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Philippine Congressman Walden Bello visits Filipino communities in US cities
IN several forums this month, Congressman Walden Bello is visiting Filipino-American communities in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and Portland to talk about the upcoming May 13 mid-term congressional elections in the Philippines, and the role his political party, Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party, has played in the passing of progressive legislation during the just-concluded 15th Congress. Akbayan’s Risa Hontiveros is running for a Senate seat in May, and is in the circle of candidates deemed to have a chance of winning a seat – a first in the Senate for Akbayan. Akbayan is also running as a party-list organization to again have their House seats.
No less than six Akbayan-sponsored bills which benefit the lives of Filipinos have become Republic Acts in the last Congress. If Hontiveros gets elected, her presence in the Senate will complement Akbayan’s presence in the Lower House, and will constitute a significant step forward for more legislative reforms.
The list of Akbayan priority measures that were successfully translated into law in the 15th Congress – under the sponsorship of Akbayan representatives, Walden Bello and Kaka Bag-Ao – includes the following bills:
• Reproductive Health and Responsible Parenthood Act, which advances women’s rights and welfare, and promotes sustainable and manageable population growth;
• Marcos Compensation Act, which finally brings some measure of justice to the more than 12,000 victims of human rights abuses during the Marcos period;
• Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act, which is the first national law to criminalize enforced disappearance as a separate or distinct offense;
• Kasambahay Act, which brings long-delayed legal coverage to the millions of domestic workers, who will now be entitled to a minimum wage, social security, Pag-Ibig housing benefits, days off, and limits to their working hours;
• Amended Anti-Trafficking Act, co-sponsored with Rep Manny Pacquiao, which strengthens the hand of the authorities in dealing with human trafficking; and the
• Amended Overseas Voting Act, which strengthens the ability of overseas Filipinos to participate in the Philippine electoral process.
Congressman Bello will seek Filipino support in the U.S. for Akbayan’s continued role in making the democratic process meaningful, and in advancing the reforms begun under Philippine President Noynoy Aquino, including the fight against corruption and for good governance, promotion of economic growth and alleviation of poverty – via support for the candidacy of Akbayan’s Risa Hontiveros for the Senate, and the Akbayan’s party-list for Congress.
Congressman Bello will speak in Los Angeles, CA on February 14, San Francisco, CA on the 15th, Seattle, WA on the 28th , and Portland, OR on March 1. For more details, email edbato [at] comcast.net
Akbayan Harvests Bumper Crop of Laws in 15th Congress
By the Akbayan in Congress Committee
PHILIPPINES: The 15th Congress has been the most productive Congress for Akbayan in terms of priority legislation being turned into law. No less than six of our bills have become Republic Acts, all of them in the last year of this Congress!
This bumper crop of bills, of which our party's representatives in the House were principal sponsors, stem not only from the efforts of the offices of Rep. Walden Bello and Kaka Bag-Ao. They are a product of the collective efforts of the party base and leadership, which were intensively consulted during the drafting of these bills and participated in mass campaigns to make them a reality. Their authors include former representatives RisaHontiveros, Etta Rosales, and MayongAguja, as well as their staffs, under whose tenures most of the bills were initially filed.
Among the Akbayan priority measures translated into law was the Reproductive Health and Responsible Parenthood Act. The significance of this measure, which Akbayan filed as early as 1998 under then Rep. Etta Rosales, lies not only in its advancing women's rights and welfare and promoting sustainable and manageable population growth, but in its being a giant step towards completing the process of secularization that began with the Reform Movement of the ilustrados in the 19th century.
The landmark Marcos Compensation Act, also filed by Etta Rosales as early as the 11th Congress, will finally bring some measure of justice to the more than 12,000 victims of human rights abuses during the Marcos period. Funded by P10 billion from the Marcos assets seized by the Swiss government and turned over to the Philippines, the Act is one of the few, if not the only instance, a government anywhere in the world has made financial reparations to victims of human rights violations.
