteers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, locally known as Cafgu, who were likewise killed in an organized manner.
Yap has continuously denied responsibility of the killings, repeatedly saying in local news reports that it is mere demolition job against him.

Such bloodbath last occurred in the City last September 20, 1985, when at least 20 farmer-activists were killed allegedly by state agents in a protest rally in commemoration of Martial Law in front of the town hall. It is forever immortalized in history as theEscalante Massacre. However, this seemingly second version of Escalante Massacre did not happen in a single event–the killings were organized and followed a pattern.

Activist Luke Espiritu of the socialist Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM), who documented the killings and
assisted the victims’ families in filing criminal charges against Yap and his alleged henchmen, explained that this constituted “circumstantial evidence” to charge Yap for murder and frustrated
murder before the prosecutor’s office of Escalante.

“There is a pattern to the killings. Most victims were from the camp of Barcelona,” Espiritu said.

“The victims’ family will first receive a warning from an unknown source: Switch allegiance or death,” he continued. “And indeed, the victims followed this pattern of threat followed by actual execution.”

“You think those who killed my son were common village drunkards? They were armed, and most of them attacked in groups. The killing operations seemed to be organized,” he concluded.

From their end, Espiritu assisted four other families in filing multiple murder charges against Yap, retired Army Major Tupas, Angel Sinadjan, Santiago Rapiz, and several John Does.

As the killings escalated, some families of the murdered men and some survivors brought the issue to then Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) secretary Jesse Robredo, who in 2011 created Task Force Escalante, an inter-government effort to investigate the killings and prevent possible killings. During this time, Yap was stripped of his police powers which he strongly opposed, claiming that the DILG’s measure was against his human rights. His allies from the pro-Maoist Bayan Muna even staged a rally in that year in support of Yap, branding Robredo’s order as a violation of Yap’s rights.

Task Force Escalante, though, withered away after Robredo’s untimely death in 2012 as current DILG secretary Mar Roxas seemed to have backpedalled in the investigation of the cases.

“We have sent follow-up letters to Secretary Roxas and even to PNoy (President Benigno Aquino III) but we have not received any action from the national government,” Teresita Damalerio lamented. “It was a far cry from Robredo’s response to our ordeal.”

Hopeless that their appeals for help fell on deaf ears, the victims’ families stumbled upon Bacolod-native Espiritu, who was busy in campaigning for PLM’s electoral bid in Negros Occidental.

“I think we were blessed to meet a man who took us seriously,” Teresita said.

News about the killings infuriated Espiritu as the number was alarming. But what made him angrier was the fact that the DILG and Malacanang seemed to have discontinued Task Force Escalante after the death of its initiator. Worse, he heard a common notion blaming the insurgent New People’s Army as the perpetrators of the killings.

“Many of these killings were dismissed as insurgency-related. Then case closed. This is an excuse not to undertake further investigation,” he lamented.

The new collaboration resulted in the formation of the local human rights formation Save Negros Movement (Save Negros), which held its first rally in front of Escalante City Hall last April 20 attended by at least 8,000 angry citizens of Escalante denouncing the purported atrocities of Yap and his men.

The gathered crowd called for the continuation of the pending investigation of the killings, the quick prosecution of Yap and the other suspects, and placing Escalante under the control of the
Commission on Elections.

“It seemed like People Power,” Espiritu recalled. “The people were angry, they seemed to want to barge in City Hall and take over the city.”

“They want Mayor Yap to answer the allegations, at the very least, air his side. But he didn’t, which made us angrier,” he said.

Despite this seemingly popular discontent against him, Yap won by a comfortable margin on 9,000 votes over Barcelona in the elections a month after the rally.

It seemed to have been a reaffirmation of the Escalante people’s trust to their mayor, but Damalerio begs to differ.

“We believe Barcelona’s machinery was severely weakened by the killings since 2007, so what do you expect? He became politically dead,” Damalerio explained.

Damalerio insists that his family’s support for Barcelona was because the mayor simply addressed their basic demands—agricultural infrastructure, healthcare, school buildings, and scholarship for
their children. This, she believes, was the reason for Barcelona’s erstwhile political success, having served for three terms from 1998 to 2007.

However, she and the victims, she asserts, have gone beyond being supporters of an ex-mayor. Currently the spokesperson of the Save Negros Movement and PLM-Escalante, she believes that the most viable way to end institutionalized violence in Escalante a movement independent from
traditional political rivals in their city.
Thus, she, along with more than a hundred relatives of EJK victims and some survivors, went beyond the human rights alliance Save Negros and joined PLM, as they believed that justice is served not in the courtroom, but through the direct empowerment of the Escalante masses. In a rally to commemorate the 1985 Escalante Massacre last September 21, the now PLM-Escalante chapter mobilized 300 of its members in front of the City Hall, calling for empowerment and direct democracy as the replacement of warlordist rule in the city. Still fearing for their lives, they braved the scorching weather and a possible rain of bullets.

“We still love Mayor May-May, and we are forever indebted to him,” Damalerio said, recalling her days as supporter of the former mayor. “But we victims have to unite as an independent force
in this city. The issue has gone beyond politics for our lives are at stake. The only way for us to move forward is to organize, no longer perceived as simply Barcelona supporters, but as an independent force of the oppressed.”

She still fears for her life and that of her husband and relatives, though.

“Heaven forbid, but when I return to Escalante, I might be a dead woman. Or maybe, one or two more will be killed.”

She concluded her story with these simple words: “Sending Yap to jail is not enough. Real justice is achieved by changing the system. Leave the masses alone to decide on their own fate, to decide on the fate of our beloved city, for we are the builders of this city.”

Six years may have passed since the death of Teresita Damalerio’s son and brother and the death of 27 others, but for the families of the victims of extra-judicial killings in Escalante, the fight has just begun. They continue to knock on the locked gate of justice while literally dodging bullets fired behind them.

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[Featured article] Ang Litrato ng Tatay Ko (Isang Pagbabahagi sa Araw ng Mga Nawawala) by Ron De Vera

Ang Litrato ng Tatay Ko (Isang Pagbabahagi sa Araw ng Mga Nawawala)
August 30, 2013

Ron De Vera

Bata pa ako nung araw na mawala ang litrato ng tatay ko. May malakas na bagyo. Nabasa na nga ang nanay ko, kaya’t imbes na sumugod na naman sa ulan, pinili niyang manatili na lang sa bahay. Lalo na’t may sugat ang paa niya. Mahirap na. Mahirap nang tumakbo.

