Akbayan expresses disappointment over Coco Levy EOs, will push for passage of Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund Act

barry_gutierrez

Akbayan Partylist has expressed extreme disappointment over the executive orders issued by President Aquino, saying they fail to protect the interests of the coco farmers on matters relating to the use of the P71 billion coco levy fund and assets.

“We are disappointed that the signed EOs failed to provide adequate benefits and uplift the lives of the coco farmers who are among the country’s poorest,” Akbayan Rep. Barry Gutierrez said.

“Even as the EOs reiterated that the coco levy assets are ‘solely and exclusively for the benefit of all the coconut farmers and for the development of the coconut industry’, the orders failed on two levels to the prejudice of the farmers,” the Akbayan solon added.

Unlawful

Akbayan, in particular, said that the rules guiding the sale and privatization of the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) is “unlawful as it clearly violates the express provision of Presidential Decree No. 755 on the intention behind the UCPB acquisition.”

By virtue of PD 755, the UCPB was acquired to provide frequently cash-strapped and capital-short farmers with the necessary credit support at farmer-friendly interest rates.

All collections under the coco levy fund and 50% of the collections under the Coconut Industry Development Fund were deposited to the UCPB, interest-free, and formed the shares of the coconut farmers in the bank.

“This means no portion shall be given to the government or to investors in the disposition of the UCPB shares. This is in observance of the nature and character of the coco levy fund and assets as being ‘owned by the government in trust for the coconut farmers’,” Gutierrez explained.

Akbayan also reiterated the rights of the coco farmers as UCPB shareholders and primary stakeholders following the decision of the government to privatize UCPB.

“As shareholders and primary stakeholders, the farmers have every right to participate and be consulted in any decision undertaken by the government that affects the administration and management of the UCPB to ensure that their rights and welfare are protected,” Gutierrez reiterated.

“Any attempt to privatize UCPB shares without proper consultation or approval from the coco farmers not only violates PD 755 , but also takes away the coconut farmers’ right of ownership to the shares,” he added.

Not in accord

Akbayan also said they were surprised at the seeming change in direction with the President’s commitment to stand on the side of the farmers following their dialogue in Malacanang on November 2014.

“We are seriously concerned that the EOs issued by the President were not in accord with his earlier commitment to support the farmers in establishing a coco trust fund and the procedures that would govern its usage. While there were consultations in the drafting of the EOs, the results were far from what the farmers desired and expected,” Gutierrez said.

Signed on March 18, 2015 by President Aquino, EO 179 provides for the administrative guidelines in the inventory and privatization of coco levy assets while EO 180 offers guidelines for the use of the recovered P71 billion from San Miguel Corporation.

Certify as urgent

To rectify the flaws of the EOs, Akbayan Rep. Barry Gutierrez will join other lawmakers at the House of Representatives this week to file the “Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund Act”.

The proposed legislation seeks to ensure that the coco levy fund and assets will be used solely for the lifting of the coconut farmers from poverty and destitution.

“We are urging the President to certify the measure as urgent as soon as it is filed in order to ensure the swift and immediate passage of the law,” Gutierrez said.

“[Further] we are seeking the strong support of Congress to ensure that the Coco Levy will finally turn into reality a better lives for the coco farmers and their families,” Gutierrez concluded.###

Advertisements

House Panel defers voting over proposal to grant CGMA House Arrest

Akbayan Rep. Barry Gutierrez speaking during a House Committee hearing.

Akbayan Rep. Barry Gutierrez speaking during a House Committee hearing.

