Oliver Lozano

Administration lawmaker defends party-list group

Administration lawmaker defends party-list group
By Delon Porcalla
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – A veteran administration lawmaker scored The STAR yesterday for labeling his party-list group as among those with “questionable goals.”

“This is already below the belt. This is even very selective. And it was not even arranged in alphabetical manner,” Alagad party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta complained to The STAR executives.

He was referring to the “Know your party-list” item that appeared in the daily’s front page yesterday. The item is a partial checklist of party-list groups aiming for House seats in the coming polls. The STAR aims to update the list daily, depending on records the groups submit to the Commission on Elections.

Groups tagged by civil society group Kontra Daya as having “questionable goals” are marked with asterisks in The STAR checklist.

“Why is The STAR allowing itself to be used by Kontra Daya which is a very dubious organization?” Marcoleta asked. “These kinds of groups have suddenly sprouted and we don’t even know who they are and who they are representing. They should come out,” he said.

“How can my goals be questionable? What’s questionable about my goals? Well, they will all be disappointed because I will be re-elected,” the two-term congressman, who is seeking re-election in the May 10 polls, said.

Marcoleta was the congressman who endorsed in 2005 the alleged bogus impeachment complaint of Marcos loyalist Oliver Lozano against President Arroyo, which prevented the filing of a stronger and more legitimate complaint. He has since denied this, however.

Last February, before the campaign season started, Marcoleta complained that Comelec had been showing its bias toward militant or left-leaning party-list organizations.

Marcoleta of Alagad, who represents the Iglesia ni Cristo bloc in the House, said even Comelec sample ballots – such as one posted on its website – included the names of leftist party-list groups like the Anakpawis.

“I’m asking why? Not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times. Is this not bias towards a particular group?” he stressed. He disclosed that this sample ballot can be seen in the Comelec’s website, which only gives other groups undue advantage over the rest of them.

Marcoleta also observed that the presidential candidates in the sample ballots are all members of the Aquino clan – Benigno Aquino Sr., Benigno Aquino Jr. and Corazon Aquino.

“Is this not obvious bias in favor of one candidate? And this can be seen everytime, or whenever people open the Comelec website,” the administration lawmaker pointed out. Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno Aquino III has been a consistent survey topnotcher.

Resign

As many of the country’s 190 party-list groups scrounge for nominees, Rep. Teodoro Casiño of Bayan Muna said government officials who are party-list nominees have to resign or face disqualification, as stipulated in a recent Supreme Court ruling.

An ABS-CBN-Newsbreak report showed that there are at least 25 bureaucrats, aside from elective officials, who want to enter Congress through the backdoor – or through the party-list system.

Casiño also urged the Comelec to immediately disqualify nominees who are not fit to represent the groups they want to speak for in the legislature.

Bayan Muna and Akbayan have filed separate disqualification cases against presidential son and Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo, the first nominee of a party-list group called Ang Galing Pinoy (AGP), which is supposedly composed of security guards and tricycle drivers.

The Comelec has required Arroyo and other nominees to submit speeches or articles proving their advocacies for the groups they want to represent.

But according to Akbayan, Arroyo has failed to comply with the Comelec requirement.

Akbayan said it is not aware of any speech or article President Arroyo’s son has made to advance the welfare of security guards and tricycle drivers.

Other groups are seeking the disqualification of former Energy secretary Angelo Reyes, first nominee of the group 1-Utak (United Transport Koalisyon).

Meanwhile, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Raoul Victorino clarified yesterday that he has withdrawn his nomination from a party-list group immediately after his appointment to the Palace “out of delicadeza.”

“The records in the Comelec will bear me out,” Victorino told The STAR. “I don’t want any misimpression to be created by this (Newsbreak) report,” he said.

Victorino said his name was included among the nominees of the party-list “Ama” when he was still “jobless” after his retirement as associate justice of the Sandiganbayan.   – With Paolo Romero and Jess Diaz

Like district congressmen, party-list reps enjoy perks

Like district congressmen, party-list reps enjoy perks
By SHERRIE ANN TORRES
VERA Files

(Conclusion)

WHEN it comes to the perks of being a lawmaker, party-list representatives are no different from congressional district representatives.

Every month, they, too, receive a monthly salary of P35,000. Every year, each of them are also entitled to P70 million from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and at least P30 million from Public Works Fund, more popularly known as “pork-barrel funds.”

Then there are the so-called “extras”—at least for those who align themselves with the powers-that-be.

Some party-list representatives admit receiving a monthly allowance from the Office of the Speaker. They get additional “bonuses” when the passage of Malacanang-sponsored bills is being rushed. The sums range from P100,000 to P250,000 per vote, depending on the importance of the bill, according to congressional sources.

The opportunity to travel abroad for free, either by invitation of groups abroad or by hosts within the House of Representatives, is also something the party-list representatives look forward to.

Because of these privileges, many among the party-list representatives prefer to stick it out with the majority bloc. As a result, the party-list representatives are divided into three groups—pro-administration, the opposition and hard-line opposition.

Those who have chosen to stand up for their principles say they have had to pay a stiff price.

Luzviminda Ilagan of the militant group Gabriela has not received the PDAF since she assumed office in 2007.

Nonrelease of the pork barrel funds to militant congressmen began when they vigorously pushed for President Arroyo’s impeachment in 2005 following the “Hello, Garci” scandal, she said.

Like Ilagan, Gabriela’s Liza Maza, Bayan Muna’s Satur Ocampo and Teodoro Casino and Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano have not been getting their yearly pork barrel fund.

