Teddy: I am not a communist. I am not part of the armed struggle nor do I espouse it.
I am an activist, a nationalist and a democrat committed to the struggle for social reform. Since my student days, I have been actively involved in efforts to solve the roots of the armed conflicts – poverty, exploitation, oppression, systemic corruption, the failure of justice and the general lack of opportunity and development in our country.
Towards this end, I have chosen to work within the mainstream political system and push for much needed social, economic and political reforms in all levels – from our local communities to Congress which is the highest policy making body in the land.
Q. Why don’t you denounce the CPP-NPA-NDF?
Teddy: While I do not espouse the armed struggle, I acknowledge that the conflict stems from age-old grievances that have not been properly addressed by previous and present governments. To simply denounce the CPP-NPA-NDF as a bunch of criminals and terrorists is to ignore the political and revolutionary nature of that movement and to downplay the legitimacy of their grievances.
I would rather take the more constructive road of dialogue and engagement, especially peace negotiations that, for all its weaknesses, is the only viable way to peacefully resolve the conflict.
With regard to their alleged atrocities, the CPP-NPA-NDF has pledged to abide by international human rights humanitarian law standards and conventions. If there are any proven violations, I hold them accountable and demand proper corrective action from them.
Q: Why are you so focused on human rights violations done by government forces?
Teddy: Reports in the field by human rights groups point to the fact that it is the military and police forces that commit human rights violations on a massive scale.
According to the New York-based non-government organization Committee to Protect Journalists, 71% of suspected “source of fire” in murder cases involving media practitioners are government officials or state elements with the victims known to have investigated or criticized officials involved in corruption. A report by the Human Rights Watch also point to “strong evidence of military involvement” in the killings, not to mention an overwhelming failure of the government to prosecute suspects. Under the Aquino administration, there have been 99 recorded cases of extrajudicial killings, 216 cases of illegal arrest and detention, and 67 cases of torture according to local human rights group Karapatan.
When rebels or criminal elements go against the law, the entire state machinery is already tasked to go after them. But when government officials, military or police elements are involved, authorities often turn a blind eye and victims have nowhere to turn to. Thus we focus on those violators who are less likely to be investigated, prosecuted or penalized for their atrocities. Such is the important role of human rights advocates like myself.
Q: Is it true that you are using your pork barrel to fund the NPA?
Teddy: No. We assure the public that Bayan Muna’s PDAF allocation is being fully utilized for the benefit of Filipinos in the form of health services, scholarships, small community infrastructures like potable water and irrigation systems, and facilities for social services like classrooms and day care centers.
For the record, our Priority Development Assisstance Funds (PDAF) go straight to government projects implemented by various agencies and local government units. We adhere to all government disbursement and accounting procedures at the same time tap NGOs and people’s organizations to ensure that the said funds are properly spent and accounted for. There has not been a single case of corruption involving Bayan Muna’s projects.
Q: Is Bayan Muna funded by China? Why are you not opposing China’s intrusion into Philippine shores?
Teddy: Bayan Muna does not receive any funding from China or any other foreign country or entity.
We have consistently opposed China’s intrusion and bullying in Panatag Shoal and the Kalayaan islands. At the height of China’s bullying, we even picketed the Chinese embassy. In Congress, I authored two House resolutions denouncing China’s provocations, as well as filed a case to nullify the Joint Marine China-Philippines-Vietnam Joint Marine Seismic Undertakings (JMSU) agreement as it is unconstitutional and disadvanatageous to the country.
Opposed as we are to China’s actions, we are wary of the United State’s efforts to use our dispute with China for its own political and military agenda. We believe the dispute with China should be settled diplomatically and not through war, coercion, or interference by another superpower.
Q: Why do you always criticize the government? Why do you concentrate too much on the negative? Why not herald the good things that the government has done?
Teddy: As a representative of the marginalized sectors, it is my duty to expose and oppose all things that jeopardize the people’s interest, especially erroneous and unjust government actions and policies. In my effort to fight corruption, government abuse, incompetence, social injustice and human rights violations, I have to point out what is wrong in order for it to be made right.
