MANILA, July 22, 2013 (ABS-CBN) President Benigno Aquino III received a failing grade from local think tank Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) just two days before delivering his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) Monday.

The group criticized what it perceives as the government's shortcomings, particularly the economy, security, and the fight against corruption.

CenPEG also zeroed in on the government's mishandling of territorial disputes with China, as well as its willingness to allow foreign troops to use the country's military bases.

“’Yung response natin parang hindi tinitignan ‘yung long term na pakinabang sa atin,” said CenPEG vice chair Prof. Roland Simbulan.

The President is expected to highlight the country's economic gains during his SONA.

But CenPEG said the growth remains non-inclusive and has yet to create a genuine impact on the lives of the poor.

“Wala pa ring trabaho ‘yung mga unemployed at underemployed at ‘yung mga mahihirap ay dumami,” said Prof. Ben Lime, CenPEG fellow.

Meanwhile, militant groups are busy gearing up for protest rallies Monday, even as authorities earlier banned rallies in Quezon City.

The police have already deployed container vans and concrete barriers along routes in and out of the Batasang Pambansa.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) said maximum tolerance policy will be applied to avoid untoward incidents with militant groups.


Rights record dismal, reforms fail under Noy Written by Charlie V. Manalo
Sunday, 21 July 2013 08:00


An accounting of the dismal human rights record for the past three years of his presidency should form part of President Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (Sona), human rights groups said yesterday even as the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (Cenpeg) said Aquino’s supposed popularity is not backed up by reforms he promised in his past annual addresses.

At a forum held at the University of the Philippines (UP), Temario Rivera, Cenpeg chairman, scored the Aquino administration for failing to seize opportunities for the country’s growth and development.

“The few successes of the Aquino administration in terms of progressive legislation have been overshadowed by many missed opportunities for inclusive growth and development,” Rivera said.

An international rights watchdog said Aquino should also use his Sona to outline concrete steps to address the culture of impunity that persists under his watch.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Aquino should use the Sona to flesh out his commitments by outlining specific measures to tackle ongoing human rights problems.

Brad Adams, HRW Asia director, said Aquino should put on top of his Sona list the holding for accountability abusive members of state security forces.

The group also identified the specific measures they wanted the Aquino administration to address which are an end to extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances by prosecuting state security forces implicated in human rights violations; prosecuting officials implicated in “death squad” killings in Davao City and other cities; halting abuses in mining areas; disbanding local militias and paramilitary forces, and rescinding Executive Order 546, which allows politicians to arm “private armies.”

Aquino will deliver his Sona tomorrow which is expected to highlight his administration’s accomplishments since his inauguration on June 30. His six-year term ends on June 30, 2016.

In a letter sent by HRW to Aquino, the group congratulated him on the completion of the first half of your six-year term in office as the President of the Republic of the Philippines.

The group, however, said they are looking forward to working with his administration to improve human rights protections in the Philippines during Aquino’s remaining three years in office.

“Human Rights Watch commends you for progress in some key areas in the past three years. We note that your administration enacted important legislation on human rights, among them the laws on reproductive health, enforced disappearances, reparation for human rights victims under the Marcos dictatorship, and protecting the rights of domestic workers,” HRW wrote Aquino.

Cenpeg’s Rivera said in the remaining three years of the Aquino administration, “the task of building inclusive and participatory institution-building would become more daunting as public officials will become more distracted in preparation for the 2016 elections and the looming reality of a lame-duck president.”

The biggest setback under the Aquino administration particularly in its long-term reform agenda, Rivera said, is the fact the country’s electoral system “is continuously being dominated by powerful oligarchs, dynastic families who have the power and resources to negotiate from a position of strength vis-à-vis even a reformist president.”

“This allows them to maximize the resources and perks they can get from the presidency while basically protecting their own narrow interests in their constituencies,” said Rivera as he noted that in the last elections, political families have continued to dominate in 75 out 79 provinces.

Ben Lim, Cenpeg fellow, also downplayed the claims of the Aquino administration in terms of economic growth.
“In preparation for Mondays. State of the nation address (SONA), there is an endless flow of Malacañang press releases about the phenomenal growth of the Philippine economy citing GDP growth last year of 6.6 percent which was higher than that of Indonesia (6.2 percent) and Malaysia (6 percent) and not far behind Asia’s economic leader, China,” said Lim.

“In view of these developments, President Aquino (bared) he aims to achieve economic growth as hig as 8.5 percent before he steps down in 2016,” Lim said.

