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Living in Hope

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[Photo of Riza Hontiveros-Baraquel]No frills and no beating around the bush.

Unlike other politicians eager to grandstand, Akbayan partylist Representative Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel kept her speech in front of a group of Chinese Filipino businessmen short, but not exactly sweet.

Composed and calm, the congresswoman discussed some of the country's ills: from peace and order to the overarching corruption in government. Although politics itself seemed dreary for the most part, the legislator maintained people have to be involved in governance and that, someday, things could all change for the better. As she herself put it, “I have no choice but to hope.”

System Failure

At the Anvil Exchange Forum, Rep. Baraquel, tackled one of the problems faced by the Chinese Filipino community: kidnapping. In her view, the unresolved cases reflect police failure to protect citizens. “There is a systemic, not personality-based or administration-centered, failure on the part of the police force to do its job,” she said.

So what exactly is the problem with the police system? For Baraquel, it's the lack of reform implementation. The modernization and professionalization of the police force, as envisioned by the Philippine National Police, have yet to be seen.

The obvious question then is why can't these reforms be carried out. Well, lack of funding isn't the problem she told the guests. Congress, after all, allocates budget for reforms. Rather, it might be “a matter of misguided priorities.”

Bottom Line

“The bottom line and our greatest common enemy in our desire to realize this dream of good governance is the overarching corruption in our government and other locations in our society.”

Baraquel further elaborated that this culture of corruption, which is unfortunately deeply-rooted in our politics, deprives resources from where they should be properly channeled and spent. This thievery “destroys whatever trust or hope we have in our political and justice system.”

Said the solon, “When the people who are tasked to implement the law are among those violating it, then as citizens we find ourselves without refuge, with no safe harbor. Such has no place in a free and democratic society.”

Left of Center

[Photo of Anvil Exchange Forum]Despite the gloomy situation, the legislator still believes the bureaucracy can be improved. Otherwise, she asked herself, what's the point in running for public office?

The widowed Baraquel described her political party Akbayan as democratic left. Left because they want reforms and democratic because they believe in attaining those legally. Unlike extreme left groups, they don't believe in violence and don't have their own armed groups.

Social awareness and activism came at a young age for Baraquel. While still in high school, her mom brought her to a forum organized by the Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Philippines. This moved her so much she organized her own group at St. Scholastica's College. Like the grownups, they also called for nuclear disarmament. Years later, she studied Social Science at the Ateneo de Manila University and graduated cum laude.

Most would remember Baraquel as the eloquent host in television shows Firing Line, XYZ Young Women's TV, GMA Network News, Headline Trese, and others. Baraquel is also a human rights advocate.

For six years, she was part of the Government Negotiating Panel during the peace talks with the National Democratic Front. She also worked as a secretary general for the Coalition of Peace, a group dedicated to solving the 40-year-old communist insurgency.

Though an activist since her teenage days, Baraquel, at first, was reluctant to represent Akbayan in Congress. She turned down offers to run for public office many times for the sake of her young children.

But the Oakwood Mutiny in 2003 made her change her mind. Seeing soldiers taking over a hotel, she thought, “Are we reduced to these options now that even some of the so-called best and brightest of the armed forces are pushed to such desperate ends? Let us not be a part of this mood of pessimism. We have to keep on being one of the forces in society to create positive impulses and propose alternatives.”

Taking Back

And Baraquel wants to share this sense of optimism with the rest of us. Asked what her message was for Filipinos who have lost faith in the current political system, she said, “Let's take it back. Decent politics is ours. Politics is supposed to be [a] noble [profession]. It's not supposed to be an ancestral domain passed down from one generation to another. Do not give up. That's what the traditional [politicians] want us to do, [to] just leave the field to them. Let's deny them that and take it all back.”

Print ed: 06/09


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