Hindi ko rin lubos na maunawaan kung bakit palipat-lipat ng puwesto ang litrato ng tatay ko. Minsan nasa tabi ng katre, minsan nasa estante sa sala, minsan naman, tinatago sa ilalim ng mesa pag may di kilalang bisita. Hindi ko na nga nakabisado ang itsura ng litrato ng tatay ko, dahil madalang ko naman ito makita.

Kaya naman nung araw na mawala ang litrato ng tatay ko, hindi ko rin maunawaan kung anong dapat kong maramdaman. Dapat ba akong malungkot eh hindi ko naman ito laging nakikita? Dapat ba akong matuwa gayung mahalaga ito sa nanay ko?

Patuloy ang pagbagsak ng malakas na ulan. At patuloy rin sa paghahanap ang nanay ko. Ang tanong niya, ano daw ang naaalala ko bago mawala ang litrato ng tatay ko. May kasama bang iba pang litrato ang litrato ng tatay ko, o mag-isa lang ba ito? Maraming tanong ang nanay ko na hindi ko masagot. Kaya’t lumabas ang nanay ko para magtanong kay Aling Cory, ang may-ari ng inuupahan namin. Sa likod ng bahay lang naman namin siya nakatira. Kaya mabilis lang dapat ito.

Pero pagkatagal-tagal ng pakikipag-usap ng nanay ko kay Aling Cory at sa mga kasambahay nito. Wala daw sa kanila. Bakit naman daw nila ito kukunin? Ano naman daw ang mahihita nila dito? Baka naman daw nanay ko rin ang may kasalanan kung bakit nawawala ang litratong ito. Pagbalik ng nanay ko, kakaiba na ang hubog ng mukha niya. Malayo ang tingin. Walang damdamin ang bibig, lugmok ang pisngi, bakante ang mga mata. May hinala daw siya tungkol kay Aling Cory pero kahit mapatunayan man daw niya ito, hindi naman daw aamin si Aling Cory.

Nagsimulang matuklap ang kisame ng maliit na bahay namin. Nagsimulang pumasok ang tubig-ulan sa bubong. Dalawa lang kami ni nanay nun kaya’t tinulungan ko siya kahit sobrang hirap. Ginawa ko ang lahat ng makakaya ng siyam na taong gulang kong katawan. Punas dito, tapal dun, timba dito, planggana dun. Alam kong pagod na pagod na si nanay kaya’t kahit pagod na pagod na rin ako, hindi ko ito pinahalata sa kaniya. Nanlumo ako nang marinig ko sa radyo na lalakas pa daw ang bagyo.

Pagsapit ng hatinggabi, naubos na ang mga timba at planggana. Naubos na rin ang pantapal. Kaya’t alam naming ilang minuto na lang ay magsisimula nang bumaha sa loob ng bahay namin. Nang magsimulang tumaas ang baha, nagsimula na ring tumulo ang luha ng nanay ko. Hindi ko alam kung dala ito ng binabaha naming bahay o ng nawawalang litrato ng tatay ko.

Halatang gusto na niyang humiga’t matulog pero wala nang puwesto. Nakatayo lang siya sa gitna ng binabaha naming sala. Nakayuko. Nakatingin sa kawalan. Kaya’t lumapit ako at yinakap ko siya. Tumingin siya sa akin at kahit pa basa na ng luha ang mukha niya ay nakuha pa niyang ngumiti. Linibing ko ang mukha ko sa tiyan niya para itago ang sarili kong mga luha. At bigla siyang kumanta. “Tulog na bunso ang iyong ama ay nasa malayong bayan…” Patuloy ang pagpatak ng ulan, patuloy ang pagpatak ng luha ng nanay ko, patuloy ang pagpatak ng luha ko.

Sinubukan kong intindihin ang nararamdaman ko. At napagtanto kong hindi ito lungkot kundi galit. Galit na galit ako sa bagyo sa lipunan. Galit na galit ako sa baha ng karahasan. Galit ako sa mga mapang-aping nagpapaluha sa nanay ko. Galit ako sa mga ganid na militar na sumugat sa paa ng nanay ko. At higit sa lahat, galit na galit ako sa mga dumukot sa litrato ng tatay ko.

Mahigit dalawang dekada nang nawawala ang litrato ng tatay ko. Magaling na ang sugat sa paa ng nanay ko. Kaya’t balik na naman siya sa pagsugod sa ulan, gaya ng nakagawian. Sabi niya, mahalaga ang lumuha. Pero higit na mahalaga ang lumaban. Kaya’t habang walang patid ang ulan, walang patid din ang laban.

Mahigit dalawang dekada nang nawawala ang litrato ng tatay ko. Natutunan ko nang pigilin ang luha ko pag nababanggit ito. At natutunan ko na ring paamuhin ang galit sa dibdib ko. Nakatulong rin na marami rin palang tulad namin na nawawalan ng litrato.

Tanggap na ba naming hindi na namin makikita ang litrato ng tatay ko? Puedeng hindi, puedeng oo. Ang mahalaga ay hindi lang ang hanapin ang mga litratong ito. Ang mahalaga ay sugpuin ang sanhi kung bakit nangyayari ito. Para bukas wala nang bagyong hahampas sa mga anak natin. Para bukas wala nang bahang sisira sa mga buhay ng mga apo natin. Para bukas, wala nang magpapaluha sa atin. Para bukas, wala nang magpapagalit sa atin. Pero sa araw na ito, makiisa muna tayo. Sa araw na ito, kumuha muna tayo ng lakas sa isa’t isa, lakas na magpatuloy sa paghahanap, lakas na magpatuloy sa pakikipaglaban. Sa araw na ito, kayo muna ang litrato ng tatay ko.


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[Featured article] Terminated Peace Talks, Intensified Armed Conflict: What is to be done? By Soliman M. Santos, Jr.

Terminated Peace Talks, Intensified Armed Conflict: What is to be done?
By Soliman M. Santos, Jr.
Naga City, 27 May 2013
(55th birth anniversary of the late Jesse M. Robredo)


For all intents and purposes, the peace negotiations between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), as we have known it over the years since 1992, have effectively come to an end, at least under the current Aquino administration which still has three years left in its term. Well, that is just as well. Late last year, I had already personally gone on record through a 10-page article saying that it was better to just drop the charade of peace talks that were going nowhere due to their extremely tactical dynamics. In the ensuing blame game that is still part of those counter-productive dynamics, the GPH is being blamed by the NDFP for unceremoniously terminating the talks purportedly to seek a “new approach” thereto. But under the circumstances, the GPH can be given some credit for this bold, if belated, move of dropping the charade even at the propaganda/public image risk of being blamed as responsible for terminating the talks.

