Militants in House mull over cutting ties with the majority

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The Makabayan bloc, a league of militant party-list groups in Congress, is considering cutting its ties with the Liberal Party-led majority in the House of Representatives and adding its voice to the dwindling minority.

Former Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo, president of the Makabayan bloc, said: “If we go minority, we’ll feel freer and more effective in speaking out and taking action, unrestrained by alliance considerations.”

But Ocampo added: “We are still deliberating the matter, clearing out questions being raised and hearing out propositions put forward.”

The Comelec has declared seven seats in the 16th Congress open to the Makabayan bloc, which includes Bayan Muna (Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate), Gabriela (Luz Ilagan and Emmie de Jesus), Kabataan (Terry Ridon), Anakpawis (Fernando Hicap) and ACT Teachers (Antonio Tinio).

Makabayan’s ranks could swell to eight as one of its affiliates, the transport group Piston (George San Mateo) is still in the running for five of the 58 seats that have yet to be filled by the Comelec. The Constitution provides that sectoral representatives should account for 20 percent of the House membership.

“Despite our good relations with Speaker (Feliciano) Belmonte since 2001, our plan to join the minority in the House hews to what our progressive bloc intrinsically is. We have espoused alternatives to policies and programs that have been carried on by successive administrations, such that even when we were with the  majority we stood out as opposition on many issues. Vis-a-vis the P-Noy government, we have been critical on several vital issues,” said Ocampo in a text message.

Playing second fiddle

Belmonte was able to coax the Makabayan bloc to join the Liberal Party-led majority in the House in the 15th Congress. Makabayan, however, has played second fiddle in the coalition to its archrival, Akbayan, which has been widely viewed as the favored activist party-list group in the Aquino administration.

Akbayan’s key members have been given government posts—Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Ronald Llamas, Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Loretta Ann Rosales, National Anti-Poverty Commission Chairman Joel Rocamora and Undersecretary for Political Affairs Tomasito Villarin.

Losing candidate

President Aquino endorsed Akbayan in the recent midterm elections, although its candidate, Risa Hontiveros, was one of Team Pnoy’s three losing bets.

But Makabayan members in the House are still reluctant to discuss the crossover to the minority. “We have not yet reached a decision. We might decide next weekend. Anyway, the Sona (State of the Nation Address) is still a way off (July 22),” said Colmenares in a text message.

ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio replied: “Abangan (Watch for it).”

A party-list lawmaker, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak for the group, said: “They have been criticizing certain policies of the P-Noy administration. Moreover, their political record shows that they are wont to serve more as fiscalizers rather than constructive partners of any administration.”

Belmonte also declined to comment on the plan of the Makabayan bloc to break away from the majority coalition. In a text message, Belmonte said it was difficult to say if the majority coalition would be bigger in the 16th Congress even though the minority lost five seats belonging to party-list groups allied with former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo—Una ang Pamilya, Alliance for Nationalism and Democracy (ANAD), Akong-Ako Kasosyo, Association of Laborers and Employees (ALE), and Ang Galing Pinoy.

“As for the party-list groups, we’re still working  at it considering each has his or her own interests and even ambitions to advance,” said Belmonte.

At least 40 party-list representatives who won in the last election have agreed to form a voting bloc, the third-biggest in the House, to endorse Belmonte as Speaker and seek proportional representation in key positions in the House. The move is expected to further broaden the majority bloc’s control of the House.

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