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Abstain votes are to be junked, what happens now?

Questioning the ‘abstain’ votes poses the possibility of removing abstentions from future polls.

Photo by Audrey Janelle Fontilla/TomasinoWeb.

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The dropping of the Central Judiciary Board’s resolution in the middle of President Rodrigo Duterte’s second State of the Nation Address last Monday, July 24, infuriated a large number of Thomasians even more than the President’s two-hour rant.

The historic abstentions were hailed by many as the call of Thomasians for better and more competent student leaders — but what happens now that the candidates with the highest number of votes will instead be declared winners of the elections?

Last time, TomasinoWeb reported that special elections will likely be held and Central Student Council (CSC) Secretary Therese Gorospe will act as president until such time.

However, the resolution given by the Board further extinguishes the possibility of special elections, and poses the removal of abstentions from future polls.

The Board asserted that the Central Commission on Elections (Comelec) violated Article X, Section 5 of the UST Student’s Election Code (USEC) of 2011 “by including ‘abstain’ in the ballot as if it is a name of candidate.”

USEC states in Article X, Section 3 that the ballot shall only contain (a) the printed names of candidates, position and party; (b) a printed box before their names, (c) serial number of the ballot and (d) instructions.

There is no mention of including an ‘abstain’ option in the ballot.

Nonetheless, the Central Comelec contested in a counter appeal that the ‘abstain’ option “has been present in ballots used for every student council election, whether manual or automated, in the University since time immemorial.”

Such option, they argued, “was never protested against by the candidates, political parties or the student body in the previous student council elections, both central and local.”

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However, if the resolution is to be followed, the Central Comelec will have to declare Steven Grecia, Gabriela Sepulchre, Daveson Nieto, and Richard Javier — all from Lakas Tomasino Coalition — as president, vice president, treasurer and auditor, respectively, despite losing these posts to abstain votes.

Furthermore, the resolution puts into question not only the results of the CSC polls but also the elections of local student councils.

Along with Grecia, Daniela Frigillana, an independent candidate for the internal vice president post of the Faculty of Arts and Letters Student Council (ABSC) is also one of the petitioners.

The ABSC currently has three vacant positions due to the abstentions: Internal vice president, secretary, and auditor.

Applying the resolution to ABSC’s polls, Frigillana, Maria Ann San Andres, and Jan Rafael Lipat will respectively take the aforementioned posts.

However, Article XI Section 8, of the ABSC Constitution, states that “all permanent vacancies in the Executive Board shall be filled by special elections.”

Whether or not local SCs will follow suit with the resolution, despite the autonomy of their constitutions, is still left to be seen as the AB Comelec is also set to release their own resolution within the week.

It is still to be determined if and when the Central Comelec will file another appeal countering the resolution, or if they will amend their constitution this year to make future abstentions clear and unquestionable.

But until such time, it is and will be left with no choice but to follow the board resolution.

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Jeepney modernization an “anti-poor” road?

Transport group PISTON said they do not oppose modernization, but the current framework of the jeepney modernization program is “anti-poor” and only benefits large companies and businesses.

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Photo by Genelaine Urbano/TomasinoWeb.

The University once again suspended classes and office work in anticipation of today’s transport strike against the Department of Transportation (DOTr)’s jeepney modernization program.

Today’s strike marks the first for the year, and the third against the program since it was launched by the DOTr June last year.

Despite the protests, the wheels of the modernization program—which has been proposed since 2016—are already in motion as the government already began rolling out the “more convenient, more comfortable, and environment-friendly” units last January.

Along with replacing the ubiquitous jeepney with around 180,000 units by 2020, changes in the public transport franchising system, routes and training for drivers are also eyed by the program.

While commuter groups have lauded the DOTr’s proposals for the program as necessary, long overdue and beneficial for the safety of commuters, transport groups such as Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON) and No to Jeepney Phaseout Coalition continue to resist the implementation of the program.

Why then are transport groups opposing modernization program?

 

“Anti-poor”, loss of livelihood, higher fares

One of the main points of the jeepney modernization program is the phaseout of at least 15-year-old units starting this year as part of a three-year transition period.

Old units would be replaced with Euro 4-compliant engines or solar-powered engines in order to minimize carbon monoxide emissions and smoke belching.

Most jeepney units are powered by Euro 2-compliant engines.