But really, this peace process should no longer, even if it still could, continue to be conducted “in the old way” (to use revolutionary situation phraseology) that has made it a process of “perpetual division between the Parties.” The test of the pudding is in the eating, and the taste of the pudding has for the most part been bitter, sour and stale. A break or real vacation from this status of belligerency (or strategic stalemate), as it were, in negotiations should prove salutary in the medium to long term, if it becomes an occasion for all concerned to take serious pause and rethink things.

New Realities

The end of the peace negotiations as we have known it is the key new reality now in the GPH-NDFP front of more war than peace at least under the coming three-year second half of the Aquino administration. NDFP Chief Political Consultant and Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) leader Prof. Jose Maria Sison has already said, “its three remaining years is not too long to let pass,” in the context of waiting for a new administration to resume peace talks with, as is usual for new administrations. The better in the meantime for the NDFP to ramp up the armed struggle with full focus and with a view to gain a position of strength for whatever future negotiations or eventuality. Here are a few more specific realities on this front that have bearing on what is to be done for the peace process factoring in these realities:

— “Intensified tactical offensives by the New People’s Army (NPA)”: this was already indicated by Sison and is being indicated by incidents on the ground. The presidential spokesperson has dismissed this as “It’s nothing new” but there are actually some foreboding new directives in the CPP Statement on the 44th Anniversary of the NPA (29 March 2013) like “building guerrilla theaters [that] bring together the power of three to four guerrilla fronts that can reach brigade strength,” “advanc[ing] wave upon wave from the existing guerrilla fronts to create new guerrilla fronts,” and “field[ing] strike forces to intensify the tactical offensives.” GPH Negotiating Panel chair Usec. Alexander A. Padilla, for his part, says that there is no GPH plan for an “all-out war” (recall then President Corazon Aquino’s “unleashing the sword of total war” against the NPA after the collapse of the peace talks in 1987). The NDFP however expects that the GPH is “now unencumbered in waging its Oplan Bayanihan war of suppression.” The CPP-NPA itself, even before this latest breakdown, has always felt unencumbered to “carry out the [five-year] plan to advance from the strategic defensive to the strategic stalemate.”

— Though this sounds like stating the obvious, there will definitely be no general ceasefire, as the CPP-NPA-NDFP does not want it (this is what is “nothing new”).

— On the other hand, the GPH wants a ceasefire or truce to be in place in any further peace talks due to an overriding concern to lower the level of, if not end, the violence on the ground.

— But there will be no return to both the “regular track” and the “special track” of the peace talks, as the GPH will have none of that anymore. Precisely, it seeks a still undefined “new approach” but there are serious doubts that one can be found that is mutually acceptable with the NDFP which is asserting the “old way” of the peace talks. The “new approach” of the GPH may thus develop, if at all, into something outside the peace talks, at least the formal peace negotiations between Negotiating Panels.

— The only significant prior peace agreement left that is still mutually acceptable is the 1998 Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), but not its problematic propaganda-prone and stalemate-prone Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) mechanism. That is far as the GPH is concerned. The GPH will definitely no longer go by the 1992 Hague Joint Declaration, which was the long-time framework agreement for the “regular track,” as well as by the 1995 Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), which has occasioned the main recent non-substantive stumbling block issue of the GPH non-release of remaining claimed NDFP consultants who are still detained.

— The NDFP “continues to assert the validity and binding nature of [all] the previously forged joint documents” and will resume formal peace negotiations only “on the basis of upholding, respecting and implementing previously signed agreements.” For the CPP, these agreements represent no less than its correct strategy and tactics as well as gains in the peace negotiations. Since the GPH will definitely no longer go by the framework Hague Joint Declaration, among others, then there will likely be no resumption of formal peace negotiations under the Aquino administration.

[It might be noted here parenthetically that framework agreements are not written in stone and can change, as they have, at particular junctures of the peace process. The best local example of this is the peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) where there have been at least three framework agreements: the 1998 General Framework of Agreement of Intent, the 2001 Tripoli Agreement on Peace, and the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB). The problem is that this is not an acceptable model for the NDFP which predictably derides that peace process as “U.S.-backed” since 2008 and also lately its once tactical ally, the MILF, for entering into the FAB as “capitulation to the Manila government.”]

— The GPH has broached the possibility of pursuing “localized peace talks.” This could be still national-level peace talks with the local or in-country actual leadership of the CPP or, more feasibly in the GPH view, local-level peace talks from the regional level down though the scope of such talks are not yet clear. The CPP leadership has already shot this down, saying that “Not a single unit of the NPA, committee of the CPP or organs of the NDFP will fall for the Aquino trap of ‘localized peace talks’… Only the NDFP Negotiating Panel is authorized to engage the reactionary government in peace negotiations.”
Our Urgent Tasks

This article is addressed to the GPH, the NDFP, the Royal Norwegian Government (RNG) Third Party Facilitator and civil society peace advocates. While we agree that a “new approach” or a new way is needed in the GPH-NDFP peace process (which is not just formal peace negotiations), we are not here outlining certain tasks and imperatives as necessarily part of or inputs for the kind of “new approach” that the GPH seeks. Our standpoint is not that of the GPH or, for that matter, of the NDFP in adversarial relations with each other, rather ours is the standpoint of an independent civil society peace advocate who supports peace processes for the resolution of armed conflicts. So, to a large extent, this article is addressed to similarly oriented peace advocates on what is to be done. While focused now on more scaled down and doable tasks in the current situation that will likely extend throughout the second half of the Aquino administration, there are definitely implications for beyond that. Much of what follows has been said by us before but these are now reframed under the current situation that has emerged:

1. FOCUS ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND HUMANITARIAN CONCERNS ARISING FROM INTENSIFIED ARMED HOSTILITIES. This is the obvious no-brainer most urgent task that is not only a most felt need but is also, believe it or not, of common or mutual desire and interest of both the GPH and NDFP. This arises from the emerging intensification of the armed conflict, the continuing absence of a ceasefire, and the remaining mutual acceptability of the CARHRIHL as a term of reference. The CARHRIHL, as the first and likely only substantive agreement between the GPH and NDFP, or more broadly, respect for human rights (HR) and international humanitarian law (IHL), may be “the only game in town” on the GPH-NDFP front, but it certainly better than “playing our charade” of peace talks of “perpetual division.” It is also the next best thing to a ceasefire in terms of lowering the level of violence on the ground and thus saving some lives.

