Akbayan: Representing the Over-represented, Deceiving the Marginalized
2007: Akbayan, a partylist group which claims to be ‘leftist’, calls for the disqualification of around 14 partylist groups,
Citing their organizational and financial links with the administration of then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello said “We must stop the rabid bastardization of the party-list system being committed by Mrs. Arroyo’s political pimps and paid hacks.”
Indeed, documents which were leaked to the public by leftist partylist groups Kabataan, Migrante, Anakpawis, and Gabriela Women’s Party showed that these groups were formed by the Palace’s Office of External Affairs to
“Form a party-list bloc that will support the plans and programs of the administration and help in countering destabilization moves by the opposition as well as left-leaning party-list groups… contribute in the overall campaign to substantially lower the number of votes of leftist and left-leaning party-list organizations, and in the process reduce the seats of these anti-administration parties in the House of Representatives.”
Indeed, a quick look at those partylist groups showed that most, if not all, of their nominees, leaders, and founders were either top government officials and/or those close to the then administration.
Fast forward to 2012: Arroyo has been replaced by Benigno Simeon ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III. With the exception of notorious human rights violator and ex-general Jovito Palparan’s Bantay, andex-convict Romeo Jalosjos’ Kakusa, all of ‘Gloria partylists’ have either been dismantled or faded into non-existence.
Today, another partylist has close links with the current administration. Many of its top officials enjoy posts in the government: two former presidents (presidential advisor for political affairs, head of the National Anti-Poverty Commission), two former House representatives (head of the Commission on Human Rights, a commissioner of the Government Service Insurance System), two of their current nominees in the partylist race (undersecretary for political affairs, commissioner of the Presidential Commission for the Urban poor), and two others (Board Member of the Social Security Service, commissioner of the National Youth Commission). One of their former House representatives is also running under the ruling party for the 2013 Senate elections.
Ironically, it is Akbayan which is now enjoying a ‘cozy relationship’ with the new administration. Even more ironic is with several youth and student groups and a labor center calling for its disqualification from the partylist elections, Akbayan is employing the same arguments used by the ‘GMA partylists’.
The calls for disqualification cite a landmark Supreme Court ruling back in 2001 which forbid from participating in the partylist elections, among others,
“(Parties, organizations that are) an adjunct of, or a project organized or an entity funded or assisted by, the government.”
Representing the marginalized?
“Kung totoong pinaglilingkuran nila yung marginalized and underrepresented, ang posisyon ng (Akbayan) sa Cybercrime Law ay consistent sa posisyon ng Palasyo. At kahit po balikan nyo yung ibang posisyon nila, puro po posisyon ng Palasyo yan” (If they truly serve the marginalized and underrepresented, why is Akbayan’s position on the Cybercrime Law consistent with the Palace’s position? And if we go back to their other political positions, they are all consistent with the Palace’s position!)
Indeed, the call for Akbayan’s disqualification from a growing number of groups and organizations stems not just from a legal argument, but from popular disgust with its role as a ‘cheerleader’ of a neoliberal, anti-poor, and anti-people regime.
At the height of the anti-Cybercrime Law protests last week which forced the Supreme Court to issue a restraining order against it, Akbayan called on the public to ‘participate in the drafting of the (Law’s) Implementing Rules and Regulations’. While everyone else was calling for the Law’s junking, this partylist group wanted people to legitimize it by fostering the illusion that an ‘IRR’ could actually change the Law’s intent, which is to stifle Filipinos’ freedom of expression and privacy online.
Even earlier, one of Akbayan’s bosses, Commission on Human Rights commissioner Etta Rosales, dismissed protests against the rising cost of education in the country, telling youth activists to “go to the library instead”.
The Aquino administration and Akbayan
Since Aquino came into power in 2010, he has shown himself to be no different from his successor, advancing new neoliberal programs and policies while maintaining old ones from the time of Gloria Arroyo and even earlier.