The DOTr also proposed to outfit the new units with additional features such as dashboard cameras, Wi-Fi internet connection, speed limiters, global position system trackers, closed-circuit television cameras and an automated fare collection system powered by the Ayala Corporation-owned Beep, among others.

PISTON National President George San Mateo insisted that they are not against modernizing jeepneys for the safety of commuters and environmental concerns.

With the additional features and the forced phaseout of old units, however, PISTON decried the framework of the program as “anti-poor” and a “massacre” of the livelihood of drivers.

The transport group said the program would lead to loss of jobs or higher fares since jeepney drivers and operators would not be able to afford the price of the new units, which are estimated to cost around P1.2 to P1.6 million per unit.

The group also claimed that the price per unit could still go higher.

“Pero dahil idadaan ito sa negosyong scheme ng gobyernong Duterte ay aabot sa lagpas dalawang milyong piso ang magiging halaga ng bawat unit,” PISTON said in a statement November last year.

In the same statement, they also said that drivers would have to pay more than P800 every day for seven years for the new units.

Jeepney drivers only earn an average of P300 to P500 take home pay after 10 hours of daily driving.

In a joint statement with the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), the DOTr refuted PISTON’s claims that the program is “anti-poor” and criticized the group as “misinformed” as they cited the low equity and interests rates of the Department of Finance’s financial loan and subsidy scheme to help drivers pay for the new units.

“A major component of the [program] is the financial scheme available to PUJ operators and drivers who wish to avail of new units through financing of government financial institutions, Development Bank of the Philippines and Land Bank of the Philippines,” the DOTr and the LTFRB said.

They also said that the government would offer as high as P80,000 subsidy per unit to cover the equity payment.

Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte scoffed at PISTON’s protests , saying: “Mahirap kayo? Putang ina, magtiis kayo sa hirap at gutom, wala akong pakialam. It’s the majority of the Filipino people. Huwag ninyo ipasubo ang tao.”

 

“Neoliberal” policies, monopoly control

For PISTON and other militant groups, the issue of the jeepney modernization program goes beyond the capability of drivers and operators to pay for the new units.

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“Neoliberal” policies in the program would lead to the monopolization of the transport sector and would only benefit foreign companies and big businesses, the groups said.

“Ang mga programang pangtransportasyon ng rehimeng US-Duterte ay nakabalangkas sa neoliberalismo na pawang anti-mahihirap at makadayuhan. Nakasandal ang programang jeepney phaseout sa pamumuhunan ng mga dayuhang korporasyon tulad ng Toyota, Chrysler, Nissan, at Mitsubishi na magpapatupad ng monopolyong kontrol sa transportasyon,” PISTON said.

The DOTr, however, said local manufacturers such as Francisco Motors would design and produce the new units, but other transport groups such as Pasang Masda and Federation of Jeepney Operators and Drivers Association of the Philippines have expressed intentions to buy cheaper units from China.

PISTON feared that such actions would lead the government to be more inclined to work with and incentivize multinational car manufacturers instead of local manufacturers.

Furthermore, the group also raised flags on the LTFRB’s Omnibus Franchising Guidelines (OBF)—which goes hand in hand with the modernization program—as it would force certain franchises to merge and encourage franchises to form cooperatives for easier regulation within the three-year transition period.

Complying with the OBF is also a prerequisite for franchises to acquire at least 10 modernized jeepney units offered at P1.4 million each for the modernization program; LTFRB’s fleet management program set a minimum of 10 units for franchises to be accredited.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate slammed the fleet management program and the modernization program in House Resolution No. 833, saying that jeepney drivers and operators would be “effectively forced to surrender management of their own jeepneys to a fleet management corporation.”

Zarate further said that the modernization program “is simply a corporate takeover of the [public utility jeep] sector that would not only result to massive loss of livelihood of our transport workers, but would also severely affect the public since PUJ is still the most availed of public transport system.”

PISTON also opposed the OBF, as they stated that “kalakhan ng mga operator ang nanganganib mawalan ng prangkisa at jeepney na hahantong sa Scrappage Program sa pangunguna ng LTFRB.”

 

Nationalized mass transport system

Instead of the current program, PISTON called on the government to junk the program in favor of nationalizing the mass transport system, rather than allowing private companies to take over franchises

“Kaya’t ang kailagan ng mga tsuper, opereytor, at komyuter ay nasyunalisado na pampublikong transportasyon,” PISTON said.

The group likened the framework and policies of the current program to former President Benigno Aquino III’s  public-private partnership program, which placed line 1 of the Light Rail Transit system under the management of Metro Pacific Investments Corporation and Ayala Corporation.