This most urgent task may be done both inside and outside the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations, as it may also be done at the national and local levels. Inside the GPH-NDFP peace process, while the substantive negotiations are in suspended animation (many will say “it’s nothing new” anyway), the Parties or Negotiating Panels may consider devoting some useful time to instead working on the implementation of the CARHRIHL. But one challenge to them here is whether they (esp. the NDFP) can work together beyond the problematic propaganda-prone and stalemate-prone JMC mechanism which the GPH will apparently no longer go by. Only by working together can they possibly (though this is no assurance that they can) sort out honest differences of interpretation even regarding the mutually acceptable CARHRIHL, notably when it comes to the use of landmines. But for God’s sake, let not this “only game in town” that is the CARHRIHL become another “document of perpetual division between the Parties.” Both Parties can of course, at the very least, each unilaterally implement the CARHRIHL as they respectively interpret it, including by bringing their respective justice systems to bear on HR and IHL violations. Let it be a contest, if it must be, on which is the more effective government in repressing HR and IHL violations.

Let them not forget that the CARHRIHL itself goes beyond CARHRIHL by its reference to “the principles and standards embodied in international instruments on human rights” (Part III, Article 1), to “generally accepted principles and standards of international humanitarian law” (Part IV, Article 1), to “the full scope of human rights, including civil political, economic, social and cultural rights” (Part II, Article 3), and to “universally applicable principles and standards of human rights and of international humanitarian law… embodied in the instruments signed by the Philippines and deemed to be mutually applicable and acceptable by both Parties” (Part II, Article 4). Indeed, respect for HR and IHL is not limited by what is specifically provided for by the CARHRIHL, esp. on the part of the GPH which has its own HR and IHL treaty obligations and as well as its own HR- and IHL-related national laws. We have already written on how the CARHRIHL can be maximized through its treaty connection that makes available to the Parties “the best that has been created by humanity” (to again use revolutionary phraseology) in terms of HR and IHL.

In fact, come to think of it, the CARHRIHL provision that “The parties shall uphold, protect and promote the full scope of human rights…” can become the basis for further agreements on socio-economic reforms and political-constitutional reforms even without reference to The Hague Joint Declaration and the 1995 Joint Agreement on the Formation, Sequence and Operationalization of the Reciprocal Working Committees (RWCs). We have also already written on a rights-based approach (RBA) to the peace talks, particularly when it comes to socio-economic and political reforms which address the roots of the armed conflict and lay the basis for a just and lasting peace. We there cited the 2004 masteral thesis of now Commission on Human Rights (CHR) commissioner Atty. Jose Manuel S. Mamauag on a RBA as tool in evaluating the socio-political dimension of the GRP-MILF peace process. The RBA has started to be used for development and for governance; why not as a framework for the whole peace process and a peace settlement?

The previous work and drafts on a Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) and on a Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms (CAPCR) need not be laid to waste as these can probably still be made use of but possibly reframed under a RBA though not necessarily in comprehensive agreement form. But we may be getting too far ahead of ourselves at this present juncture. As we said, the minimum focus for now should just be better implementation of the CARHRIHL, whether the Parties work on this together (which still remains to be seen) or separately. Either way, any progress on this would/should help build confidence for whatever future substantive negotiations.

HR and IHL are ultimately too important to be left at the mercy of the JMC mechanism or even of the warring Parties themselves, esp. at the national level. We have to break out of the stalemated dynamics of the peace negotiations, and all concerned, not just the two warring Parties, have to find new and better ways of civilian protection. For one, the CPP-NPA-NDFP national leadership should no longer discourage or prohibit its local commands from local-level talks that would more expeditiously and effectively address humanitarian concerns arising from armed hostilities at that level, as distinguished from “localized peace talks” that would purport to address national issues that are beyond and therefore cannot really be fully addressed at that level. This kind of local-level talks should no longer be proscribed by that leadership as necessarily a counter-insurgency trap to pacify, divide and induce the capitulation of the revolutionary forces.

Relatedly, local-level talks initiated by conflict-affected local communities, inc. their local officials (like the late long-time and exemplary Naga City Mayor Jesse M. Robredo once did), that seek respect for their own genuine declarations of their communities as “peace zones” that are off-limits to armed hostilities, should not be treated as necessarily a counter-insurgency measure to cramp or limit the areas for NPA tactical offensives. The whole countryside is vast enough for that, as the annual CPP and NPA anniversary statements never fail to point out.

Civil society peace groups like notably Sulong CARHRIHL (Advance CARHRIHL) have tried to make CARHRIHL work even without the stalemated JMC mechanism, albeit Sulong CARHRIHL has focused mainly on work at the local community level, where after all the work is most needed. But of course the broad work of advancing HR and IHL is not limited to and by the CARHRIHL. The broad array of IHL (and also HR) advocates, inc. the Civil Society Initiatives for International Humanitarian Law (CSI-IHL), who had gathered around the first National Summit on IHL in 2009 have significantly since then taken on and stepped up the work to address the relevant main challenges of: [1] humanitarian intervention especially during massive internal displacement due to armed hostilities; [2] education, information and communications on IHL (and HR); and [3] monitoring, investigation and prosecution of IHL (and HR) violations in the context of the armed conflict.

In terms of exploring alternative institutional mechanisms for that last most difficult challenge of monitoring/investigation of and accountability for IHL (and HR) violations, the 2009 IHL Summit for one called on the CHR to develop its own complementary or fallback mechanism to the JMC. It is good that an independent constitutional commission mandated for human rights concerns, with nationwide offices, and with international links, is giving attention also to the related but distinct field of IHL and to HR-IHL violations not only of the state armed forces but also of non-state armed groups. Seeking rebel accountability is a special challenge in itself due to various conceptual and practical reasons, including their having “no permanent address.”

The work of upholding respect for HR and IHL in the context of the GPH-NDFP armed conflict may be well below the ideal and the high policy level of a negotiated political settlement. But aside from its more immediate value of civilian protection, HR-IHL work has a long-term strategic value and direction of laying better ground (and lowering the costs and antagonism) for a negotiated political settlement when the requisite political will and also paradigm shifts on both sides come about, hopefully sooner rather than later.

