I BELIEVE that charter change is a fundamental and necessary component of any attempt to reform and overhaul our political system, such as the platform of my party, Akbayan, to shift to parliamentary and federal forms of government.
However, the plan of the House of Representatives to push for a constituent assembly (Con-ass) rather than a constitutional convention (Con-con) to amend the country’s charter goes against the interest of democracy and active citizenship, especially with a House where the heavy hand of the Executive was so plain to see.
We cannot set aside democratic processes and dismiss people participation simply because the fiscal cost of such democratic endeavors are allegedly staggering and/or expensive. This is a dangerous thought. This is the seed of undemocratic politics. It assumes that democracy is a luxury rather than a right that developing countries like ours cannot fully enjoy. It assumes that democracy has a price tag and that it can only be enjoyed by the people,subject to the availability of funds.
The attempt for a “cheaper and faster” mode to amend the Constitution also raises concerns that the shift to federalism is being done haphazardly. I urge the government to take the necessary time in fulfilling the important and difficult requirements in order for the shift to federalism to become successful. This includes breaking up political dynasties, dismantling private armies, and building financial sustainability, among others.
Likewise, I am extremely worried that some vested quarters are pushing for Con-ass as this is less prone to public scrutiny and more susceptible to the control of big business, political dynasts and traditional politicians. I am wary that this will renew desires to relax constitutional limits on foreign ownership of land and businesses. It can be recalled that during the campaign, President Duterte mentioned that he is open to lifting the Charter’s restriction on foreign ownership of Philippine corporations. This is completely opposite to the principles of federalism. Federalism’s goal is to equitably distribute development and resources to the regions. The government cannot effectively redistribute wealth by giving premium to foreign interests.
I urge the House of Representatives and President Duterte to reconsider their take on this matter. I am confident that the government has enough resources to fund the necessary costs of building the democratic infrastructure and processes for people to directly participate in progressively amending our Constitution.
The process of revising the Constitution must be participatory and democratic. There should be no shortcuts in democracy. The political and economic ambitions of a few cannot lord over the people’s interests. –Risa Hontiveros, senator
LEST counter-insurgency programs like Oplan Bayanihan are junked, any unilateral ceasefire declaration of the Philippine government is empty and defective. To ensure that his peace initiatives are not jeopardized, President Rodrigo Duterte should junk Oplan Bayanihan, a cause of unpeace in many struggling communities and grassroots organizations fighting for genuine change.
Karapatan has received reports of continuing military combat operations in Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, North Cotabato, Davao City, Isabela, Cagayan, Bulacan, Quezon, Batangas, Camarines Norte, Bohol, Catanduanes, Camarines Sur, Albay, Sorsogon, Samar, Surigao, and other provinces, even after Duterte’s declaration of unilateral ceasefire with the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army and National Democratic Front of the Philippines in his State of the Nation Address.
Essentially, Oplan Bayanihan remains operative in rural communities, as AFP troops and paramilitary groups like Alamara and “Nipar” (New Indigenous People’s Army Reform) continue to occupy barangays and sitios in the guise of civil-military operations (CMO) and so-called peace and development programs.
The recent incident in Kapalong, Davao del Norte affirms reports on continuing military operations by the 72nd Infantry Battalion led by Sgt. Lito Mansaloon, a former Alamara member, and its Cafgu-Alamara paramilitary groups. In 2015, killings and frustrated killings, threats and harassment, and encampment in communities including Lumad schools caused the forced evacuation of Manobo communities to the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) Haran compound in Davao City, where the evacuees remain to this day.
In July 26, a day after Duterte declared the GPH unilateral ceasefire, abaca worker Gerald Teves, 25, was tortured by six soldiers conducting military operations in Barangay Tucao, San Miguel, Catanduanes. The soldiers from the 83rd Infantry Battalion passed by Teves’s working area and asked him if he had seen members of the NPA. When Teves replied that he did not see any, the soldiers took him to a nearby hut and tortured him.
Gerald’s hands were tied behind his back using a nylon rope, which was also used to tie around his neck. His feet were tied by a wire to the trunk of a narra tree while his face was covered with a plastic bag. He was kicked three times on the back. He was tortured by the soldiers for around 30 minutes while his 49-year old uncle, Undang Teves, was being interrogated. When asked whether he has seen any NPA members, Undang was forced to say yes in order to save his nephew from further torture. After the incident, Gerald and his uncle filled out a police blotter. Gerald was taken to the Eastern Bicol Medical Center in Virac for medical examination.
In July 30, a dozen members of the paramilitary group Nipar led by Alde “Butsoy” Salusad fired at some 80 Tigwahanon gathered for a wedding in Sitio Tibugawan, Barangay Kawayan, San Fernando, Bukidnon. Makinit Gayoran, pregnant and carrying her months-old baby, was killed instantly while seven other individuals, including five minors, were wounded. A long-pending warrant of arrest has yet to be served to Salusad, the identified perpetrator in the 2012 killing of Lumad Datu Jimmy Liguyon in Bukidnon. After the incident, all residents of Sitio Tibugawan and some families in Sitio Sil-angon were forced to evacuate and sought sanctuary in Kawayan.
The AFP’s declaration of the Suspension of Offensive Military Operations (Somo) provided that while there was cessation of “all military offensive operations,” civil military operations (CMO) and other “peace and development outreach programs” (PDOP) of the AFP will continue, as provided for in Oplan Bayanihan.
The AFP should stop deceiving the public. The concept and practice of OpBay’s “Whole of Nation Initiative” means the use of CMO, hand in hand with military combat operations.
A unilateral ceasefire declaration that would have enabled the pull-out of soldiers and paramilitary groups was seen as an opportunity for the Lumad evacuees from Surigao del Sur, Davao del Norte and Bukidnon to go home to their ancestral land. But if soldiers continue to encamp in the communities, the ceasefire proves empty for the people. Ceasefire or no ceasefire, the soldiers should totally pull out from the communities and go back to their camps, while paramilitary groups should be disbanded and disarmed immediately.
The paramilitary groups are also part of the AFP’s deception. Acting as force multipliers of the AFP, paramilitary groups still operate under the command of the Philippine Army. They are being used to circumvent the GPH unilateral ceasefire declaration.
There were 97 victims of political killings perpetrated by paramilitary groups under the BS Aquino regime (data as of March 2016). Thousands of Lumad were forced to evacuate from their homes during the BS Aquino regime because of AFP’s military operations in their communities which targeted Lumad civilians.
Karapatan reiterated its call for the resumption of formal peace talks between the GPH and NDFP to facilitate the points agreed upon by both parties in June 2016 in Oslo, Norway. They included affirmation of previously signed agreements, process of discussion for the substantive agenda, mode of interim ceasefire, amnesty proclamation for political prisoners and the reconstitution of the list of those protected under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig).
Victims’ organizations such as Selda, Hustisya and Desaparecidos urge the President to keep his promise of releasing political prisoners including the 22 NDFP consultants who should participate in peace negotiations. –Cristina Palabay, secretary general, Karapatan