At the same time, I always make sure to propose solutions to the problems that I point out. Our main objective is to put forward alternative solutions that are beneficial to the people. Of course, we also work with government entities to address the problems and needs of our constituents. We have long been working with and thanking our partners in the government and private sector in these endeavors.
Q: It seems all you do is talk and hold rallies. What have you and Bayan Muna done to actually help your fellow Filipinos?
Teddy: The right to free expression and assembly are hallmarks of any democracy. It is because of this that we are able to air our concerns and grievances and persuade the government to act for the interest of the people. There is nothing wrong with this and I consider it my duty to speak out and participate in rallies and demonstrations in pursuit of what is right and good.
In terms of legislation, I have authored four laws that have benefited the poor and marginalized sectors, namely: the Public Attorneys Act of 2007 (R.A. 9406) which strengthened the Public Attorneys Office and expanded its free legal services to poor litigants; the Tax Relief Act of 2009 (R.A. 9504) which exempts minimum wage earners from witholding taxes thereby increasing take home pay; the Rent Control Act of 2009 (R.A. 9653) which put a cap on rent for low-income earners; and the Anti-Torture Act of 2009 (R.A. 9745) which penalizes torture.
Aside from this, I have authored a total of 178 measures and co-authored 376 more, landing me in the top 5 most prolific congressman in the 15th Congress. My proposed measures aim to address significant issues such as prices, health, education, and human rights.
In terms of projects, for this Congress, my office has allocated P85 million for health in the form of hospital funds for indigents, ambulances, health worker kits, health centers, water supply, trainings and medical missions. Almost P70 million was allocated for scholarships, school facilities and supplies. Meanwhile, P55 million was spent on social services for local government units, P13 million for livelihood projects and P4.45 million for environmental projects.
Q: Are you really poor? Don’t you come from a rich, landed family?
Teddy: For the record, I am the third poorest congressman in the House with a net worth of P232,000.00. I may not be destitute, but am definitely not rich.
I come from a family of professionals. My grandparents were all public servants. My father is a lawyer and my mother a full time homemaker. I grew up in a typical middle class family.
Through their frugality and hard work, my maternal grandparents were able to acquire a number of properties in Aklan. But as an activist, I have no interest in these and have chosen to live an activist’s simple, frugal life.
Because a big chunk of my monthly salary goes to my party for its public service programs, I have to stretch every peso to provide for myself and my family, including two school-aged kids and my wife who is also in school taking up law.
Q: What do you think of the Aquino government?
Teddy: The Aquino administration is dominated by the very same political and economic elites who have ruled the country for decades. The names and faces may have changed, but the vested interests remain. Come to think of it, its the same old names we see.
Thus, I do not expect any earthshaking change or reform to happen under Aquino’s term. At best there will be some token concessions for the “tuwid na daan” like a few cases filed here and there. But notice that it has taken two long years yet the freedom of information act remains a pipe dream.
Aquino’s centerpiece economic programs – the conditional cash transfer, public private partnerships, foreign-led extractive mining, and the emphasis on business process outsourcing and tourism – are the very same, rehashed programs of the previous administration. Therefore, the poor have remained poor and the country underdeveloped.
Q: Why should we vote you for senator?
Teddy: Because we need new voices and new representations in the Senate.
Because the Senate has become hostage to the same political families and economic interests that have dominated Philippine politics for decades. We need new leaders who have fought for and struggled with the people in their common aspirations for economic and social reforms. Fighters who are not tied down by the corrupt political system of patronage. Social reformers who will not be bought or pressured into compromising the people’s demands for lower prices of electricity and oil, secure jobs and higher incomes, and better government, among others.
This is what I have been doing for the last 23 years of my life – 15 years in the parliament of the streets and 8 years in Congress – to be that change that we need and aspire for.
It’s time for a change in the Senate. And we should start now. #