A guide to the key national issues that the youth care about

A guide to the key national issues that the youth care about

Are you for or against the death penalty? Who supports the drug war? What’s up with the TRAIN law?

By Jam Pascual, Jedd Ong, and Gaby Gloria
Art by Sam Bumanlag


In the span of time between the election of Rodrigo Duterte and the day you’re reading this, the news cycle had been exploding day after day, with story after story, issue upon issue, about all good, bad, and ugly things happening in the country. (Although honestly it’s mostly been just bad and ugly.) And because of that, keeping up with the nation’s affairs came to feel like a chore, like homework. The more cynical of us came to accept this new, terrible state of things, and have been lulled into a dead-eyed stupor, lumbering through the thick fog of fascism.

But the senatorial elections are upon us. And all this homework we had to do was there to prepare us for the monumental task of voting for the politicians that might steer the ship of our country’s future. Campaign season has shocked us out of our stupor and we’ve been doing last minute reviewing about who’s gonna do what about what. Which candidates are going to help our farmers and workers? Which candidates are for or against lowering the age of criminal liability?

So if the elections are an exam, then think of this as a review. We conducted a survey for you, our dear readers, some time ago, on the key issues that matter to you most, and you guys came through. What we have here are easy-to-understand but otherwise super thorough explanation for the issues you care about most, which happen to be the issues y’all really have to think about when deciding who to vote into the senate, from APECO to the drug war. Whoever says the youth is apathetic obviously isn’t talking to the right people.

What began as a campaign promise that claimed it could eradicate the drug problem in half a year has mutated into an ongoing genocide. Roughly three years since President Duterte took office, the drug war has claimed over 20,000 lives and that’s from a 2017 year-end report that the government itself has released and admitted. To put that into perspective, Ferdinand Marcos’ reign, which lasted from 1965 to 1986 and targeted dissidents, holds a figure of 3,000 murders. So in just three years, Duterte’s drug war has surpassed the body count of what is still considered one of the darkest periods in Philippine history.

How did we get to this point? There are many factors to consider, but one is the fact of Duterte’s track record of exaggerating the drug problem with fabricated facts and figures. Manufacturing a national security crisis is just one play in the dictator’s playbook, after all and the drug war, which specifically targets the poor, more than anyone else, is a violent symptom of the president’s authoritarian hold. This is no exaggeration consider the report that police officers are paid extra per kill and anecdotes of police blatantly disregarding protocol and planting evidence on the bodies of those who never pulled a weapon even when they were alive and pleading mercy. Children and minors are not safe from the drug war. We are living in a police state.

Even the president himself has admitted that the drug war has failed. He made this statement not long after he said in February that the drug war would intensify in the next three years of his presidency. Considering how little the drug problem as a public health issue has abated, and our president’s penchant for self-contradicting statements and reckless behavior, it would only be sensible to accept both these statements as true. And even though numerous demonstrations have been held against the drug war, even after Bato bowed out and Oscar Albayalde took his place as PNP Chief, the violence has not ceased. If the upcoming senatorial elections end up putting supporters of Oplan Tokhang in the senate, the drug war will continue as it always has, if not grow worse. —Jam Pascual

The controversy surrounding the reinstatement of the death penalty as a lawful punishment for Philippine crimes, in summary, goes back to one key issue: illegal drugs. The current iteration, HB 4727, co-authored notably by former House Speaker and current “insecure slob” Pantaleon Alvarez, and slain Ako Bicol rep. Rodel Batocabe, garnered news headlines early last 2017 for its (relatively) swift passage and overwhelming approval in the House of Representatives.

The bill originally wished to reinstate the penalty for about 21 designated crimes, but debates in Congress eventually whittled that list down to “only” heinous crimes (e.g. murder, rape, treason, plunder), and more controversially, drug-related offenses. The bill, however, despite its overwhelming support in the House has been met with staunch resistance in the senate, with even avowed pro-death penalty Senator Ping Lacson remaining apprehensive of its passage.

It’s relevance to the current senatorial elections however, lie in two key fields of discussion, namely, 1) political climate in the senate, and 2) the surprisingly accommodating legal basis in the Philippines for the restoration of the death penalty.