2. CONDUCT PURPOSIVE KEY REFORM WORK OUTSIDE THE PEACE TALKS BUT WELL INFORMED BY IT. Both the GPH and the NDFP actually agree that the “pursuit of social, economic and political reforms” are “aimed at addressing the root causes of internal armed conflicts.” For the GPH, this is the first of its “Six Paths to Peace” framework which also has “peaceful negotiated settlement with the different rebel groups” as its third path and “addressing concerns arising from continuing armed hostilities” as its fourth path – the latter being relevant to our first urgent task above. Indeed, the comprehensive peace process is broader than just peace negotiations. Socio-economic, political and constitutional reforms are thus the core of the substantive agenda of the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations – and we can say this with or without the framework Hague Joint Declaration. But such reforms can and should be pursued even outside the peace talks because the reforms are of value also outside that context. They are undertaken for their own sake because they “serve the people” (to again use revolutionary phraseology). If the peace talks can benefit from inputs provided by reform work, inc. research, then so too can reform work outside the peace talks benefit from inputs that may be drawn from its own accumulated work and documents.

Let it be clear that the motivation for this second urgent task should not be the often expressed intent, even among avowed peace advocates, of making the CPP-NPA-NDFP “irrelevant.” Such a disdainful or counter-insurgency attitude does not do justice or give due credit to some of the just causes of the armed struggle, even as the viability of this form of struggle has become questionable, to say the least, after 44 years since 1969 and at the cost of more than 120,000 lives. The Philippine Human Development Report 2005: Peace, Human Security and Human Development in the Philippines said it well:

The human development perspective instead chooses to take insurgencies and armed conflicts seriously as mirrors to society. To be sure, mirrors may be distorted to a greater or to a lesser extent: ideologies and pet theories may exaggerate certain objectionable features and details and hide others. Dealing with them squarely, however, will always provide an opportunity for the current system to peer closely at itself and discover at least some of its defects.

The valuable contributions to the national agenda of the causes espoused by the various insurgencies are undeniable. The critique of the overweening influence of foreign powers (particularly the U.S.) in the country’s political life was provided primarily by the Left movement, a national debate that finally led to the removal of U.S. bases in the country. The decades-old socialist and communist advocacy for land redistribution culminated ultimately in the government’s several agrarian reform programs….

In many ways, the insurgencies have helped Filipinos and their governments realize how they ought to build a more just, more democratic society…

Thus, among the recommendations in the Philippine Human Development Report 2005 to “place the existing peace efforts on a sounder footing and lead to a solution to the conflict” are to “institute reforms in parallel” to the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations, to “undertake key reforms alongside and outside formal peace talks,” and to “undertake human development investments (in education, health, safe water, electricity and economic provisions) for their own sake.” The key reforms referred to here are [1] electoral and governance reforms and [2] security sector reform (SSR). Instead of seeking to comprehensively cover socio-economic, political and constitutional reforms within a limited time frame of say three years, the idea is to focus first on a few choice issues of particular importance. The said two key reform areas are particularly important for the resolution of the armed conflict because of their relevance to the resort to armed struggle. Also, SSR relates much to the above-discussed now first urgent task of focusing on HR-IHL concerns esp. vis-à-vis counter-insurgency strategy.

Electoral and military reforms in particular clash with key NDFP orthodoxies or doctrines which are at the very heart of the national-democratic revolution. Elections clash with the NDFP view of armed struggle as the main form of struggle for social and political change, and so might confuse or deceive the people. The military in the NDFP’s view is the main coercive instrument of the state which is to be smashed, not reformed or improved as such. As for good governance, the NDFP can be expected to again play the game of “two governments” and ask which good governance is being referred to: that of the reactionary GPH or that of the revolutionary People’s Democratic Government?

Yet, in the NDF’s 1990 agenda for the peace talks (though this was before the 1992 split in the CPP, after which the “reaffirmed” line became harder), there were in fact talking points for electoral and military reforms. These included electoral reforms allowing a fair chance for parties of the lower and middle classes, and also mechanisms to ensure fair and free elections. For military reforms, there were removal of U.S. control over the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the reorganization, reorientation and reduction of the AFP.

Off-hand, there appear to be more mismatches than matches between the NDFP and GRP sides of the reform agenda. In the GRP 2003 Draft Final Peace Accord, among the listed electoral reforms are: amended party-list, local sectoral representation, anti-dynasty, anti-turncoatism, strengthened multi-party system, political finance regulation, full automation, and Comelec reform. While the security sector reforms include: civilian supremacy measures like civil society participation in national security policy making; and a compact, efficient, responsive and modern AFP engaged in non-combat roles for nation-building.

Electoral reforms are of particularly currency now in view of the just concluded 2013 mid-term national and local elections, and then the scheduled barangay elections later this year. There is also the recent Supreme Court decision in the Atong Paglaum case on the party-list system with implications on the electoral chances of party-list groups representing marginalized and underrepresented sectors, including those that are the traditional mass base of the Left. Apart from in the party-list system, the candidates of the nat-dem Left have generally not fared well in electoral struggle, which can be an alternative form of political struggle.

On the other hand, the regular election campaign periods have rather become occasions for the CPP-NPA-NDFP to assert its underground governmental authority over election campaigning in its claimed territories, with implications adverse to fair and free elections, if not the freedom of suffrage itself. It may thus be fair to pose to the CPP-NPA-NDFP whether its “permit to campaign” policy and practice is also subject to electoral reform through the peace talks?

As for socio-economic reforms, we already mentioned above that the previous work and drafts on a Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) need not be laid to waste as these can probably still be made use of but possibly reframed under a RBA though not necessarily in comprehensive agreement form. Following the mode of focusing first on a few choice issues of particular importance, given a limited time frame like three years, the obvious choice socio-economic issue is land reform. This may as well be a third key reform area, along with electoral reform and SSR. In CPP-NPA-NDFP theory, the land problem of the peasantry is the main issue of the national-democratic revolution, and that has to be because the peasantry is the main force of this revolution. This armed revolution’s crucial spearhead, the NPA, is a mainly peasant army and one of its key tasks is revolutionary land reform. To what extent can the peasant gains of revolutionary land reform be recognized and preserved as legitimate or legitimized land reform?

