Privilege Speech of Akbayan Representative Walden Bello, May 16, 2011

A year after its election, the administration can point to the high economic growth rate, particularly in agriculture, as one of its achievements.

However, perhaps more than economic growth, people prize economic stability, and the way things are going right now, there is a sense of things slipping out of control. The main challenge citizens want the administration to meet is, far and away, the economy.  And among the economic issues, inflation receives the highest priority as a problem that must be addressed by the government in a recent Pulse Asia survey, with some 53 per cent of respondents citing it.

At a time when the government is busy fighting big-time tax evaders, the call of the Catholic church hierarchy to boycott tax payments as a “form of protest” against the Reproductive Health bill will only “benefit major tax cheats”, this according to Akbayan Party, one of the leading political parties supporting the proposed bill.

Akbayan Representative Kaka Bag-ao said the threat of a tax revolt would only serve the interest of big-time tax evaders using the church and the RH issue as convenient “tax shields.”

“If the objective is to increase the capacity of workers and their families to weather economic woes, an increase of P22 a day at this point is simply too little, too late,” Akbayan Representative Walden Bello said on Tuesday morning following the announcement of a P22-increase in minimum wage earners’ cost of living allowance (COLA).

Since the start of the year, fuel price inflation stands at a whopping 10.19 per cent. It is followed by transportation and communication prices at 7.28 per cent, while inflation of food prices has been recorded at 4.03 per cent.

A day after the country’s anti-graft court ruled in favor of the plea bargain deal that the Office of the Ombudsman under former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez entered into with former military comptroller Carlos Garcia, members of Akbayan party trooped to the office of the Sandiganbayan to protest the said decision calling it a “cheap bargaining of justice.”

To scoff at the court’s decision, members of the group set up a “mock talipapa” to demonstrate how the Sandiganbayan bargained justice regarding its decision on the Garcia plea bargain deal. The anti-corruption advocates brandished placards styled as bargain signs, which read “plea bargain deal, bina-bargain”, “hustisya, bina-bargain” and “plea bargain deal, 50% off.”

We, in Akbayan express our extreme disappointment over the decision of the Sandiganbayan to approve the plea bargain deal that the Office of the Ombudsman entered into with former military comptroller Carlos Garcia.

At a time when different anti-corruption advocates are relishing their initial victory in the war against corruption, and at a time when the nation is trying to enjoy the first day of a “Merci-less” Office of the Ombudsman, the decision of the anti-graft court to allow a lopsided deal crafted under the tenure of former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez is a step in the wrong direction. Instead of removing obstacles, it creates more barriers in realizing reforms as well as exit points for corrupt public officials to evade accountability.