For the former, it is good to note regarding the comment of Sen. Lacson, is his clarification that his apprehension at the passage of the death penalty bill lies with the current senate’s oppositionist outlook (read: continued presence of an avowed Liberal Party and anti-Duterte bloc). This just implies that while news as of late has pointed towards both Congress and the Senate dropping or blocking attempts at the reinstitution of death penalty in our criminal justice system, that could easily change with a pro-administration swing in the composition of the next senate. It pays mentioning here that in the last election polls by Pulse Asia, at least nine out of the 12 senatoriables predicted to place in the next election are admin-backed candidates.

As to the latter issue, it also is good to note that there are strong legal arguments and frameworks to be had locally regarding its reinstatement. For starters, our Supreme Court, in Echegaray vs. Secretary of Justice, explicitly gave Congress the ability to institute legislation permitting or forbidding the use of the death penalty for specific crimes, as long as such legislation does not contradict the constitution i.e. “is done for a compelling reason” (Art. III, Sec. 19 (1), 1987 Constitution).

This opinion is rebuttable of course, on numerous moral (e.g. “systematic discrimination argument” in US Supreme Court’s Furman vs. Georgia case) and legal grounds (see: counter provision in that very same Article and Section on “cruel and unjust punishment”), but such challenge has yet to come to light in our courts to date. Note also that the Philippines is a signatory to the second optional protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which bars member nations from employing or reinstating the death penalty as a form of criminal punishment. —Jedd Ong

One thing we need to get out of the way before discussing the tax reform and inclusion law (“TRAIN”) in greater detail is to understand that it’s just one of four (yes, four!) reform packages: income and consumption taxes for TRAIN 1, corporate taxes and incentives in package 2 (nicknamed: “TRABAHO”), real estate and property taxes for package 3, and passive investment income taxes (e.g. stocks and derivatives), for package 4.

To clarify, though, we’ll be focusing first on TRAIN 1, as it is the only DOF-proposed tax package that is now a law. I’d gladly talk about the second package currently under deliberations in the House of Representatives, as it might be alarming enough in its own right, but honestly, chewing through one tax package is convoluted enough. We only included the reform package overview because it does help in making sense of the sheer enormity of the task at hand pursued by the government.

Going back, TRAIN’s original intended purpose, as per the DOF, was twofold: 1) make government revenue collection more efficient (by lessening VAT exemptions and increasing fuel and luxury vehicles taxes, which relate to goods wealthier Filipinos are more likely to consumer more of) and pro-poor (by lowering their income taxes, sort of), and 2) to peg income taxes and fuel taxes to updated global market, and local inflation rates. This ideally, then enables the government to collect more revenues without further hurting the poor.

Actual outcomes however have been less than ideal. Income taxes went down, meaning more money to spend on the part of everyday consumers, but basic commodity prices have gone up by a similar, if not greater amount (though to the government’s credit, inflation has been slowing down steadily over the past five months). Some analysts, including the DOF to a limited extent, additionally point to TRAIN’s mandated fuel tax increases as a key driver of last year’s sudden inflation spikes. It also bears noting here that while government revenues for the year-end 2018 have increased, it still missed revenue targets for the year. All this is cause for concern.

Why? For starters, anything that drives up inflation (discussed here) also tends to make basic goods more unaffordable, which lowers living standards for citizens (i.e. most people) affected by the price increases. Then there’s also the issue of our government’s aggressive infrastructure projects. Sound tax policy and proper tax collection goes a long way towards making sure our government doesn’t have to resort to increasingly desperate debt-borrowing schemes (hi there, China!), in order to fund these projects.

We haven’t even touched upon the fact that while credit must be given to the DOF for steadfastly pushing for such reform (and for helping to steady inflation rates), previous studies have shown that one of the primary issues with our tax collection system isn’t just policy, but proper administration, which is a perennial problem our governments can’t seem to solve.

Deep breaths. So what exactly is the takeaway? Well, simply put: that TRAIN for all its promises, warts, and inflation-driven controversies, is still very much an initiative whose implementation success we should wish well for, for national security’s sake if nothing else. —JO

The issue of farmer’s rights is extremely difficult to untangle because it tends to inevitably intersect with other related issues, including but not limited to: land rights, indigenous peoples’ rights, agrarian reform, and the perils of industrial development. One way to explain where the country is at with all those things though is to take one issue as an example case study: APECO.

Let’s begin here: senatorial candidate Sonny Angara and his father Edgardo Angara filed bills to create a 500-hectare free trade zone in Aurora, known as APECO, or the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport. That zone eventually increased in size to a ridiculous 12,923 hectares. The point of APECO was to encourage trade and create employment opportunities for locals, become a hub for agro-aqua industries, and even become a tourism eco-zone. It has been over a decade since the Aurora Special Economic Zone Act of 2007, which allows APECO to act, got the ball rolling — what does this economic zone have to show for now?

For one thing, multiple displaced communities. The construction of a 1.2 kilometer airstrip has, for over 10 years, neither sent out nor welcomed any planes, but has dispossessed whole families and farmers and locals from their homes. Locals of Casiguran, Aurora do not welcome APECO — the project was enacted with the consent of or consultation with tribal groups. Housing developments were built to shelter these displaced communities, but locals would have to pay P600 a month for 30 years to be able to live there at all, even though the National Housing Authority said the locals could have all that for free. The destruction wrought by Typhoon Labuyo and Typhoon Lando on the zone indicate mismanagement, and prove records stating that the area was not geophysically fit for industrial development. P31 million worth of the peoples’ money has gone into facility repair alone. The cost of keeping up the whole thing? P1.7 billion.

In 2015, farmers, fisherfolk, and members of the Agta community marched 352 km to protest APECO. The Department of Agrarian Reform filed a cease and desist order against APECO. Various groups such as the Anti-APECO task force make the case that APECO is actually unconstitutional violating the Indigenous People’s Rights Act, among other acts and laws. So to be perfectly blunt, APECO is spending more than it is earning. It has been over 10 years and no meaningful economic development has taken place. And even if the opposite were true, shouldn’t the protests of the locals, farmers, fisherfolk, and indigenous communities take precedence over everything else? Some would say yes. But the Supreme Court has yet to bring the hammer down on actually charging APECO as unconstitutional, and the Angara dynasty still maintains a grip on the dying project.

There is a lot to unpack about a problem one could say is bigger than Duterte (remember, APECO was a thing ever since Noynoy Aquino’s time), but some points are clear as day: issues of land rights, farmer’s rights, and agrarian reform ask us to deeply consider how government and business interests affect the lives of blue collar laborers. What about the Negros 14, the 14 farmers slain by police for being suspected as communist threats? What about the 2016 Kidapawan Crisis, in which 500 farmers protested in front of the National Food Authority Office for more rice and were met with a barrage of bullets? What about the Hacienda Luisita Massacre?

When you study up on who to vote for, consider the candidates who make it their vested interest to protect the lives, rights and interests of our farmers and workers. —JP

As early as June 8, 2016, even before the official start of his presidency, Rodrigo Duterte proposed to lower the age of criminal liability. The current age is 15. And the way the current Juvenile Justice and Welfare Law works is, basically, individuals 15 and below are treated as delinquents, not criminals. They’re sent to youth care facilities, not prison.

One can take contention with the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Law in a number of ways: for example, you have to be 18 to purchase alcohol, sign a contract, get married, and do other things normally reserved for grown-ups, so why is this age lower when it comes to deciding who does and doesn’t go to prison? It is hard enough to unpack that. But now we have to deal with various politicians and political forces vying to lower the age of criminal liability from 15, to as low as nine.

Tito Sotto filed Senate Bill 2026 in 2018 to amend the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act. He cites the rise of criminal activity committed by minors, claims this amendment is not anti-poor, and also bolsters his proposal with a study saying that the average minimum age of liability in Africa and Asia is 11. Various lawmakers however, such as Risa Hontiveros, Bam Aquino, and Antonio Trillanes, have made it clear that they are against the amendment. Even Miss Universe herself, Catriona Gray, who has been an advocate for children’s welfare even before winning her title, is opposed to lowering the age of criminal liability.

In their press release, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) presented a bunch of sharp counter arguments against lowering the age of criminal liability. Like, detaining children won’t actually help hold them accountable for criminal actions, nor will it stop adults from abusing and exploiting children to commit crimes for them. Shouldn’t we place more focus instead on more strongly enforcing the already present Juvenile Justice and Welfare Law? There’s also the more painfully obvious point to make that, well, adults are criminally liable, but making them criminally liable isn’t the thing that actually reduces crime. What about the fact that many individuals, minors and not, are pushed to crime because of poverty, because of desperate material conditions?

Why are we so obsessed with punitive justice? What about restorative justice?

The House of Representatives has given the go to lower the age, but the Senate hasn’t, so this hasn’t been finalized. It is entirely possible that the next lineup of senators from 2019 to 2022 will be responsible for deciding how our children will be treated by our justice system. —JP

When discussing martial law in Mindanao, one can begin with Marawi.

The Battle of Marawi, Lanao del Sur, took place on May 23, 2017, and lasted for five months. During those five months, government sieged the city to suppress terrorist threats affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and various jihadist groups. The lives of 87 civilians were claimed in the conflict. 1.1 million were displaced. Over 900militants were killed,The battle was described as the heaviest urban conflict that took place in the Philippines since World War 2. Christ.

This is the reason the Duterte administration implemented martial law in Mindanao, through Proclamation 216. And one aspect of martial law that makes it so menacing is the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, which prevents detainees from seeking relief from unlawful imprisonment, and arrest without warrant, which allows more direct and aggressive military control on civilians. This aligns with Duterte’s all-too-clear tendency to instruct police to indiscriminately apprehend and extrajudicially kill whoever they suspect to be threats to the government whether they be drug addicts or communists.

Since the implementation of martial law in Mindanao, 88 individuals have been killed and 1,450 individuals have been illegally detained. Lumad communities have been heavily affected by martial law, what with Lumad schools having been constantly red-tagged, threatened, and subjected to great violence. Members of the Lumad community have even filed multiple petitions against Proclamation 216, declaring it unconstitutional. Fast forward to today though, and the president’s request to extend martial law for a third time in Mindanao has been approved, until the end of 2019.

One must consider, if the point of implementing and extending martial law was to look after the interests and welfare of its inhabitants, then why couldn’t that be done through proper rehabilitation of Mindanao? It has been over a year and a half since the government promised to rehabilitate the city, but the city remains flattened. Even now, Duterte courts the idea of not bothering to rebuild the city and leaving the rebuilding instead to tycoons. There is also the issue of how martial law, historically speaking, has the tendency to intensify extremism and violence rather than stifle it. All this said, if one’s priority in assessing the merit of a public servant is how they will protect and empower Mindanao, one must deeply evaluate their perspectives regarding martial law.

The Philippines is one of two countries in the world where divorce isn’t legal. In case you’re wondering, the second is the Vatican a fact which only proves how influential the Roman Catholic Church is in the country.

The only exceptions are applied to muslims in the Philippines, who are not covered by the ban on divorce by virtue of Presidential Decree No. 1083, which provides that a couple married under the Muslim laws “have the right to divorce.”

Otherwise, Filipinos currently have two options if they want to get out of a marriage: annulment and petition for legal separation. A quick Google search will lead you to an easy way to tell them apart: annulment is a legal decree that a marriage is null and void. While a divorce ends a legally valid marriage, an annulment treats the marriage as if it never existed. Some grounds for annulment include insanity, lack of parental consent, fraud, force, intimidation, undue influence, impotence, and STD.

Meanwhile, legal separation is different in the sense that spouses will be allowed to live apart and separate their possessions, but are still considered married to each other, and may not remarry. Grounds for that include repeated physical violence, sexual infidelity or perversion, and homosexuality among others.

Both legal methods are costly and extensive, and filing for them doesn’t always ensure that the petitions will be granted. In short: it’s extremely difficult for anyone to end a marriage in the Philippines, moreso if you’re an ordinary minimum-wage earner.

It’s not like legislators haven’t made moves to legalize it in the past. In previous years, various House representatives have sought to amend the Family Code of the Philippines to include divorce, but none of those attempts made it past the lower house.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has constantly voiced out their opposition to the bill’s enactment, with Archbishop Romulo saying it “might end up destroying even those marriages that could have been saved by dialogues or the intervention of family, friends, pastors and counselors.”

