THE Commission on Appointments (CA) rejected the nomination of activist Rafael Mariano as head of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) on Wednesday, the fourth appointee of President Rodrigo Duterte thumbed down by the powerful congressional panel.
Mariano’s rejection followed that of Perfecto Yasay (foreign affairs), Regina Lopez (environment), and Judy Taguiwalo (social welfare).
The departure of Mariano leaves the Left with just one member in the Cabinet, Liza Maza of the National Anti-Poverty Commission, whose post does not require congressional confirmation.
Mariano, Taguiwalo and Maza were appointed to the Duterte government upon the recommendation of the National Democratic Front (NDF), as a gesture of goodwill ahead of the resumption of peace talks with communist rebels last year.
But relations between the administration and the Left have deteriorated, and in July, Duterte cancelled peace talks with the communist movement represented by the NDF.
Mariano went through intense grilling from Rep. Josephine Ramirez-Sato of Occidental Mindoro about his alleged involvement in the attack by armed militant farmers on a banana plantation in Tagum City in April; his order temporarily banning the conversion of agricultural lands; and his directive to review all land conversion orders issued by previous secretaries of the DAR since 1988.
Sato read a joint resolution of the Davao Regional Development Council and the Regional Peace and Order Council issued on May 5, 2017 “informing the Commission on Appointments of the involvement of some government officials, particularly the Secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform, in the Lapanday incidents in Davao City.”
Mariano, former secretary general of the militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, denied any involvement in the attack on the Lapanday plantation. He maintained that he never joined the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed component of the Communist Party.
He said that the Davao regional councils’ allegations were “baseless, unfounded and malicious.”
“The CA did not call my attention regarding this. There was no official transmittal. There was no advice for me to answer. If there is evidence that I was directly involved in the planning of the Lapanday attack, if there’s proof, they must file charges against me. This is the proper venue to allow me to answer the allegation,” Mariano said.
‘No supporter of armed struggle’
Ramirez-Sato also said Mariano’s order to review actions of past Agrarian Reform secretaries created “instability” in the implementation of laws and directives from the Executive Branch. Sen. Panfilo Lacson agreed with her.
Mariano admitted having ordered a ban, for two years, on land conversion to “preserve” agricultural lands and to ensure food security. He also confirmed that he sought a review of land conversion orders issued almost 30 years ago up to the previous Aquino administration to check the implementation of the development plan of the land covered by the directive.
During his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Mariano assured the CA that he did not advocate illegal activities of militant farmer groups. “As secretary of DAR, I do no support, I do not endorse armed struggle.”
The Davao regional councils claimed that suspected NPA members attacked three business establishments and Task Force Davao (TFD).
The hostile acts, they said, resulted in the following: burning of two trucks of the Macondray Plastic Factory in Panabo City in Davao del Norte; burning of the Lapanday box plant at Buhangin district in Davao City; the burning of the house and vehicles of the Lorenzo family (owners of the Lapanday group of companies) at Barangay Pangyan, Calinan District in Davao City; and the IED (improvised explosive device) attack against TFD that conducted clearing operations at Barangay Tigatto, Buhangin District while on their way to respond to the burning of the Lapanday box plant.
The two councils said that based on intelligence reports, “officials of the national government,” including Mariano, had a hand in the attacks on the Lapanday Group of Companies and the Lorenzo family on April 29, 2017 in Davao City and Panabo City in Davao del Norte.
“It was in fact suggested that the GRP (government of the Republic of the Philippines) peace panel recommend to the Office of the President to exclude these officials, particularly the Secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), from representing the government in the peace panel as they are reported to have direct participation in the planning of the Lapanday incidents, thus, have betrayed the trust of the Office of the President,” the councils said.
‘Be mature enough’
Malacañang said on Wednesday that it regretted the rejection of the ad interim appointment of Mariano.
Abella said the people would always be grateful to Mariano “for his dedicated and passionate service to the nation.”
“Improving the quality of life of our farmers is the commitment of the Duterte administration, and Secretary Mariano has been pivotal in promoting farmers’ rights and welfare and ensuring their security of land tenure,” he said.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), meanwhile, said it will thwart any offensive by the New People’s Army (NPA) after Mariano’s rejection.
“If they (NPA) will be doing that as they have been doing in the past, we are ready to thwart any attacks against our soldiers, against our vital institutions,” Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of AFP public affairs, said in a news briefing on Wednesday.
Arevalo said the NPA and other leftist groups should take note of the fact that the decision of the CA was a “quasi-political exercise.”
“They should be mature enough to consider that this is a quasi-political exercise. With that being said, that is the mandate of the Commission on Appointments. We hope that they will accept this,” he added.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE AND DEMPSEY REYES