Philippine Congressman Lorenzo “Erin” Tanada III on Philippine Independence

Phil. Rep. Lorenzo “Erin” R. Tañada III

Phil. Rep. Lorenzo “Erin” R. Tañada III

“Sa Paglaya: An Evening of Culture
Challenging the Notion of Philippine Independence”
New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP)

Speech delivered by Rep. LORENZO R. TAÑADA, III
Chairman House of Representatives Committee on Human Rights
June 13, 2009, Brecht Forum in Lower Manhattan

A pleasant and meaningful evening my friends,

It is a great honour and privilege to appear before this gathering of human rights advocates. To the New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines, accept my utmost gratitude for inviting me to join you tonight to speak on the topic of nationalism which is still a very relevant issue in the Philippine context.

Truly, I am deeply touched with your continued passion to promote human rights for our Filipino people. Through your interest and concern, Filipinos abroad are able to learn and understand the issues confronting our kababayans in the Philippines. I truly appreciate your initiative and efforts in pursuing justice, human rights, democracy and freedom for the Filipino people.

The relevance of your theme – “Sa Paglaya: An Evening of Culture Challenging the Notion of Philippine Independence” seeks deeper re-examination of Philippine self-government and self-determination.

Friends, as we celebrate June 12 as the Philippine’s independence day, we remember our national heroes like Lapu-Lapu, Andres Bonifacio and Jose Rizal who have shed blood, sweat and tears for our motherland against foreign domination. We also remember many nameless and faceless Filipinos who suffered and even died for our freedom without even being even recognized for their actions and sacrifices. Our country’s history is littered with stories of the struggle for freedom, democracy, human rights and against injustice and tyranny.

Remembering the deceitful independence

Truly, this is not simply remembering THE DAY we declared our independence but having the time to reflect if the Philippines had truly regained its independence from United States since July 4, 1946. Did the mere transfer of dates from July 4 to June 12 unshackle us from kow-towing to the dictates and interests of the United States?

Are we really independent? Is there really a reason to celebrate Philippine Independence?

But how is it that we can still see American influence in our country’s political and economic structure. No one has to be intelligent to discern how our government bows uncompromisingly to the U.S of A.

The Daniel Smith rape case is a reflection of how our government insensitively reacted to the plight of our beleaguered fellow Filipino “Nicole.” It is not difficult to understand why Nicole had to give in to pressures and had to eventually retract her statements. Our government did not give her a chance to redeem not only her dignity and respect, but that of OUR COUNTRY.

This is evident through the actions of our government immediately after Daniel Smith was convicted in the trial court. Instead of having custody of Daniel Smith in our prison while the case was being heard on appeal, our government immediately executed a belated agreement transferring custody of Daniel Smith to U.S. Embassy authorities. Who is our government protecting? Is it the interest of Daniel Smith or the interest of “Nicole”? It is noteworthy to mention that the Philippine Supreme Court in its Decision declared that the belated agreement signed by the U.S. Ambassador and the Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs as illegal and does not conform to what is stated in the VFA. The Supreme Court further ordered that the Secretary of Foreign Affairs immediately negotiate the immediate transfer of the custody of Daniel Smith to Philippine authorities.

The damage was done. Our government sacrificed our country’s honour, dignity and self-respect in order to please the United States.

Semblance of US Influence

Friends, as I said earlier, no one has to be intelligent to perceive how the Philippine government, past and present, submit to foreign policies and dictates of the United States.

• We are reminded of the 1947 US-RP Military Bases Agreement that caused the establishment of twenty-three (23) bases and facilities in the Philippines, including, of course, the most popular ones, the 26,000 hectares of Clark Air Base and more than 60,000 hectares of Subic Naval Base.

• We are reminded of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty which was the foundation for the Military Bases Agreement and was known as the “mother” treaty of the present day US and Philippine relation.

But even after the rejection by the Philippine Senate in 1991 of the United States Bases Treaty, which my father then a Senator sponsored and led, succeeding administrations could not help but still accommodate the American interests’ to the detriment of Philippine interests. The respect, dignity and honour we earned on September 16, 1991, are, up to this day, being diluted if not negated.

Thus, the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) was conceptualized in order to undo what the Philippine Senate of 1991 did. The VFA unmasked the lack of self-respect, honour and dignity our leaders had and continue to have.

The Contentious VFA

These agreements (both VFA-1 and VFA-2) contain most of the objectionable provisions:

• “It opens the Philippines to visits of aircrafts, ships and vessels at the choice of the US. In 1991, the US forces were limited to four (4) major ports. Today, it has access to 22 ports. In addition, the geographic reach has been expanded to include not just the island of Luzon but also, Visayas and Mindanao.”

• “It defines “US personnel” as “US military and civilian personnel temporarily in the Philippines in connection with activities approved by the Philippine Government.” The activities are not defined and the duration not specified.”

• “The US personnel are exempted and extended privileges not even enjoyed by other foreign nationals living and working in the Philippines.”

• “The VFA allows the US total jurisdiction over crimes committed by US personnel while in the Philippines”.

Worst, is that the VFA or even its mother treaty, the Mutual Defense Treaty, does not guarantee the Philippines’ security against foreign aggression.

And even if the Visiting Forces Agreement via the Balikatan Exercises allows training and use of modern-day or state-of-the-art combat equipment for our local soldiers, then why even after “50 long years of military pacts with the United States, our military has neither enhanced its defense capability nor modernized its forces”. An answer to this question may be provided by Lt. Nancy Gadian of the Navy. She exposed the alleged misuse of P46 million for the RP-US Balikatan Exercises. She alleges that most of the P46 million never benefited the Filipino soldiers but were pocketed by their superiors.

For whom then is the VFA? Obviously not for the Filipinos, the VFA is for the United States.
The Constituent Assembly (ConAss) and Charter Change (ChaCha)

The 1987 Philippine Constitution is 22 years old. It was written by people chosen by then President Aquino from different sectors of society. The difference between the 1987 Constitution and the 1973 Marcos Constitution is that the 1987 Constitution was properly ratified by the people through a plebiscite. The 1973 Constitution was not.

The 1987 Constitution is not perfect. No constitution for that matter is perfect. This is the reason we have the process of amendment and revision of the Constitution as one of the provisions stated therein. Critics of the 1987 Constitution is calling for Charter Change (ChaCha) on the pretext that the 1987 Constitution was a “knee-jerk” reaction to the abuses of the Marcos Dictatorship. And, that we needed to relax the nationalist economic provisions because it was stunting our economic growth. Is this really the reason?

If the 1987 Constitution protects the rights of the people against the abuses of a President, then I do not think that there is a need to amend and change the 1987 Consitution. We need to protect and defend the it.

Are the nationalist economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution stunting the growth of the Philippine Economy? No, they do not. Opening landownership and exploration and exploitation of our natural resources to foreign nationals does not translate to economic development. It is the wrong economic policies and corruption in our government that hamper our economic growth.

Then why do we need for Charter Change? As a matter of fact, after the administration of President Aquino, the Presidents Ramos and Estrada, tried to amend the Constitution. They failed. Why? President Ramos and Estrada preferred amending the Constitution through a Constituent Assembly (ConAss) and not through a Constitutional Convention (ConCon).

What is the difference between ConAss and ConCon? In ConAss, the people that will be amending or revising the Constitution will be the House of Representatives and the Senate. In ConCon, it would NOT be the House of Representatives and the Senate who would amend and revise the Constitution but we would elect delegates who would be tasked to this. The people mistrust the House of Representatives and the Senate because they believe that they would put their self-interests before that of the people. They people would rather have the House of Representatives and the Senate do their work as legislators and elect delegates that would specifically study and amend the Constitution.

Why are the allies of PGMA in the House of Representatives pushing House Resolution 1109 (ConAss)? The allies of PGMA want to negate the Senate as a separate institution and overwhelm them with the number of Representatives compared to the number of Senators. The Senate has the image of being independent compared to the House of Representatives whose image is that of a “rubber-stamp”. If ConAss happens, the Senators would always be out-voted by the Representatives on any proposed amendment to the Constitution. This violates the bicameral nature of our legislature and is a violation of the Constitution.

Why amend the Constitution now? The obvious reason is PGMA’s term is ending and she is afraid, whether she admits or not, of the numerous cases that MAY be filed against her after her term ends on June 30, 2010. PGMA loses her immunity from suit once her term ends as President. This is the reason why HR 1109 was rushed and passed the way it was on June 2, 2009 with only a few Representatives, including myself, who courageously stood up and registered our objections to HR 1109.