Among those policies and programs are:
- A national wage cut through a ‘two-tiered wage system’
- Budget cuts to State Colleges and Universities, offering instead a ‘conditional budget’ in exchange for closing up courses and programs that are not ‘global market-oriented’
- Widespread privatization of essential infrastructure and social services through the Private-Public Partnership (PPP) program, including hospitals
- A 100% fare hike for the three main railway systems that service the National Capital Region, as well as toll fee hikes for the expressways connecting the NCR with other parts of the country
- The demolition of dozens of shanty communities to make way for capitalist projects such as malls, displacing hundreds of thousands of Filipinos, and the latter’s relocation into disaster-prone parts of the countryside
- Refusal to regulate petroleum prices and electricity and water rates, leading to rising inflation and poverty in the country
- A presidential order giving the national government power to override local governments’ bans against destructive mining operations
- Refusal to rein in abuses and human rights violations of military personnel
- A gradual return of U.S military personnel and facilities despite a Constitutional ban against it
Despite Akbayan’s claim of ‘influencing the government from the inside’, and its much-hyped increase in the number of posts in the Aquino administration, there has been no significant change in the economic and political direction of the country. If anything, it has taken a turn for the worse.
But more damning for Akbayan is its servile stance towards Aquino, refusing to criticize even the most blatantly anti-poor actions of the government, and choosing instead to defend it from critics.
One such case is that of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER), an extension of a two-decade failed land reform program that has spanned four administrations. Despite criticisms by peasant groups, and calls for a ‘genuine agrarian reform law’, Akbayan pushed hard for the CARPER in 2008, claiming that the Law would ‘end’ the centuries-old problem of peasant landlessness in the Philippines by 2008.
But with less than two years left before the program expires, even the government has admitted that less than half of the ‘target beneficiaries’ have been served. Even more astonishing is the plan to downsize the manpower and operations of the Department in charge of CARPER.
Yet despite all of this, Akbayan continues to bandy about CARPER as ‘proof’ of its ‘commitment to serve the marginalized’.
Congressman Walden McCarthy
With a call for its disqualification and a general repudiation of its claims to ‘representing the marginalized’, Akbayan has resorted to an argument straight from the dreaded era of the 1950’s United States: ‘red-baiting’.
In the above-mentioned live TV debate, Bello claimed that Anakbayan and the Kilusang Mayo Uno were ‘fronts of the extreme Left’ and were ‘aiming for my physical liquidation’, a not-so-veil reference to the Philippine military’s claims that such legal organizations are ‘fronts’ of the underground Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army.
Bello’s hysterical claim of a ‘vendetta against our leaders’ conveniently overlooks the fact that every last one of its officials remain alive and healthy today, and able to roam the country at will.
Those at the other end of Akbayan’s ‘red-baiting’ accusation are not so lucky, however: under the previous administration, more than 1,200 of their members have been assassinated by military death squads, more than 200 remain missing, while more than 300 were imprisoned on trumped-up charges.
No one echoed Akbayan’s accusation against the Left more than former Philippine Army general Jovito Palparan, a fugitive who is now facing multiple charges for the abduction, rape, and torture of two female student activists from the University of the Philippines. Instead of denying accusations that he ordered the deaths of hundreds of activists wherever he went, he said that those who died ‘deserved’ to because of their affiliation with leftist groups.
Nothing highlighted Akbayan and the Army’s ‘one-two punch’ more than when former Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon called the former ‘an example of a good partylist’. Such a relationship was echoed by peasant groups and human rights organizations all over the country, reporting that members of Akbayan actively spread ‘black propaganda’ against the Left in many communities where the Armed Forces were conducting operations.
Will the real Left please stand up?
 For an explanation on the Philippine partylist system, please refer to http://thepoc.net/voters-education/4199-understanding-the-party-list-system.html
 Filipino for ‘Youth of the Nation’
 The Philippines’ version of SOPA, PIPA
 Filipino for ‘May First Movement’