Taking into account reality, the bill could make it easier for women. In a report from the Philippine Commission on Women, it was noted that the number of annulment cases in the country have steadily been increasing since 2001. With the data they gathered from the Office of the Solicitor General, it was shown that more females initiate the filing of annulment than men.

This data, coupled with testimonies, suggests that many women who want to leave abusive relationships cannot. It’s especially a disadvantage for OFWs many stories have been published about the plight of female OFWs who’ve had to leave everything behind, only to find out that their husbands have been cheating on them.

Now that the House of Representatives approved House Bill No. 7303 or “An Act Instituting Absolute Divorce and Dissolution of Marriage in the Philippines,” its next step is to go through Senate, where it is still pending at committee level. Senate President Tito Sotto has voiced his opposition to the bill, while President Duterte (who himself was annulled years ago) has, for reasons that are unclear, also mentioned that he isn’t for divorce. While we still don’t know what  the fate of the bill will be given the nearing deadline (it needs to be passed before July, otherwise it’ll go back to the start of the process), it’s important to know where the candidates you’re voting for stand. Gaby Gloria

It’s been 19 years since the late Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Akbayan Rep. Etta Rosales filed the Anti-Discrimination Bill in Congress. 19 years, and it still hasn’t even passed the upper house. Let that sink in for a bit.

The bill’s title, “An Act Prohibiting Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity or Expression (SOGIE) and Providing Penalties Therefor”, is pretty self-explanatory. It merely aims to ensure that the rights of the LGBTQ+ are protected in the same way yours and mine are by imposing penalties on anyone who discriminates against them.

Simply put, it places penalties on discriminatory actions so that the LGBTQ+ can enjoy the rights that they should already be enjoying as citizens of the Philippines. It recognizes the “non-discrimination of the LGBTQ++ as both a national and international duty.”

Any act of harassment or coercion directed to the LGBTQ+ is a discriminatory act under the SOGIE. It imposes penalties on anyone who prevents members of the LGBTQ+ community from practicing their rights, such as their right to access public services, right to use establishments and services including housing, and right to apply for a professional license, among others.

It also cracks down on the “differential treatment of an employee or anyone engaged to render services, denial of admission to or expulsion from an educational institution, refusal or revocation of accreditation to any organization due to an individual’s SOGIE.”

Other prohibitions include penalties for the act of forcing any person to undertake any medical or psychological examination to alter his SOGIE, the publication of information intending to “out” a person without his or her consent, public speech meant to vilify LGBTQ+, the harassment and coercion of the latter by anyone, especially those involved in law enforcement, and gender profiling. Penalties range from P100,000 to P500,000 or a prison sentence of one to six years (1 to 6 years), or both.

It’s all common sense, tbh. So why is it taking so long to pass a law that shouldn’t even be necessary if everyone just practiced basic human decency? So far, it’s the longest running bill to stay in a period of interpellation in the Senate.

On paper, the Philippines has ranked high up in terms of LGBTQ+ acceptance. But then you think of how there are instances where LGBTQ+ job applicants are told to change their gender expression to be more suitable for the job. Or how a TV host (who also happens to be the Senate President) told a gay dad to go back in the closet on national television. Or maybe you remember that time a popular gay personality was not allowed entry into a bar due to his sexual orientation.  Let’s not forget that time a transgender woman was brutally murdered by a man upon learning that she was a man by birth. The stigma is real, in ways that can be discriminatory and life threatening.

Several local government units (LGUs) already have measures in place, which is great. But with a national law like SOGIE in place, the LGBTQ+ from all over the Philippines will be able to benefit. Companies will also be required to strictly follow policies that ensure the safety of their LGBTQ+ employees.  

With the Senate term ending in a few months, there’s a slim chance that the bill will be passed. Senator Risa Hontiveros has mentioned that certain prohibitions, such as the gendered uniform policy in schools and establishment of unisex restrooms, among others, face strong resistance from her colleagues. In the off chance that the bill doesn’t make it, it’ll have to go back to the beginning (just like the divorce bill), which is why your vote in this senatorial election is as important as ever.

Just remember that all the LGBTQ+ want are to live their lives like everyone else, and the SOGIE Bill is a step towards true equality.

##ELECTIONS2019 #politics

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