“However, the government economists overlooked that when President Gloria Macapagal – Arroyo stepped down in 2010, the GDP growth rate was 7.6 percent,” he stressed.

But while “Aquino’s economists and business cronies as well as financial experts extol about the phenomenal rise in the country’s GDP growth rate,” Lim said they were virtually “silent on the fact that along with the rise of the GDP is the sensational rise in the prices of all basic commodities, including tuition fees.”

“They were also silent that the mid-term campaign expenditures contributed to the GDP growth,” Lim said. “They agreed however that the rise in the GDP growth rate is due mainly to consumption.”

Lim averred that the majority of the Filipinos remain skeptical that the Philippine economy is booming at breakneck pace.
“They see no progress or improvement in their daily lives. If anything, the number of unemployed and underemployed are still unemployed and underemployed with the workers’ slaries being stagnant for over a decade,” said Lim.

Lim recalled that Norio Usui, a senior economist at the Asian Development Bank, in a press briefing held recently, noted that while the Philippines, during the three years of Aquino’s stewardship, had posted strong economic growth, the benefits of that economic gains have not spilled over to the people because they cannot find a job.

“Sadly, economic developments as construed b the Aquino leadership is confined to the quantitative changes in the GDP growth rate,” Lim said.

“Positive figures mean economic good news. Thus, Malacañang press releases tell us that high GDP and high credit scores equal economic growth,” he added.

Felix Carao, Cenpeg’s legal counsel, also lashed at the continuing corruption under the Aquino regime, blaming the administration’s refusal to enact the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill.

“Corruption thrives because it can be easily perpetrated in so many ways and can be so conveniently shielded from public scrutiny,” said Carao.

Aquino ran fro the president in 2010 under the slogan, “Walang mahirap kung walang corrupt.”

“The best way to fight corruption is prevention, which can only be achived if transparency in government is statutorily enjoined and definitively provided under a Freedom of Information Law,” Carao averred.

HRW’s letter also stated that the group believe that a meaningful Sona should include specific initiatives designed to tackle serious, ongoing human rights violations.

It also stated that the government has yet to successfully prosecute a member of the military for an extrajudicial killing or enforced disappearance.

Some officers implicated in serious abuses have instead received promotions. Moreover, military spokespeople continue to issue statements that malign outspoken civil society activists as enemies of the state or communist operatives – which threatens physical attacks by military personnel.

A prominent American human rights lawyer also called on Filipinos to use human rights laws and conventions to force the Aquino government into reversing economic policies that adversely affect ordinary citizens, especially the poor.

In her keynote speech before the International Conference on Human Rights and Peace (ICHRPP) held in Quezon City, Jeanne Mirer, president of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and a stalwart of the US National Lawyers’ Guild, said government economic policies should adhere to human rights principles.

Stressing the importance of satisfying the people’s economic rights to achieve peace, Mirer said: “It is time that we use human rights law to challenge policies to ensure that Filipinos can make the Philippine government actually devote maximum available resources to progressively realize basic economic human rights articulated in the International Convention on Economic and Socio-Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR).”

Calling the current neo-liberal economic order “undemocratic” and dominated by large multinational corporation, Mirer said the people’s unrest resulting from the failure of such policies are dealt with by repression using, among others, anti-terrorist laws that many countries passed or imposed after the 9-11 bombings, and by surveillance and the type of national security state revealed by both Bradley Manning and most recently Edward Snowden.

Mirer said Filipinos should make the Philippine government accept laws that promote “economic democracy” and allow everyone to enjoy “a social and economic order in which the rights and freedoms set in the UDHR are fully realized.”
She said the fight for human rights has allowed its warriors to become “masters of peace”.

More than 250 peace advocates and human rights defenders from 25 countries will attend the People’s SONA on Monday, July 22 which will be held prior to Aquino’s annual address.

Rep. Teddy Casiño, Spokesperson of the ICHRPP contested the Quezon City LGU’s decision to deny the protesters permit to rally, calling it “throwback Monday” and reminded the Aquino government that the “Marcos dictatorship was won by defying such repressive tactics.”

The continuing use of repressive tactics by the Aquino government, through Oplan Bayanihan, have caused alarm among peace advocates and human rights defenders in the international community. Oplan Bayanihan’s implementation already resulted to 142 victims of extrajudicial killings and 164 victims of frustrated extrajudicial killings.

The ICHRPP is set to tackle the human rights record of the Aquino government and strengthen national and international human rights solidarity campaigns on the Philippines.
With Alvin Murcia

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved