Hot air on KABAG

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

In a pre-taped “talk to the people” aired Tuesday night over the government-run PTV-4, President Rodrigo Duterte ranted anew against lawmakers identified with the so-called “Makabayan bloc” in the 18th Congress. Having “infiltrated” already the halls of Congress, President Duterte tagged five party list groups of the “Makabayan bloc” as the “legal fronts” of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

President Duterte lashed against the “Makabayan bloc” of allegedly using taxpayers’ money out of their congressional budgets to fund anti-government activities of the CPP’s military arm, the New People’s Army (NPA). These were very serious allegations of the Commander-in-Chief no less that “Makabayan bloc” cannot dismiss with mere denials.

Other than the left-leaning “Makabayan bloc,” the President also rued the party list system has been hijacked by the rich and moneyed sectors to carry out their vested interests to gain more power and control the government.

At the Kapihan sa Manila Bay virtual news forum last Wednesday, ranking party-list lawmakers conceded the party-list system has been abused through these years. Our featured guests, deputy Speaker and Bagong Henerasyon (BH) party-list Rep. Bernadette Herrera and House assistant majority leader and Ang Probinsyano (APPL) party-list Rep. Alfred Delos Santos shared the laments of President Duterte about the “fractured Constitution” that disabled the noble intentions of the party list system.

Herrera and Delos Santos suggested as possible solution the amendment of the existing 1995 Party List Law which they vowed to support if re-elected to the 19th Congress. Saying they would rather focus on their respective advocacies for youth and women for Herrera and the rural farmers and fisher folks for Delos Santos, they declined to comment on the President’s rants against their five fellow “Makabayan bloc” party list representatives who belong to the 28-man House minority opposition members.

Herrera and Delos Santos belong to the pro-administration 56-man bloc of lawmakers grouped together under the banner of Party List Coalition Foundation Inc. (PLCFI) at the Lower House.

Both Herrera and Delos Santos conceded the party-list system needs to be updated in the same way the country’s Constitution needs to be amended. “But we need to clarify the definition of ‘marginalized’ because it’s a misconception that the representative should belong to the same sector they represent in Congress,” Herrera pointed out. “There are really things that need to be amended in the system but it will take a long process because of many opinions,” Herrera stressed.

“I agree that sometimes it’s already being abused, but majority of our representatives remain legitimate in fighting for causes for our respective sectors,” Delos Santos pointed out. “But the criteria for representation should have nothing to do with status in life. As long as you have the experience to represent your sector, you can be a party-list representative,” Delos Santos argued.

A self-confessed socialist, President Duterte reiterated his beef against the “Makabayan bloc” and quoted Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) who first identified and christened the “Makabayan bloc” lawmakers with an acronym “KABAG.” The acronym “KABAG” stood for the first letters of the names of the five party list groups, namely: Kabataan; Anak-Pawis; Bayan Muna; Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT); and, Gabriela.

Obviously, this was to denigrate the name of the “Makabayan bloc” which in the English language means patriotic, or love for country.

Actually, “kabag” is a Tagalog word denoting someone has stomachache, or heartburn due to indigestion, or acidic stomach.

When babies suffer “kabag,” my late mother advised us just to make them burp or belch, or make them fart to get the unwanted air out their stomach.

It was during the administration of the late president Corazon Aquino when the first batch of party list representatives were initially appointed in a transitory provision for the nationally elected party list groups. The “marginalized” sectors included representatives chosen from various groups of farmers, fisher folks, urban poor, women, labor, youth, persons with disabilities (PWDs), and, senior citizens.

Subsequently, a Party List Law came into effect in 1995 that, among other things, provided for nationally elected representatives of Congress coming from these so-called marginalized sectors. In April 2013, the Supreme Court (SC) overruled the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on the disqualification of several party list groups that failed their muster as non-compliant with Republic Act (RA) No. 7941 or the Party-list System Act of 1995.

Contrary to the Comelec’s interpretation, the SC declared, the Party List Law does not require national and regional parties or organizations to represent the “marginalized and underrepresented sectors.” It is sufficient that the political party “consists of citizens who advocate the same ideology or platform, or the same governance principles and policies regardless of their economic status as citizens,” the SC cited.

There are at least 177 other party list groups officially accredited by the Comelec as qualified to run in the coming May 9 national elections. And these included the five party list groups that the President classified as groups allegedly abetting the enemies of the state. Filipino voters, however, would only pick one. In the existing election laws, a party list group can get one, two or a maximum of three seats in Congress depending on the total number of votes it gathered nationwide.

Despite the latest presidential rants against the “Makabayan bloc,” there is no pending disqualification petitions filed at Comelec against their candidacies. Until and unless someone files disqualification cases, or cancellation of their registration for alleged violations of the law, all these presidential rants against KABAG are nothing but hot air.


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