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The new senators-elect and people's issues

by Alexander Martin Remollino Friday, May. 21, 2010 at 5:31 AM

The line-up of 12 new senators-elect who will serve until 2016 is now complete. As nationally elected legislators, they will play prominent parts in crafting national policy for the next six years. What are we to expect from the newly elected senators? A look at their track records, or previous positions on people's issues, and their platforms of government would be instructive.

The line-up of 12 new senators-elect who will serve until 2016 is now complete. As nationally elected legislators, they will play prominent parts in crafting national policy for the next six years.

What are we to expect from the newly elected senators? A look at their track records, or previous positions on people's issues, and their platforms of government would be instructive.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) had been able to proclaim nine senators-elect last May 15, five days after the country's first automated elections. They are Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Franklin Drilon, Juan Ponce Enrile, Pilar Juliana “Pia” Cayetano, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., Ralph Recto, and Vicente “Tito” Sotto III.

Three days later, the Comelec was able to proclaim the remaining three senators – Sergio “Serge” Osmeña III, Manuel “Lito” Lapid, and Teofisto “TG” Guingona III.

During the run-up to the elections, the Pagbabago! People's Movement for Change – a group advocating socio-political and economic reforms – had assessed several of the senatorial candidates based on its People's Criteria, which cover five issues: truth, accountability, and justice; economic progress and the environment; people's welfare; sovereignty, peace, and equality; and love of country. Pagbabago released its findings to the media a week before the elections.

This is an opportune time to review the People's Criteria that Pagbabago put forward and take a look at how the 12 senators-elect weighed against these.

Truth, justice, and accountability

Estrada, Cayetano, and Guingona all either initiated or participated in congressional investigations on the large-scale corruption scandals that rocked the Arroyo administration, such as the NBN-ZTE deal and the fertilizer scam.

As a member of the House of Representatives before seeking a Senate seat, Guingona was a frequent supporter of impeachment complaints citing Arroyo for graft and corruption, culpable violation of the Constitution, bribery, betrayal of public trust, and other high crimes.

Drilon, meanwhile, has been a prominent critic of corruption under the Arroyo administration. He was active in broad protest actions demanding truth, justice, and accountability from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her henchmen and hirelings.

In terms of human rights legislation, reelectionists Estrada and Santiago and the neophyte Guingona are noted for having pushed for the passing of the Anti-Torture Law.

Enrile, meanwhile, is the main author of the Anti-Terrorism Law, which according to its critics contains several provisions that infringe on human rights. Estrada, Revilla, and Recto supported the bill.

Economic progress and the environment

Senate_Session_HallNone of the winning senators-elect have clear track records, platform prescriptions, or positions when it comes to protecting the national patrimony by opposing export-oriented, foreign-led, and large-scale extractive industries such as mining and oil exploration; or on upholding indigenous peoples' rights to ancestral land and self-determination.

On the question of genuine agrarian reform, which is based on redistribution of land to the tillers, Cayetano, Estrada, Enrile, Lapid, Revilla, and Santiago are noted for having supported the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) Bill – which retains the old CARP loopholes that allow big landholding corporations and landlords to evade or skirt land redistribution.

Drilon, as justice secretary under the Aquino administration, supported the stock distribution option (SDO) scheme in Hacienda Luisita.

Osmeña, in his platform and statements, has shown that he favors models of development and land reform that are foreign investment-led and global market-oriented.

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which the Senate ratified in 1994, further opened up the already foreign-dominated Philippine economy to foreign investors, exposing Filipino enterprises to more unfair competition and preventing their full development. Among the reelectionist senators-elect, only Sotto is on record as having voted against the GATT.

The Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) has been criticized for giving Japan undue advantages over the Philippines. Among the reelectionists who won, Cayetano is the only one who voted against the JPEPA. Santiago was its main proponent, while Enrile, Lapid, and Revilla supported it.

Cayetano, Enrile, and Santiago have all called for the review, amendment, or repeal of neoliberal economic policies like the Oil Deregulation law, the Mining Act of 1995, the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA), and the GATT.

Drilon is the author of the Downstream Oil Industry Deregulation Act. Aside from this, he is also noted for having authored Republic Act No. 8179, or An Act Further Liberalizing Foreign Investment.

People's welfare

Estrada and Revilla both filed bills pushing for a P125 across-the-board wage increase, while Drilon and Recto were prominent opponents of the said measures.

Sotto, Guingona, Estrada, and Santiago are on record as having filed bills aiming to promote and protect overseas Filipino workers' (OFWs) rights.

The only reelectionists who voted against the Restructured Value-Added Tax (RVAT) Law are Cayetano and Estrada.

Recto was the RVAT's main proponent. Drilon, Enrile, Osmeña, and Revilla supported the measure.

Cayetano and Estrada both called for the repeal or review of the Automatic Appropriations Act.

Sovereignty, peace, and equality

Drilon, Enrile, Santiago, and Sotto all voted for the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in 1999, while Osmeña voted against it. Santiago, however, later on changed her position and, together with Cayetano, has called for either the revocation or the renegotiation of the VFA.

Among the senators-elect, Cayetano is the most notable for actively promoting women empowerment.

Love of country

As regards promoting a culture that emphasizes nationalism and service to the people, as well as upholding Filipino as the national language, none of the 12 senators-elect are known to have articulated any clear program or position.

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