Alongside the Marcos Compensation Act as a milestone human rights measure is the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act. Rep. EdcelLagman, one of the principal authors alongside Akbayan, told the Inquirer that the measure is "a milestone in Asia as it will be the first national law to criminalize enforced disappearance as a separate or distinct offense." The Act provides for a penalty of from 20 to 40 years in prison, renders illegal "orders of battle" that give police and military units blanket power to deal with targeted individuals, outlaws secret detention centers, and mandates the compensation, restitution and rehabilitation of victims. The only major flaw of the Act is its not covering non-state actors, which have also been responsible for acts of forced disappearance, a provision that Akbayan fought for, though unsuccessfully.
The Kasambahay Act, another of our priorities, brought long-delayed legal coverage to the millions of domestic workers that constitute the pillar of the household economy. Now they will be entitled to a minimum wage, social security and Pag-Ibig housing benefits, days off, and limits to their working hours. The Act, along with its signing the International Labor Organization's Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers,will also strengthen the government's hand in negotiating stronger benefits and protections for our migrant domestic workers in the Middle East and other parts of the world. Owing to its implications for family finances, many in the middle class may not be happy with this bill now, but they will eventually come to accept it as necessary from a human and social rights perspective.
The Amended Anti-Trafficking Act, which Akbayan co-sponsored with Rep Manny Pacquiao, strengthens the hand of the authorities in dealing with the cancer of human trafficking against which they have made little headway so far. It strengthens their power to prosecute pre-empted acts of trafficking. It eliminates the privacy clause previously enjoyed by traffickers, which means that people, including members of the media, who reveal the identities of those accused in human trafficking cases shall not be subjected to criminal sanctions. Finally, it penalizes the confiscation of travel documents such as passports and working permits from trafficked persons.
Another party priority bill was ratified on the very last day of the last session on February 6. This was the Amended Overseas Voting Act, which did away with the requirement that those registering to vote overseas must file an affidavit stating they will return to the Philippines after three years. It also empowered the Commission on Elections to explore new technologies of registration and voting, including internet registration and voting, and make recommendations to Congress on their adoption. With over 10 million Filipinos now living and working abroad, the amended law is expected to dramatically expand the number of overseas voters. A commonly accepted view is that, owing to their cosmopolitan experiences, Filipinos working overseas are not easily subverted by the blandishments of traditional politicians and are likely to base their vote mainly on candidates' stands on issues and their programs instead of feudal loyalties or bribes. This amended law will provide a good test of this thesis, and if the outcome is as expected, then people will look back on it as a major step forward in the modernization and maturation of Philippine democracy.
Akbayan also played an active role during the floor debates in support of R.A. No. 10351, better known as the "Sin Tax,"which broke the cancerous hold on the country's health by the Lucio Tan–Philip Morris partnership while acquiring over P33 billion in its first year of implementation, the bulk of which will go towards kick-starting the government's universal health program.
The list of Akbayan priority measures translated into law would have been longer had the Senate not been distracted by the silly personal warfare that broke out in the Senate last month and devoted time instead to passing bills already approved on third reading in the House by the middle of last year: the Amended Balanced Housing Bill, which would have been a major step towards the provision of socialized housing; and the National Land Use Bill, which would gone a long way towards protecting the land rights of smallholders and indigenous peoples and reducing environmental disasters.
The new laws that our party has successfully clinched during the 15th Congress join the other Akbayan measures that have already been enshrined into law: the Cheaper Medicines Act, Carper, and the Act empowering labor to self-organize.
But much remains to be done. The challenge in the coming 16th Congress will not only include passing the Freedom of Information Bill, National Land Use Bill, and the Amended Balanced Housing Bill. We will also need to translate into law the Security of Tenure Bill that radically limits contractualization, along with the Student Rights and Welfare (Straw Bill), the Anti-Discrimination Bill, and the Minerals Management Bill.