The House of Representatives Committee on Justice on Tuesday has deferred voting over proposal asking Sandiganbayan to grant house arrest to Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for humanitarian considerations.
The decision to defer was undertaken over concerns that approving the resolution sends out an ‘ominous message’ to the people about how grossly inequitable our justice system works.
Akbayan Rep. Barry Gutierrez said that approving the resolution [might] be viewed as “Congress bending over backwards to accommodate one of its own while turning a blind eye to others.”
“I appreciate our concern for CGMA but approving the resolution raises issue of fairness for other inmates,” Gutierrez explained.
“If we’re going to extend the privilege to government officials,we’ll be questioned why we’re not doing the same for other inmates,” he added.
Introduced by 1-BAP Party-list Rep. Silvestre H. Bello III, House Resolution No. 1908 was filed to urge Sandiganbayan to grant house arrest to CGMA based on ‘humanitarian and medical grounds’.
According to the resolution, the medical condition of CGMA ‘has never improved and remained fragile’ since her detention at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in 2012.###

Akbayan, envi advocates renew call to scrap 1995 Mining Act

barry_gutierrez
Akbayan Rep. Barry Gutierrez joined a group of environmental advocates on Tuesday to renew the call for the immediate repeal of the 1995 Mining Act and enact an alternative minerals management law.

The environmental advocates wore chains dragged by a ‘golden grim ripper’ while marching towards the House of Representatives to demonstrate the deadly and destructive impact of the 1995 Mining Act as the law marks its 20th year.

“After almost two decades, mining industry in the country was simply stuck in a backwater of national development, wreaking more havoc and irreparable damages to our environment and the health and lives of the affected communities and the people,” Gutierrez said.

“While originally intended to usher in sustainable development and fueling the economy, the mining law has failed to protect our forests and watersheds and inadvertently led to environmental degradation. Even more to this cost is the displacement of Indigenous People (IP) communities from their ancestral domains the environmental and health risks wrought by mining and mining-related activities,” he added.

The campaign spearheaded by the group Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) gained the support of environmental advocates from various civil society organizations (CSOs) and Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) seeking to repeal the mining law and enact House Bill 984.

ATM stated that the academe and economists can attest that the industry has very little impact to our economy with 0.7-1% and 0.7% contribution to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) employment, respectively.

“Clearly, even with the mining law, the contribution of mining to national development remains a ‘drop in the bucket’ despite promises of its significant contribution in fueling our economic development,” the Akbayan lawmaker said.

Sustainable alternative

“As one of the principal authors of House Bill 984, or the Alternative Minerals Management Bill (AMMB), Gutierrez said that the proposed measure on minerals management is a sustainable alternative which provides for proper social and environmental safeguards, ensuring the protection of the rights and welfare of the affected communities and the environment while making certain that there is equitable sharing of benefits in the development of the country’s minerals and wealth,” Gutierrez explained.

“Together with the other champions of the bill, I strongly urge my colleagues in Congress to make the AMMB a reality and ensuring that the use and development of our natural resources are effectively geared to advancing our national development and improving the lives of our people,” the lawmaker concluded.###

Akbayan pushes for Marital Equality bill

Akbayan Rep. Ibarra "Barry" Gutierrez III

Akbayan Rep. Barry Gutierrez on Monday pushes for swift passage of Marital Equality Bill that seeks to repeal ‘harmful laws’ on marriage and family relations that lead to to discrimination and violence against women.

House Bill 3639, informally referred to as the Marital Equality Bill, was introduced by Akbayan Reps. Barry Gutierrez and Walden Bello seeking to repeal Articles 333 and 334 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) thereby decriminalizing adultery and concubinage.

“Our existing penal provisions on marriage infidelity such as adultery and concubinage are fundamentally unjust and discriminatory. While originally aimed at prohibiting marital infidelity between men and women, closer analysis, however, reveals that the standards and practice of the laws are overwhelmingly prejudicial and detrimental to the welfare of women and girls,” Gutierrez said.

“Determining adultery and concubinage, as provided in the RPC, varies considerably in their elements, circumstances and penalties, establishing stricter rules and harsher penalties for women,” he added.

Gutierrez explained that in prosecuting adultery, the husband simply needs to provide proof of sexual intercourse of the wife with another partner in order to get a favorable judgment.

“Even with just a photo or video, the husband can easily win the case. Whereas, in prosecuting concubinage, the burden of proof is overwhelmingly heavier,” he said.

Gutierrez further explained that in determining concubinage, the wife needs to provide proof that shows the husband in sexual intercourse under scandalous circumstances, or that the husband kept a mistress in the conjugal dwelling or cohabited with her in any other place.

