Malacañang on Thursday said leftist Cabinet officials will stay on as members of President Rodrigo Duterte’s official family despite the termination of peace talks between the government and communist rebels.
“They all enjoy the President’s trust and confidence,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement, referring to Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo and National Anti-Poverty Commission Secretary Liza Maza, who earlier said they would not resign and instead work for the resumption of talks.
“The President chose them as his alter egos because he believes in their capacity to serve and deliver sustainable basic social services to the Filipino people,” Abella said.
Maza on Wednesday said Duterte will be meeting them next week.
“From the report of [Presidential Adviser on Peace Process] Secretary [Jesus] Dureza in the recently concluded third round of peace talks in Rome, the President said that he will meet us to discuss the developments of the peace process,” Maza said in an interview.
“It’s really sad that the peace talks have collapsed. I am really saddened considering that the third round of peace talks went well,” she added.
She said that the resumption of peace talks is important for her and other leftist Cabinet members.
Duterte scrapped peace talks with the communists after the government and the rebels lifted their respective unilateral truce declarations last week amid claims from both sides of ceasefire violations.
The two sides failed to reach an agreement on the communists’ demand to free about 400 rebel leaders, the same issue that scuttled the peace talks during the previous administration.
Duterte has rejected the demand and assailed the rebels for attacking soldiers despite the goodwill gestures demonstrated by the government.
On Sunday, the President said he now considers communists as a “terrorist organization” and ordered the arrest of rebel leaders who joined the talks in Oslo, Norway.
Maza said she, Mariano and Taguiwalo will continue doing their responsibilities as department secretaries and it is up to the President if he will keep them in the cabinet.
“As of now, the responsibilities which were tasked to the three of us will still be performed well. Of course, in the final analysis, it is still his [Duterte] political decision if we will stay or not,” she said.
“As far as we are concerned, the reason why the President appointed us is because of our integrity and his trust that we will do our tasks,” she added.
In a joint statement, Mariano, Taguiwalo and Maza said they “will continue to engage within the Cabinet and the rest of the administration toward the resumption of the talks and strengthening the civilian voice in the peace process.”
The proposed Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms, which was tabled in the third round of talks in Italy, was the “most substantive agenda in the negotiations and is key to lasting peace and long-term poverty eradication,” they said.
They added that the two sides had reached “a common understanding of the agrarian unrest in the country and have agreed in principle to the free distribution of land to farmers and farm workers.”
with Dempsey Reyes