Neri Colmenares for Senator: A vote of protest and hope

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From the Neri for Senator Movement Facebook page

The Filipino family is under attack – from profit-seeking corporations bent on squeezing them dry for every kilowatt of electricity they use, for every cubic meter of water they consume, for every kilometer that they travel, for every unwanted trip to the hospital. Add to these the onerous taxes that put added pressure on already tight family budgets even as state support and services are lacking. Trapos running in the elections vow to address the people’s poverty as they always do every three years. But the people already know that the government of trapos has long abandoned them and that they are left to fend for themselves.

The good news, however, is that there are candidates like Neri Colmenares, who is seeking a Senate seat, that Filipino families continually oppressed by rising cost of living can truly rely on.

Government policies are always biased against ordinary income earners. Public utilities like power, water, and mass transport (LRT/MRT), as well as basic social services like education, health, and housing are being turned over to big business through privatization or public-private partnerships (PPP) resulting in exorbitant fees. This has been the case for more than three decades now under what is called the neoliberal framework in managing the economy and running the government. Neoliberalism basically means that corporate profits are more important than the people’s welfare. Aquino’s “Daang Matuwid” was all about this anti-people, pro-business neoliberal agenda, while appeasing the poorest with dole outs through conditional cash transfers (CCT).

If people want to stop the ever-rising costs of public utilities and push for sufficient basic services from government, the neoliberal onslaught has to end. Protests and other direct mass actions have always been an effective way to challenge and reverse the oppressive neoliberal policies that the Aquino and previous administrations have imposed on the people. But having progressive and non-trapo voices in Congress could also help advance the call for policy reforms to stem the neoliberal attack against the welfare of common Filipino households.

Neri Colmenares, the congressman of Bayan Muna and now a senatorial candidate, is one of the few voices that unfailingly articulated the people’s issues and demands in a House of Representatives ruled by political dynasties and the elite. The trapos simply do not have the interest to change the neoliberal policies that benefit them (including through kickbacks) and/or their billionaire patrons from big business that get richer via lucrative PPP contracts or from high electricity rates. In contrast, Colmenares has always been an activist – from his student days when he joined the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship that detained and tortured him up to the time when he became a human rights lawyer and then a representative of Bayan Muna in Congress starting in 2009. As an activist, he has always sided with people and opposed the abuses and unjust policies of those in power and the profit-seeking interests that they represent.

His track record as a legislator shows why he is the “Fighter ng Bayan”. He exposed and opposed, for instance, the unjust and massive hikes in electricity rates due to manipulation and collusion by big corporations under a privatized and deregulated power industry. Remember when the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) – with the approval of government regulators – once tried to implement a staggering P4.15 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) increase in electricity rates more than two years ago? If not for the prompt intervention in Congress and the Supreme Court (SC) by Colmenares and his fellow progressive partylist lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc along with militant people’s protests, Meralco and other power companies would have gotten away with murder again.

Among the more recent legislative proposals that Colmenares strongly pushed for is the reform in the country’s regressive income tax system wherein currently those who have a monthly pay of P50,000 are charged with the same personal income tax rate as the big bosses and owners of the country’s largest corporations. He also worked hard to legislate – and almost succeeded – the P2,000-increase in the monthly pension of members of the Social Security System (SSS). Alas, the neoliberal Daang Matuwid of the Aquino regime thwarted these efforts to provide much needed relief to the people amid rising cost of living with the President even vetoing the already passed law on SSS pension hike. (Read “Colmenares on Senate agenda”)

Before Congress took a break for the May 2016 elections, Aquino’s people in the House tried to railroad the PPP Act, which, consistent with the neoliberal agenda, would have given greater perks, profit guarantees and investment protection for the local oligarchs and their foreign backers and partners that participate in the PPP program – all at the expense of the taxpayers and the general public. But Colmenares, raising constitutional issues, successfully blocked the PPP Act and the House leadership was forced to delay its passage.

Electricity bills and other regular household expenses will continue to rise even as government systematically abandons its duty to ensure that basic social services are delivered to the people. After the elections, LRT fares and water rates are scheduled to rise as guaranteed by government’s PPP contracts with big business even as there’s no guarantee that wages will increase. The neoliberal onslaught will march on while ordinary families struggle to keep up with the ever-rising cost of living amid lack of state support and protection.

Among those running for the Senate, only Neri Colmenares has the proven track record in fighting neoliberalism and the hardships that it inflicts on the people. With him, the people are assured that they have a reliable Senator who will always stand up for and never compromise their rights, interests and welfare.

A vote for Colmenares is a vote of protest and hope – protest against the system that has oppressed and abandoned the people in favor of corporations and hope that the people can fight back and actually win. ###

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