But of course revolutionary land reform is not the only progressive land reform initiative. Going back to the RBA, there are agrarian reform workers outside the peace talks who are pushing for “rights-based asset (land) reform, founded on the idea of social justice,” given the even more limited time frame until June 2014 of the government’s extended Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) to distribute still over one million hectares of “CARP-able” private landholdings. There is thus a sense of urgency for this asset reform that somehow parallels the need for a similar sense of urgency on the GPH-NDFP front (while there is already such a sense of urgency on the GPH-MILF peace front) for the last three years of the Aquino administration). “In the final analysis, any effort to advance political reforms, no matter how eloquently stated, will become pure lip service in absence of an effective asset reform program.” It may thus be fair to also pose to the CPP-NPA-NDFP whether these efforts and gains of other progressive land reform initiatives like those in the Bondoc Peninsula can be respected and not be impeded by it for being necessarily political rivals in land reform or in serving the peasantry? Can this, or some aspects of this, be the subject of local-level talks in Bondoc Peninsula?

The breaking news from the Colombian peace process of a breakthrough interim agreement on land reform and rural development validates this as a key reform area that can become a crucial stepping stone or building block for the whole process. This is made relevant by the essential similarities between the Colombian and Philippine societies and revolutions, both led by foundationally Marxist-Leninist vanguard parties. Hopefully, there will be no derision this time of the Colombian peace process as “U.S.-backed” and of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) for its “capitulation to the Bogota government.” It is also just as well timely that there has in the past few years been a quiet Philippines-Colombia civil society peace advocacy exchange program under the auspices of Conciliation Resources, which is an international NGO member of the International Contact Group (ICG) supporting the GPH-MILF peace process. Could a NDFP-FARC peace process exchange program perhaps also be developed?

One important angle with all these three key reform areas – electoral reform, SSR, and land reform — is that there are several relevant ongoing civil society reform initiatives as well as academe-based policy study and research groups in each of these key reform areas, just like on HR-IHL concerns, that can also be engaged in moving the peace process forward.

3. GET BACK WITH MORE AND PROPER ATTENTION TO THE SMALL PEACE PROCESSES. The GPH-NDFP peace process, the relatively successful (so far) GPH-MILF peace process and the implementation-problematic GPH-Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) peace process are the acknowledged big peace processes, because of the bigger rebel groups, the bigger geographical areas and the bigger issues involved. It is natural for the GPH to give more attention to these than to the small peace processes involving smaller rebel groups: the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA), the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa ng Pilipinas (RPM-P) and the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa ng Mindanao (RPM-M).

The likely extended break in the GPH-NDFP peace talks for the three remaining years of the Aquino administration should be taken as an opportunity to get back with more and proper attention to the small peace processes. In general terms, there are two reasons for this: (1) If things are not moving in the big and more difficult peace processes, why not go for what can move and get done in the small and presumably easier peace processes?; and (2) If you cannot do well in the small peace processes, how much more in the big peace processes? The CPLA, RPM-P and RPM-M are all relevant to the NDFP since they originated from this as breakaway factions that had split due to differing views on society, political programs, strategy and tactics – which are also all relevant to the peace process.

Of these other, smaller peace processes, the most promising appears to be that with the RPM-M because of its innovative community-based approach. What is significant about the small peace process with the RPM-M is its effective combination of peace negotiations and public consultations:

It has a radically different approach from that of the big top-level peace negotiations in that it does not involve complex peace negotiations. Rather, a local peace and development agenda that will have an immediate impact on the ground will be formulated by the concerned communities and tribes in Mindanao through participatory local consultations to identify problems and needs as well as responses there which could take the form of projects. Such empowered and sustainable communities are the real foundation of peace. The process itself will allow these communities to win small victories and build peace by themselves. The final political settlement is important but the communities need not wait for this. Building peace for them is here and now. This community-level process continues to be pursued independent of the panel-level talks and despite the latter’s delay. Still, the RPM-M peace process is also getting back on the latter track which is still needed for a final resolution to the conflict.

If there is a need for models of authentic dialogue with the communities, here is one in Mindanao which also has the merit of upholding the equal importance of peace negotiations with rebel groups. If the idea is to bring the peace talks back to the public, there is a potential here for developing an effective combination of public consultations and peace negotiations, pursuant to the relatively new strategy of public participation in peacemaking. The RPM-M articulates this in this way: “A community-based and people-centered peace negotiation among revolutionary groups with the government should be an insurance for achieving a sustained and genuine political settlement… The people should be seen as active participants and the principal stakeholders in any political settlement between the revolutionary groups and the government…. And hence, the participation of the masses and the corresponding development of the political consciousness in all levels (and in all stages) of the peace process would ensure the substantive democratic content…”

Active and even direct participation of the people and communities in the peace process does not make the rebel/revolutionary groups superfluous because the latter, as the RPM-M says, are also “included as among the legitimate stakeholders” and should not be isolated from their respective mass bases or constituencies. In addition, there is the pertinent analysis and approaches that these groups may contribute to the mutual problem-solving that is of the essence of peace negotiations. In the case of the RPM-M, it has adopted a multi-form struggle but gives paramount importance to peace-building and development work at this time because of the adverse effect of the war situation on the tri-peoples of Mindanao. At some point too, a convergence must be found among the several peace processes relevant to Mindanao, starting of course with those involving the MILF and the MNLF, but eventually co-relating on common aspects with the peace processes on the Communist front – whether on the minimum matter of “addressing concerns arising from the continuing armed hostilities” or on more substantive issues like the Lumad Question.

Also, because of the RPM-M’s Mindanao tri-people orientation, there is a good prospect that the panel-level talks becoming a vehicle for lumad concerns that can check-and-balance, as it were, the implications of the GPH-MILF peace negotiations on the interests of the non-Moro indigenous peoples in the territory of a new Bangsamoro autonomous political entity. This peace process which has been referred to as “the other peace process” (presumably in relation to either that with the NDFP or that with the MILF) thus deserves some special attention, with good prospects for some deliverables, inc. in substantive agreements, before the close of the Aquino administration. Unfortunately, on the contrary, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) under this administration has early on after its assumption to office in 2010, for some unclear reason, downgraded this process out even of its list of peace processes with rebel groups. The OPAPP should rectify this error and reinstate the peace process with the RPM-M back into its horizon. On the other hand, the RPM-M would do good to send “formal notice” of its readiness to resume, so that there are no excuses or misreading of signals.