Both corporations have also expressed intentions to take over the operations of the Metro Rail Transport system.

According to PISTON, nationalizing the transport system would lead to better government subsidies and more control on franchises, and thus cheaper fares and efficient “mass-oriented” transportation.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan also urged the government to invest in a state-owned mass transport system and push for an industrialized economy so that the country could manufacture its own units and thus create more jobs for drivers as well as workers in the manufacturing sector.

They also expressed support for collective or cooperative ownership of the mass transport system in the country instead of “corporatization.”

However, the DOTr remained firm in their decision to fully implement the modernization program. In response, PISTON said that they would hold bigger and longer strikes.

“At kung hindi makikinig si Duterte sa ating mga hinaing, asahang mas matagalan at malawak na pambasang tigil-pasada at protestang bayan ang ilulunsad ng ga drayber, opereytor, at komyuter, buwan-buwan kung kinakailangan,” the group stated.

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Duterte regime an epidemic of “macho-fascist” misogyny?

As feminist groups celebrated International Women’s Day, they also slammed President Rodrigo Duterte’s various sexist remarks, saying that they encourage state-endorsed violence against women.

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Photo by Elizabeth Nicole Regudo/TomasinoWeb.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s critics have long derided his unfiltered tongue, but for his staunch supporters, his language shows that he is one of them.

Unlike previous presidents, Duterte likes to go off-script during official speeches: He code-switches and cusses in press conferences, and he often engages his audiences with banter involving vulgar tirades against “yellows,” “destabilizers” and, more often than not, jokes about women.

These jokes are usually met with laughter from his audience: An early example of this was Duterte’s infamous “dapat ang mayor muna ang nauna” remark regarding the rape and murder of Australian lay missioner Jaqueline Hamill in Davao City in 1989.

While he subsequently apologized for his joke, Duterte has proceeded to admit to being a womanizer, ogled Vice President Leni Robredo’s legs with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez during a cabinet meeting, threatened to expose Sen. Leila De Lima’s alleged sex video, whistled at broadcast reporter Mariz Umali during a press conference in Davao City, and joked about using 42 virgins to promote tourism in the country within his two years in office.

Duterte even made another rape joke as he addressed military troops in Iligan City May last year in light of possible cases of human rights violations under Mindanao’s martial law.

“Ako na magpakulong sa inyo. ‘Pag naka-rape ka ng tatlo, aminin ko na akin ‘yun,” the President said.

Despite the rise of  various #MeToo campaigns in various parts of the globe, feminist and women’s groups said they have found it difficult for a similar movement to take root in the country, as Duterte’s remarks about women continues to perpetuate misogyny, and that his recent statement about shooting female New People’s Army (NPA) cadres in their vaginas normalizes systemic violence against women.

Last month, Duterte recounted before 200 NPA surrenderees his orders to military troops: “Order bag-o ni mayor: ‘Di lang daw mo patyon. Pusilon lang mo sa bisong arong. Og wa na ma’y bisong, wa na ma’y silbi (Mayor’s new orders: Don’t kill them. Just shoot them in the vagina. Without their vagina, they’re useless).”

Prompted by his remarks, Sen. Risa Hontiveros declared a “sexism outbreak” under the Duterte regime on Monday, which she stated was reinforced by the President’s “numerous anti-women statements.”

“We are witnessing an outbreak of sexism and misogyny under this two-year old administration. In all three branches of the government, we are seeing an epidemic of sexism that is state-sponsored, brazen and relentless,” Hontiveros said in a press release.

In their statement for International Women’s Day, World March of Women – Philippines likewise condemned Duterte’s statement, saying that “violence against women is a policy of the Duterte administration.”

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They also cited the incarceration of De Lima, the impeachment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, and the repeated threats on Rappler’s Maria Ressa and Pia Ranada as a way for Duterte “to control and punish women” through “disempowering women in government positions and in media who refuse to be cowed and are critical of the president’s actions and policies.”

Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Emmi de Jesus slammed Duterte’s orders as “[taking] state terrorism against women and the people to a whole new level,” calling him a “macho-fascist.”

“[Duterte’s] latest nasty remark openly encourages violence against women, contributes to the impunity on such, and further confirms himself as the most dangerous macho-fascist in the government right now. He has further presented himself as the epitome of misogyny and fascism terribly rolled in one,” de Jesus stated.