“So, for men, marital infidelity is acceptable as long as they could be discreet about it,” he added.

The Akbayan lawmaker also said that the penalties for adultery is heavier than concubinage, showing the bias against women. As provided in the RPC, adultery shall be punished by prison correccional in its medium and maximum periods. Concubinage shall likewise be punished by prison correccional, but only in its minimum and medium periods.

This means, the maximum penalty for a woman found guilty of adultery shall be imprisonment for a maximum period of six (6) years while a man found guilty of concubinage shall only be imprisoned for a maximum period of four (4) years and two (2) months.

Tool of violence

“According to various studies conducted by the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), the RPC provision on adultery has been used or mostly abused by many husbands against their wives to threaten, torture, harass or compel the latter to yield to their wishes,” Gutierrez said.

Antiquated statute

“The antiquated statute is a 19th-century holdover that no longer serves a purpose in a modern society,” Gutierrez emphasized.

As early as 2012, the United Nations Working Group on discrimination against women in law and practice has already issued a call to all governments to repeal laws criminalizing adultery, saying “…[they] lead to discrimination and violence against women.”

Last February 26, 2015, the Constitutional Court of South Korea struck down a law that penalizes adultery. This leaves Philippines, along North Korea and Taiwan, as the only countries in Asia that penalize adultery.

Around the world, only countries governed by Islamic Law and a few states across US still classify adultery as a criminal offense.

House Bill 3639 is under current deliberation by the Technical Working Group (TWG) of the Committee on Women and Gender Equality and is expected to hurdle the House Panel before the Women’s Month ends. The next sub-committee hearing to finish the draft substitute bill is scheduled to take place on March 17, 2015.

“We look forward to the swift passage of the proposed measure as a vital step towards ensuring that men and women are treated equally before the law,” Gutierrez concluded.###

Implications of the Mamasapano tragedy: Preserving a peace process under fire and bringing justice to the victims

Akbayan Rep. Barry Gutierrez closes BBL forum with hopeful thoughts on how to move forward. (Photo courtesy of PLCPD Foundation, Inc.)

Akbayan Rep. Barry Gutierrez closes BBL forum with hopeful thoughts on how to move forward. (Photo courtesy of PLCPD Foundation, Inc.)

Text of the closing remarks delivered by Akbayan Rep. Barry Gutierrez during the forum “Implications of Mamasapano to the Peace Process: Moving Forward” organized by the Institute for Autonomy and Governance. The whole-day forum held at Dusit Thani Hotel, Ayala Center, Makati City was attended by legislators, opinion makers, ARMM leaders, civil society organizations and other stakeholders.

We stand on the edge of a knife.

That is how I would describe where we are now as regards the peace process with the MILF in the wake of the tragedy at Mamasapano. And as we stand on this knife-edge, depending on which direction we step, we can make or unmake a fragile peace agreement, which after decades of conflict, and despite everything, still presents the best opportunity at ending the war and establishing a lasting peace in Mindanao.

In the immediate aftermath of Mamasapano, there were numerous, angry calls to abandon the peace process as passions, understandably, ran high. Ongoing discussions in Congress on the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the next crucial component of the peace agreement, were suspended, pending the results of several inquiries into Mamasapano. Some even proposed to go beyond suspension, and talked about scuttling the BBL, and the peace talks, altogether.

Those who from the beginning were dubious of the peace talks with the MILF, as well as others with the more general agenda of simply attacking the incumbent Administration, were, of course, quick to capitalize on this upsurge of public emotion. On a wide variety of fronts, questions ranging from the Constitutionality of the BBL, to the trustworthiness of the parties to the negotiation, even to the loyalty of government negotiators, were raised. And while some concerns were undoubtedly valid, and even perhaps well-meaning, it increasingly became more and more difficult to separate constructive criticism from unfounded condemnation, efforts to strengthen the peace from thinly disguised warmongering.