As regards the other small peace processes with the CPLA and the RPM-P, and even with the big peace process with the MNLF, the OPAPP has tended to go for closure programs of socio-economic projects in exchange for disarmament and demobilization (in effect, DDR or Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration) even without any really substantive agreements on the causes these several rebel groups respectively articulate or represent, except in the case of the MNLF wherein there was a substantive Final Peace Agreement on Moro autonomy in 1996. There do not appear to be substantive agreements on Cordillera autonomy along lines advocated by the CPLA, or on aspects of the socialist or workers’ agenda represented by the RPM-P. Why then the seeming hurry for closure of the peace processes with the CPLA and RPM-P as if to just be able to close these chapters as completed and accomplished peace processes? Of course, it takes two to tango here. If the rebel group concerned considers it already a closure, then the GPH or OPAPP, and even peace advocates, cannot be “holier than thou.” But they risk repeating the mistakes of the history of DDR when it is not situated in a more comprehensive peace process or settlement that purposively addresses the substantive causes of their struggle.

Perhaps, it is just as well that the peace process with the RPM-M had been unceremoniously suspended (God forbid that it was discontinued) before it might have gone into similar closure mode. As we said at the outset, albeit in the context of the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations, sometimes a break or extended vacation from negotiations can be salutary, IF it becomes an occasion for all concerned to take serious pause and rethink things. This pause-taking and rethinking becomes all the more imperative when seeking a “new approach” as regards the GPH-NDFP peace front. This search is of concern not just to one or both of the Parties but ultimately to all those who have a stake in the resolution of the armed conflict, under a favorable climate for peace negotiations, leading to the attainment of a just and lasting peace. Amen.

SOLIMAN M. SANTOS, JR. has been a long-time Bicolano human rights and IHL lawyer; legislative consultant and legal scholar; peace advocate, researcher and writer, whose initial engagement with the peace process was in Bicol with the first GRP-NDFP nationwide ceasefire in 1986. He is presently Presiding Judge of the 9th Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) of Nabua-Bato, Camarines Sur and Acting Presiding Judge of the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Balatan, Camarines Sur.

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[Featured Article] Only the rich can compete: it’s all about capital by Jade Lopez

Only the rich can compete: it’s all about capital

This article was written by Jade Lopez for the community paper TULAY

“To win a national position… you need a capital of at the very least 200 million pesos,” Professor Felipe B. Miranda has been studying Philippine politics for 40 years, “do not start with a paper approach; counting the number of barangays and people who will vote for or against you… when you join elections, especially at the national level, you must think first of capital, how much money do you have to begin with.”

Professor Miranda knows the business of elections. Public opinion expert, co-founder of top Philippine survey firms Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations, and Professor Emeritus of the University of the Philippines Political Science Department, he has also served as advisor to many an aspiring political candidate, some of whom have won seats at congress, senate and Malacanang.

“Awareness, is also part of the game. Known personalities have an advantage. 200 million pesos as base capital is ok as long as your name is known to the public. Without exposure, then you will need more money.” Professor Miranda adds, candidates should start their campaign at least 2 years ahead of elections to gain exposure and contacts, “that’s why old candidates have an advantage over new names, and why richer candidates have an advantage over those with less money.”

Political scientists call “exposure, “political capital.”

Why 200 million pesos as base capital? Professor Miranda calculates, “to win a national position, you need to win at least 40 per cent of the 50 million voters, or 20 million votes. You will need to spend at least P10 per voter, or a total of 200 million pesos. Actually, often times only about 80 percent of voters turn up, and with many candidates, votes are divided, so you only need to win from 12 to 14 million votes.”

But P200 million covers only the 90 day election campaign. What about the 2 years leading up to the election? “Yes, you will need more money, millions, to make a name, to build that ‘awareness’ among voters about yourself…It’s also connections, if the media like you or are betting on you, then you get free publicity. Same with surveys, they charge less if they like a candidate.”

But don’t expensive elections and campaigns imply that only the rich, or candidates of the rich have any chance at a political seat?

Professor Miranda agrees, “In rare cases, Philippine elections open possibilities for the betterment of the political system, of government. That’s why causes, candidates with causes, cause oriented groups, are important. 1987 for instance (EDSA People Power 1), was a time when people realized the need to put people in office who could work for the betterment of our society. But, for the most part, at the national level especially, it’s hard to sustain the argument that elections in the Philippines have worked to make conditions more democratic, conditions that allow none elite to make or take a national position. There is also very little evidence, historically, that shows that elections here have ever been democratic, honest, regular or fair… The process of selection allows only people with big resources to make it, only the rich can compete…. It’s not enough to say an election is successful just because it was less violent, that the count was honest, or that more people voted. It is just as important to make sure that elections are truly democratic, that they allow people from the majority, who truly represent the interests of the majority, a seat in government.”

No level playing field: COMELEC’s tape measure comes up short

“The law is clear,” adds the soft spoken Atty. Sittie Maimona Tawagon of the COMELEC’s Law Department, “candidates for president and vice president are allowed to spend only 10 pesos per voter… 3 pesos per voter for candidates for senator, congressman, governors, mayors and other local government officials who belong to a political party, and 5 pesos per voter for political parties, party list groups and candidates for senator, congressmen and local government posts who do not belong to a political party.”

That limits campaign expenses for President and Vice President to a little over 500 million pesos. Senators, congressmen without a political party or independents, political parties and party list groups to about 260 million pesos, and millions less for congressmen and other local government candidates running under the banner of a political party.

“The amounts specified for election spending include expenses for rallies, propaganda materials, political ads in television, radio and newspapers…yes travel, food, everything. Even if the rallies were sponsored by a supporter, or if the propaganda materials or ads were donated to the candidate’s campaign, they all should be priced and included in a candidates statement of expenses,” and Atty. Tawagon adds, in January of this year, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) even passed a series of implementing rules and regulations that reiterate and clarify the laws on election spending and propaganda laid out by the Philippine’s laws on fair elections.

“The problem is not in the law, ” adds Atty. Nilda Concha, another lawyer at the COMELEC’s Law Department, “the problem is that we are not given enough people to monitor the candidates expenses, much less verify if all the documents, receipts and statements are correct.”

“The penalties for violation of these laws are a fine and, for repeat offenders, disqualification from government office… No candidate has ever been disqualified for spending more than what the law allows. Although we have fined some of them for not submitting their statement of expenses or for over spending,” however, Atty. Concha admits, the fines are ridiculously small, from 1,000 to 30,000 pesos for the first offense, and from 2,000 to 60,000 for the second offense.