Akbayan’s Riza Hontiveros and Walden Bello have also been deprived of their PDAF allocations. Akbayan has been voting against Arroyo since the first impeachment case was filed in 2005.

“That’s obvious discrimination because every representative is entitled to that,” Ilagan said. She said they would identify projects to be funded out of the PDAF and the Pubic Works Fund as provided by law. “But nothing really comes out of it,” she said.

Ilagan said the only extra perk that hardline opposition solons like her enjoy is the yearly invitation to travel abroad with Las Pinas Rep. Cynthia Villar, president of the Lady Lawmakers’ Association in Congress. Ilagan joined Villar in her trip to Egypt last year.

Villar, wife of Sen. and Nacionalista Party standard bearer Manuel Villar, was one of the special guests at Gabriela’s anniversary celebration in October, during which she committed her office and that of her senator-husband’s full support to the group’s advocacy.

Coalescing with national and even local candidates has been part of Gabriela’s political strategy to ensure their survival during elections.

Ilagan cited Gabriela’s alliance with Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in the 2007 elections. Duterte was investigated last year by the Commission on Human Rights over the rampant vigilante-style killing in his city. The investigation was requested by Karapatan, one of Gabriela’s allies.

A copy of Gabriela’s report of campaign contribution and election expenses to the Comelec for 2007 also shows the group’s receipt of P385,706.16 in campaign donation from Sen. Ma. Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal, another presidential aspirant for 2010. Madrigal also released the same amount for the Kabataan party-list of Rep. Raymond Palatino’s political advertisements.

The alliance can be seen in the sample ballots distributed by the politician’s camp on election day, Ilagan said. Gabriela and other groups reciprocate the favor by campaigning for the candidate.

“We don’t have money; they are the ones who will give financial resources. In exchange, we will campaign for him. We have what we call the command votes,” the Gabriela representative said.

Ilagan maintains that their group remains solid despite their funding woes. This is not the case with other party-list groups that make up the opposition bloc in the House.

An Waray Rep. Florencio “Bem” Noel also belongs to the opposition bloc, along with Cibac Rep. Joel Villanueva, Anak Mindanao (Amin) Rep. Mujiv Hataman and Akbayan Reps. Risa Hontiveros and Walden Bello. An Waray, Amin and Akbayan all supported the three impeachment complaints against Arroyo.

But unlike Ocampo’s group that roundly criticizes the wrong moves of the administration and its allies, Villanueva and the other opposition party-list groups choose the issues to oppose the administration on.

Akbayan and the other party-list opposition groups, for example, voted for the extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. Gabriela, Bayan Muna, Kabataan and Anakpwis, on the other hand, pushed for the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB).The CARP extension program bill was signed into law.

Noel said the difference between him and Villanueva and the militant solons is they do not hit Arroyo left and right and do not march in the streets to denounce her. They also seldom hold press conferences denouncing an administration program and do not have exposes all the time.

The reward: Their PDAF remains intact and is released to them regularly, albeit delayed. That is aside from the congressional insertions which, Noel said, depend heavily on the “ability” of the lawmaker to lobby.

As a result, the Cibac party-list has been able to regularly undertake programs for its constituents since the 12th Congress, ranging from infrastructure projects such as water systems, farm-to-market roads and barangay halls, to social projects such as medical, dental, optical, feeding and relief missions. The party also offers scholarships and livelihood and LGU assistance.

An Waray, for its part, allocates most of its pork barrel to government hospitals in Region 8. It prefers “soft” projects such as free hospitalization, scholarships, supply of medical needs such as thermometer and medicines to public hospitals intended for the poor.

Having access to PDAF and “being friends” with officials of various agencies also ensure Noel’s ability to maintain a four-year scholarship program in the provinces.

Rodante Marcoleta of Alagad belongs to the majority bloc but surprised everyone when he endorsed the controversial impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Oliver Lozano against the President in 2005. The case fizzled out.

Marcoleta’s return to the House of Representatives was delayed by one year. But two days after assuming office, Marcoleta joined the official delegation of President Arroyo to the U.S. during which she met with President Barack Obama. Other party-list representatives on that trip were Godofredo Arquiza (Senior Citizens), Agapito Guanlao (Butil) and Daryl Abayon (AT).

Marcoleta was also among those who wined and dined with the First Couple at the posh Le Cirque restaurant in New York City. He shunned media interviews for weeks.

The controversial solon said he does not mind being identified with the administration for as long as he could deliver the goods to his poor constituents. He proudly enumerated his achievements: giving medical and financial assistance to the poor and providing swallow wells, water and power supply in depressed communities.

There are in fact many Marcoletas among the party-list representatives today: They are with the administration as the so-called “silent majority.” They seldom participate in discussions but are expected to support the moves and programs of the administration, including controversial bills like the Epira Law, Anti-Terrorism Law and Anti-Money Laundering Act.

Marcoleta himself has stopped dreaming to see his pet bill approved into law because, he said, lawmaking “is full of compromises.”

“You need to consider many factors. You need to lobby so the committee would put it (your bill) in the agenda. You know us, Filipinos, ‘Boss, mine first,’” he said.

Lawmaking, Marcoleta said, is now only second to his obligation of helping his constituents.

(The author is a television reporter who submitted a longer version of this article as her master’s project at the Ateneo de Manila University’s Asian Center for Journalism. Her adviser was VERA Files trustee Luz Rimban.)