Last Friday, Vice-President Leni Robredo named labor leader and lawyer Sonny Matula as the 12th candidate in her senatorial ticket. She cited Matula’s “clear track record in fighting for the rights of Filipino workers. For him, joining forces with us is not a transaction but a duty. This is his contribution to ending the old and rotten politics that is at the root of the hunger, suffering, and death of many Filipinos.”
Mr. Matula has been working as a legal counsel for laborers and unionists for 20 years. The Federation of Free Workers supported Robredo’s vice-presidential bid in 2016 and is part of the labor coalition that had pledged to back Robredo’s candidacy for president.
The completion of Robredo’s senatorial slate ends the hopes of civil society groups, militant and moderate, of having longtime activist and former Congressman (Bayan Muna Party-list) Neri Colmenares included in the opposition ticket. Colmenares is the president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, a national association of human rights lawyers, and is co-chairperson of Makabayang Koalisyon ng Mamamayan, better known as the Makabayan Bloc.
The militant group of fishermen Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), a member of the Makabayan Bloc, is of the view that VP Robredo needs Mr. Colmenares more than some people in her slate that do not have any credibility to be called opposition. Fernando Hicap, national chairperson of Pamalakaya said, “Without Colmenares, Robredo’s senatorial line up is more of a representation of traditional politicians and their political interests.”
I say Colmenares’ inclusion in Robredo’s senatorial lineup would be as much of a representation of traditional politicians and their political interests as Richard Gordon’s and Migs Zubiri’s.
In 2014, two complaints accused President Noynoy Aquino of culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, and graft and corruption when he utilized the mechanisms of the Disbursement Acceleration Program, portions of which the Supreme Court ruled by unanimous vote to be unconstitutional. The other complaint accused the President of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust when he signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the United States. The Justice Committee members voted 54-4 to dismiss all three complaints.
This is what I wrote in my BusinessWorld column under the headline “Are the Makabayan representatives concerned for the common good? in September of that year.
“Party-list Alliance of Concerned Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio accused the administration lawmakers of railroading the process. ‘It took just one hearing to tackle three different complaints,’ he said. But the complaints were not dismissed arbitrarily and summarily.
“To the credit of the allies of Pres. Aquino in the Justice Committee, they applied the ‘spirit of liberalism’ in determining the sufficiency in form of each of the three complaints in spite of their serious infirmities. Non-members of the Committee, like Tinio himself, were allowed to present their complaints. They recited the facts constituting the offense charged and rebut the arguments presented against the allegations of wrongdoing.
“Two of the complaints had the same basis. They were just filed by different parties. Dismissal of one meant dismissal of the other. As regards the third complaint, the Committee dismissed it because deliberations on it were premature as the Supreme Court still has to make a ruling on the constitutionality of the agreement.
“Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares and Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon accused President Aquino of violating the Constitution when he realigned P144 billion in funds to at least 166 programs, activities and projects under the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said the complaints were ‘prematurely filed and dismissible’ because the Supreme Court has not issued a final ruling on the DAP case. Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas, chair of the Justice Committee, said the high court’s decision has nothing to do with impeachment.
“Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao stressed that not every violation of the Constitution is impeachable. It must be culpable, a willful act of the President. Aggabao said the complaint was vague. Marikina Rep. Romero Quimbo described the complaints empty because there was no allegation the Chief Executive pocketed the DAP funds.
“Colmenares expressed his disappointment at the dismissal of the complaints. ‘It is a terrible day for the Filipino people,’ said he. It may not have been a terrible day at all for the marginalized sectors of society: the ordinary factory workers, farmers and fishermen. Their representatives in Congress — Raymond Mendoza of Party-list Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, Emilene Aglipay of Democratic Independent Workers Association, Nicanor Briones and Rico Geron of Agricultural Sector Alliance of the Philippines, Delphin Lee of Agri-Agra ng Magsasaka, and Agapito Guanlao of Butil Farmers’ Party — did not endorse the impeachment complaints. As Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga said, only the Makabayan Bloc wants President Aquino removed from office.
“The complainants were not even able to get the Citizens’ Battle against Corruption, the other party-list organization represented in Congress that is dedicated towards fighting graft and corruption, to join the impeachment move. Neither did they get the support of Gloria Arroyo staunch allies in Congress: Lito Atienza, Arthur Yap, and Silvestre Bello III, Environment Secretary, Agriculture Secretary, and Cabinet Secretary, respectively, of Arroyo.
“The Makabayan representatives vowed to continue the fight against the ‘yellow dictatorship’ in the parliament of the streets. It appears that making things difficult for President Aquino is their main cause, not the upholding of the Constitution. The supposed progressives in Congress were shown to be no more than traditional politicians.”
In 2016, presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte promised the Makabayan Bloc that if elected, he would appoint Makabayan Bloc-affiliated persons in his Cabinet in exchange for their support. Upon his assumption of the presidency, President Duterte appointed Rafael Mariano of Anakpawis as Secretary of Agrarian Reform, and Liza Maza of Gabriela as lead convenor of the National Anti-Poverty Commission.
Having been elected president with Makabayan support, President Duterte’s minions in the Commission on Appointments rejected those appointments, to the extreme anger of the Makabayan people. That is the reason they have been fighting former political ally President Duterte since. Aren’t they “trapos” as well?