In the 2010 presidential-national election, a coalition of non-government organizations for electoral reform and mass media, conducted a systematic nationwide survey on how much money candidates for president vice president and senators, actually spend for campaigns. (A Campaign Field Finance Monitoring in the 2010 Philippine and National and Local Elections, by Inst. for Political and Electoral Reform, Consortium on Electoral Reform, Pera at Pulitika, together with USAID and International Foundation for Electoral Sytems)

The survey not only confirms Professor Miranda’s estimates on election spending, but reveals that some candidates for national positions, particularly for President and Vice President, actually spent from a modest 400 million pesos to up to over 600 million pesos each, for just the 90-day official campaign period.

Likewise, AC Nielson Media Research which monitored political ads in 2010, estimates that candidates for president and vice president, spent a total of 4.3 billion pesos on political ads alone and that was only counting ads monitored during the 90 day election campaign period.

Just as damning, was the report on how 12 party list groups, affiliated with the Aquino-Roxas ticket, were found to have spent over 426 million pesos on television advertisements alone. And worse, that while their ads campaigned for Noynoy Aquino and Mar Roxas, neither candidate bothered to include the cost of these ads in their statement of expenses.

In particular, Akabayan, the party list to which Noynoy Aquino’s sisters contributed tens of millions of pesos, was monitored to have spent over 112 million pesos for their campaign. A clear violation of the election laws on campaign expenses, as party list groups only need 2 per cent of the total number of votes nationwide to win a seat or about 1,040,000 votes per seat. Meaning, they needed to spend only a little over 5 million pesos to win one seat, and 15 million pesos to win 3 seats at congress (party list groups are allowed up to 3 seats at the lower house, depending on the number of votes they can muster). Moreover, party list groups are supposed to represent the poorest less privileged sectors of Filipinos, and are expected to be more restrained, and serve as examples of less traditional less expensive forms of politics.

Incredibly, while all surveys agree that almost all candidates spent more than what was stated in their official election expenses statements, in short, broke the laws that limit election spending, the Commission on Elections did nothing more than chastise a few local candidates.

Atty. Ferdinand Rafanan, former Director of the Commission on Elections Law Department and now COMELEC Director for Planning, concurs with the survey findings, “The COMELEC is tasked to enforce laws that limit the amount of money spent on campaigns, and ensure that each candidate gets the same amount of time and space in broadcast and print media to reach out to the public… But you see, our lawmakers and even the Commission itself has made the laws almost impossible to enforce, they deliberately make the rules and procedures for enforcing the laws so ambiguous and convoluted, they emasculate the law.”

Adds Rafanan, “All these laws are just paper laws, because government and the COMELEC commissioners do not give the COMELEC lawyers teeth to enforce them properly. Imagine, the commissioners ruled that the hundreds of thousands of receipts, documents, and statements for expenses from all candidates nationwide, from President down to barangay chairman, have to be submitted to the Law Department for monitoring and verification! Then they assign only one or two lawyers to check on all these papers!”

Atty. Tawagon, just 3 years at the COMELEC is the only lawyer assigned to monitor election expenses for the 2013 elections, ” I will be working with a COMELEC Director, but that Director is also working on other tasks…. No, monitoring expenses is not my only assignment, I handle about 100 other cases… cases on candidates asking for exceptions from the gun ban or who have violated the gun ban, complaints against candidates who violate the law regulating poster sizes, many other cases..Yes, I am assigned one legal assistant, but that assistant is also assigned to so many other cases and tasks as well.”

“Realistically, all we have been able to do at every election is to make sure all candidates have submitted their statements of election expenses and contributions or SECE’s on time,” Atty. Concha points out that, “and while there are new laws asking the Bureau of Internal Revenue , the Anti Money Laundering Council to help us audit all these papers… it’s not exactly clear how they are supposed to help, and what sort of help they can give us. There are only a total of 15 lawyers assigned at the Law Department.”

Dynasties rule, the cost of costly elections

“The cost of costly elections is not simply a drain on the country’s finances, ” stresses Professor Miranda, “costly elections work to destroy a democracy. Even without violence, the way we conduct elections, denote the destruction of democracy.”

Miranda explains, “The dominant pattern of elections throughout our history has been that they are incredible, dishonest, opportunistic and elitist…” and that, “The system itself has been organized so that it is oligarchic, so that the elections themselves are contests among the oligarchs, and so that it creates and promotes political dynasties,” that is, ruling families monopolize government positions and use these positions to enrich their clans and perpetuate themselves in power… The Commission on Elections (COMELEC), which is supposed to guard the vote, has itself, across time, shown bias for or against candidates, and has itself violated the law.”

Atty. Rafanan adds, “Winners can control everything in their constituency, they monopolize the politics and use their power to control government finances and projects. Because more often than not, the very few very rich, or their favored candidate, can compete in elections, it is the very few who have also dominated politics throughout history. That’s why we have political dynasties….they put their wives, children and other relatives in government to gain more monopoly over power.”

As of last count, over 70% of congressmen are members of a political dynasty. That means over 6 out of 10 politicos in congress are from families who have ruled over a region, province or city for decades, and have relatives, wives, husbands, grandparents, parents, children and so on, in a position of power in government.

Rafanan, continues, “Dynasties destroy good governance because you cannot make these families accountable for whatever laws they break or what taxes they steal… the joke is on us, the voting public, because these families do not even spend their own money during elections. they use our money, tax payers money to fund their campaigns, because they have sat in power for so long, they have come to look upon our money as their money. Worse, if tax payer’s money is not enough to fund their campaign, they ask for money from rich friends and big businesses, and so for generations, these families have only served their own and their friends interests, and not that of the public… it’s a vicious cycle.”

How to break this vicious cycle? “Enforce the law,” says Rafanan, “force lawmakers to enforce the anti-dynasty clause in the Constitution…Prosecute those who violate all laws on fair elections.”

Miranda is less optimistic, “I think it will take 3 or more generations more for us to reform the electoral system. And only if we have by that time, a truly patriotic responsible leadership, leaders who sincerely want our people and this country to move forward, to develop, and not leaders who only think of their families, friends and business interests.”

(NOTE: Atty. Rafanan has spent 14 years at the Commission on Elections, trying to help reform the electoral system, and has paid the price for taking his job seriously. Twice kicked out as head of the COMELEC’s National Capital Region Office (covering Metro Manila) for exposing vote buying by administration candidates and anomalies within the Commission, removed as head of the Education and Information Department for “being too honest” with the media, and then again removed as head of the Law Department for “being uncontrollable” when he insisted on investigating COMELEC officials implicated in the purchase of overpriced election materials, Rafanan, has yet again and just before the 2013 elections, been kicked out and up to the “harmless” Planning and Programs Department.)

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