Gabriela led thousands in their annual protest march from Liwasang Bonifacio to Mendiola yesterday afternoon,  despite being denied a rally permit by the Manila Police District. They also demanded social and economic reforms for women farmers and laborers, as well as justice for female victims of the government’s drug and military counterinsurgency operations, among others.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) also decried the President’s statement as a violation of international humanitarian law.

“It encourages state forces to commit sexual violence during armed conflict which is a violation of international humanitarian law,” HRW Asia Division Philippines Researcher Carlos Conde said.

The outrage, however, was met with rolling eyes by the Malacañang as it repeatedly pleaded the public not to take the President’s jokes seriously.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, a former human rights lawyer who defended World War II comfort women and slain transgender woman Jennifer Laude, told feminists that they “are sometimes OA” or over-acting and urged them to “just laugh” at the President’s jokes.

Furthermore, Roque also encouraged the public to look at Duterte’s actions rather than his worlds—a common response from Duterte’s supporters—as they cite Davao City’s Women Development Code, or Davao City Ordinance No. 5004, which Duterte signed in 1997 during his term as mayor of Davao City, as well as the signing of Executive Order No. 12, which seeks the full and strict implementation of the Reproductive Health Law, as proof of his pro-women stance.

Nonetheless, Hontiveros believed that “Duterte’s sexist comments carry weight” and that “language is a powerful where sexism, gender discrimination and even violence against women are committed and replicated.”

“They are not innocent words. His sexist pronouncements have set into motion vicious attacks against women, particularly those perceived to be critics of this administration,” she continued.

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Lawmakers condemn law freshman’s death, renew calls to amend anti-hazing law

There are numerous bills pushing for revisions in the Anti-Hazing Law—but all of them are yet to be enacted.

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Thomasians hold a candle lighting and prayer vigil at the Civil Law lobby, Monday, Sept. 18, to mourn the death of law freshman Horacio Castillo III due to fraternity hazing. Photo by Mark Darius Sulit/TomasinoWeb.

Senators and congressmen are once again pushing for the legislation to amend the law against hazing following the death of Faculty of Civil Law freshman Horacio Castillo III due to fraternity hazing.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian renewed calls to pass Senate Bill 199 which seeks to repeal the 22-year-old Republic Act 8049 or the Anti-Hazing Law of 1995 and prohibit hazing per se.

“The Anti-Hazing Law must be overhauled to eliminate loop holes and ensure that all persons responsible for these cruel and senseless hazing deaths will be held accountable to the full extent of the law,” Gatchalian said in a statement.

The bill also seeks to introduce stiffer penalties on organizations and individuals who will participate in hazing. It will also require schools to campaign for hazing prevention and awareness.

Section 4 of the current law reserves penalties only for cases where individuals subject to hazing suffer physical injuries, and die as a result.

According to Castillo’s parents, the law freshman never returned after attending the welcoming rites for neophytes of the Aegis Jvris fraternity at UST last Saturday, Sept. 16.

Castillo’s body was found by John Paul Solano — now a person of interest in the case — on a sidewalk in Tondo, Sunday, Sept. 17. and was brought to the Chinese General Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

The law freshman died of heart attack possibly due to the injuries he suffered after the hazing rites. His body was found with marks of cigarette burns, candle wax drips and severe bruises in both upper arms (READ: UST law freshman found dead after frat hazing).

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Sen. Gregorio Honasan II likewise condemned the law freshman’s death and recalled his brother who died 41 years ago due to similar circumstances.

“I remember 41 years ago when my youngest brother Mel died from fraternity hazing. My parents forgave those responsible; hoping and praying that it would help eradicate hazing. It was not to be,” Honasan said in a statement.

Furthermore, he called for “more teeth” in vigilance and law enforcement.

His own measure, Senate Bill 27, seeks to amend the Anti-Hazing Law by requiring schools to impose sanctions on organizations found guilty of participating in hazing and similar acts.

Both bills are still pending for Senate approval.

Meanwhile, Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy of Bagong Henerasyon Party-list pushed for the passage of House Bill 3467 which seeks to revise the Anti-Hazing Law by criminalizing all forms of hazing and expand the scope of persons liable.

“HB 3467 does not regulate hazing, it makes all hazing illegal. The definition of hazing in the bill is inclusive,” Herrera-Dy said in a statement.

Herrera-Dy also maintained that the bill “will ensure the maximum penalty is applied.”— P. Jamilla

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