The Commission on Appointments did the right thing

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MARIT STINUS-CABUGON

I WAS one of those who sighed with relief when the congressional Commission on Appointments rejected the appointments of Gina Lopez, Judy Taguiwalo and Rafael Mariano.

Ms Lopez is no communist but she was praising the New People’s Army and suggesting collaboration. What Ms Lopez’s reason was for heaping undeserved praise on the NPA, I do not know. But she must have been oblivious to the fact that the NPA – aside from recruiting minors, abducting soldiers and policemen, liquidating soldiers and former rebels – makes big money extorting from mining companies. Thus, the NPA profits from mining.

Ms Taguiwalo was rejected by the CA for, among other reasons, having the DSWD give food packs to members of Kadamay who were illegally occupying National Housing Authority housing units in Bulacan. Ms Taguiwalo defended her act by saying that Kadamay members are poor and the DSWD helps poor people, irrespective of political affiliation. Kadamay is a sectoral affiliate of the communist movement. Most of the members are probably urban poor dwellers who deserve to be helped. Unfortunately, Kadamay exploits the misery and hopelessness of victims of poverty and mobilize them with the promise that what they can occupy will be theirs. The distribution of free meals by the DSWD was an encouragement for Kadamay members to stay, and for others to follow their example.

Ms Taguiwalo also had her agency extend help to the Lakbayan participants. Lakbayan is a recurring event organized by various communist organizations to get publicity and raise funds. This year, hundreds of members of various indigenous tribes and Muslims have been mobilized. The activity gained more publicity when President Duterte warned that he would bomb the schools belonging to the Save Our Schools Network. These schools cater to indigenous peoples with most of them in the Davao and Surigao regions. While the President’s statement was extreme, the military has evidence that schools funded and run by members of the Save Our Schools Network are being used to recruit and train lumad children for the NPA. However, the other side of the issue is that government, local as well as national, has also failed to cater adequately for the educational and other needs of lumad communities.

Last Friday the Lakbayan participants tried to storm the US Embassy in Manila. Do the various tribal peoples of the Philippines have knowledge that the Americans are at fault for the state of underdevelopment in IP communities? As for Mindanao’s Muslims, I learned years ago – much to my great shock – that many actually love the Americans. The US government has been working for a Bangsamoro homeland for at least 10 years. American soldiers have been walking around Muslim Mindanao, confidently and unescorted. So, why would Mindanao’s Moros want to attack the US Embassy? Of course, sentiments may have changed with the advent of the anti-American Islamic State.

As for Mr. Rafael Mariano at the helm of the Department of Agrarian Reform, despite my being adverse to the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas – the organization headed by Mr. Mariano before his Cabinet appointment – Mr. Mariano is one of the few top agrarian reform officials in recent history who knows the real plight of the farmers. There are too many cases of landholdings that have been exempted, coverage never enforced, Certificates of Landownership Awards being recalled or cancelled and never replaced. Farmer-beneficiaries have been subjected to harassment and lawsuits by former landowners who often also wield political power. These injustices must be addressed by the government.

My problem with Gabriela, Kadamay, KMP, SOS, their numerous sister organizations and the people from their ranks, who are or were appointed to government positions, is not that they are communist. No, my problem is that their loyalty is not to a democratic Philippines but to a communist state. In the short term, the goal would be to strengthen the movement at all levels, above ground and underground. The positions in the government were an unprecedented opportunity to gain public prestige and access to power—including appointing power—and resources. Some observers are surprised at how the communists have been silent or have even defended the killings in the war on drugs – but justice is not an end in itself for this political party. Rather, justice for individuals or groups that are not part of the movement is usually a means to recruiting and to gaining publicity.

Was the recent appointment of former Gabriela party-list representative Luz Ilagan as undersecretary of the DSWD a consolation prize? Ms Ilagan, a member of the board of Save Our Schools Network, is a consultant of the National Anti-Poverty Commission, which is chaired by Liza Masa, another former Gabriela congresswoman. Such a diminished role for the communist movement is welcome but it would have been much better if they had never been given powerful positions in government.

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