The Constituent Assembly or better known as “Con-Ass” is now officially an option of the present government after railroading House Resolution 1109. Will there be elections in 2010? Your guess is as good as mine… There will be elections in 2010. The question is… Presidential or Parliamentary?

Expanded military intrusion

Another area that is being overlooked in this Charter Change controversy that we should be wary off is the possibility of amending the provision on foreign military bases. Our Constitution, as written, made it difficult for a President to enter into any agreement regarding the establishment of foreign military bases in our country without the concurrence of the Senate. We should make sure that this provision is not removed. This is the reason our government and the government of the United States looked for ways to side-step and not violate the Constitution. Consequently, the VFA was born.

According to IBON, the Arroyo administration allowed unspecified numbers of foreign military personnel into the country last May 2009 for “disaster relief training exercises” despite the absence of treaties giving this legal basis as required by the Constitution.

This utter disregard for the charter’s restriction on the presence of foreign troops and facilities in the country clearly shows that removing the constitutional limitation MAY be one of administration’s charter change agenda in order to get the approval of the United States.

All in all, the Cha-cha agenda will ultimately obliterate our capacity as a country to economically and politically stand for ourselves. But worst, it opens infringement on Philippine sovereignty.

The continuing challenge for meaningful change and NOT charter change is foremost in Filipino people’s agenda.

People’s response and clamour for meaningful change

It is not hard to understand why the disapproval ratings of the Mrs. Arroyo have consistently declined over the past months. Last April alone, Pulse Asia has noted a 49% disapproval rating of the president.

Continuing people’s protests are heightened and growing over the months against ConAss. The middle forces are forced to the streets to demand meaningful change and NOT charter change. Needless to say, corruption in the Philippines has not been minimized but is even tolerated and seen as a natural thing in the Philippine government.

Today, with a President desperate in looking for ways to remain in power, we are expecting an increase in human rights violations as the Filipino people prepare for more protests and demonstrations against ConAss.

This is the reason why human rights violations are increasing and are taking place all over the country. As a matter of fact, the number of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances are expected to increase as Election Day nears in 2010. These human rights violations may be glossed over by the government as election related violence and not human rights violations. But facts would show that the victims of election related violence since 2004 were mostly members and supporters of progressive party-list organizations. The suspected perpetrators of these human rights violations are usually members of the military. These perpetrators would use the cover of elections to commit human rights violations.

According to Philip Alston, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in the Philippines:
 “forced disappearances and illegal detentions remain all too common (in the Philippines), as does the bringing of trumped up charges against Filipino activists and human rights abuse victims”

 “The highest documented numbers of executions of leftist activists were 94 in 2007 and 64 in 2008.

Although Philip Alston stated that “the number of killings of leftist activists decreased dramatically shortly after the Special Rapporteur’s visit. He noted that in 2006 alone there were 220 documented executions of leftist activists”.

Philip Alston even dared to report that
 “Davao City continues to be hotbed of extrajudicial killings, and the vigilant style death squad killings in Davao have significantly worsened since 2007.” And that “both the national and local government continue to vehemently deny the existence of the death squad, despite reliable reports of up to 28 such killings within the first month of 2009.”

Despite these records of summary execution which are tantamount to violations of human rights, Philip Alston noted that:
 “Since 2007, the (Philippine) government has successfully prosecuted just ONE perpetrator of an extrajudicial execution. And NOT A SINGLE member of the armed forces has been convicted for killing leftist activists.

Our call for a broad alliance of all the forces to UNITE!

The only way to thwart this damaging plot is through the broad alliance of forces. It must be a continuing, determined and relentless struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights.

And I genuinely know that, despite our distance, you will continue to support the cause of the Filipino people. And I deeply thank you all for that.

Finally, let me end this short talk by quoting an African-American writer, Mr. James Baldwin as he says “any honest examination of the national life proves how far we are from the standard of human freedom with which we began. The recovery of this standard demands of everyone who loves this country a hard look at himself, for the greatest achievements must begin somewhere, and they always begin with the person” [James Baldwin (1924-1987) African-American writer].

To the questions: Are we independent? Is there a need to celebrate Philippine Independence? No, as shown, we are not independent. Yes there is a need to celebrate Philippine Independence if only to remind us of the sacrifices our heroes had to endure in their quest for independence and to instil in our conscience that the journey towards true independence is not yet over.

Mabuhay kayong lahat! Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!

Maraming salamat sa inyong mainit na pagtanggap.

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