Today, 39 days after Mamasapano, the questions remain. But thankfully, at least in my own estimation, some of the angry rhetoric has died down — thanks in no small part to the untiring and determined efforts of peace advocates, from Mindanao to Luzon, both Moro and Christian — and hopefully, this once again allows us space for a sober and intelligent discussion of issues, with the view, of course, of moving the peace process forward.

At the House of Representatives, for instance, the Bangsamoro Basic Law Ad Hoc committee Chair, Representative Rufus Rodriguez, has declared the resumption of the hearings on March 9, Monday next week, after weeks of suspension. And, rest assured, we are getting ready for this, particularly with respect to answering some of the concerns raised in the past weeks.

Similarly, outside of the halls of Congress, peace advocates, concerned citizens, and civil society groups have also launched campaigns to dispel false notions, win broader public support for the peace process, and move it forward. And the importance of these efforts cannot be overemphasized.

The events of the past few weeks have made it is apparent that the road to peace will not be an easy one. But if there is one thing that Mamasapano has made clear, if there is one thing that the deaths of 67 Filipinos in Mamasapano should underscore for all of us, is that now, more than ever, we must stay the course to peace. This is because the tragedy of Mamasapano vividly and violently illustrates the cost we pay, and will continue to pay, for the absence of peace.

We stand on the edge of a knife. But if we can stand, side by side, and hand in hand, we can traverse that narrow and difficult path to the peace we need.###

FOI budget clears House Appropriations Committee

house of reps

The budget for the People’s Freedom of Information Act of 2013 (FOI) on Wednesday clears the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations with no objection from members of the committee.

“We are happy with the decision of the Appropriations Committee to approve the appropriations provision of the bill, consequently, approving the FOI budget,” Akbayan Rep. Barry Gutierrez said.

“The budget is one of the crucial components of the bill as it determines if the bill could be successfully implemented. Without it, our efforts to pass the bill to ensure government transparency and practice of governance will simply end up as a shot in the dark.

According to Section 30 of the proposed FOI, it states that the appropriations shall be “the amount necessary to carry out the provisions of [the] Act [and] shall be charged against against the agencies’ current budget and shall thereafter be included in the annual General Appropriations Act.”

“We are optimistic that the bill when approved would enable all agencies of all branches of government to comply with the requirements of the FOI law on mandatory disclosure,” he added.

With the approval of the proposed measure, the substitute FOI bill is expected to be delivered back to the Committee on Public Information before it gets transmitted to the Plenary for Second Reading.

E-government

According to Section 9(b) of the FOI bill, all government agencies are now required to publish and regularly update its own Freedom of Information Manual in full containing the necessary information regarding the contact information of key offices and personnel, the type of information it holds and the procedures on how they shall be accessed.

Public interests records concerning the particular agencies are also required to be published regularly on their websites.

“This means every website of each agency must contain documents about its annual budget, itemized monthly collections and disbursement, summary of income and expenditures, annual procurement plan and procurement list, bidding items and results of transactions. Also, all pertinent documents and records of transactions and meetings that are vested with public interest shall be made accessible to the public,” Gutierrez explained.

“All agencies’ websites are further required to maintain a ‘cyber office’ wherein all the necessary information about the agency, the types and forms of services it offers and the standard procedures of access are provided and readily-available to the public online. Thus, with the aid of technology, we are advancing the people’s right to information while making the government more responsive to the needs of the people,” he added.

“In this sense, not only are we cutting the operating costs of the agencies, we would also be creating an e-government that is definitely closer and more accessible to the public,” Gutierrez said.

2-year compliance

“All government agencies are required to set up a compliant website within two (2) years from the approval of this bill,” Gutierrez said.

“This is in recognition of the possibilities that some agencies may not be able to readily comply due to inadequate resources and the need to build their capacity and practice to fulfill all requirements for mandatory closure provided by the law,” he added.

The lawmaker also expressed hope that, by the end of the second year once the law is implemented, even ordinary citizen can easily access national and local government services, the culture of secrecy becomes a ‘thing of the past’ and disclosure and transparency as the ‘default rule’ for governance in every government agency.###