• EDITORIAL

    Weighed and were found wanting

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    The Commission on Appointments has turned down another Left-leaning presidential appointee to the Cabinet. Rafael Mariano failed to get the approval of the commission as secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform, bearing the brunt of the collapse of the peace talks between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines.

    Before Mariano’s rejection by the commission, Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, a former member of the communist underground that fought the Marcos regime, also failed to measure up to the standards set by the bicameral panel composed of 12 senators and 12 representatives.

    “In accordance with the rules … the result [of the deliberations on Mariano]shows that the weight of the scales ultimately tipped the balance against the confirmation of the appointee,” Sen. Vicente Sotto 3rd, chairman of the appointment body’s Committee on Agrarian Reform, said on Wednesday.

    Mariano and Taguiwalo had been taken in as members of the Cabinet in an apparent conciliatory move by President Rodrigo Duterte to get the peace talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the government back on track.

    Duterte appointed them despite objections from the political opposition, and even his allies, as he had to keep his campaign promise to resume the negotiations in the hope that ending the nearly half-century Maoist insurgency espoused by the NDFP’s Communist Party of the Philippines and the CPP’s armed wing New People’s Army, would pave the way for lasting peace in the country.

    While the path was paved with good intentions, the negotiations eventually reached a dead end this year and the two sides had to part ways.

    Trading accusations, each side stuck to its guns, with the CPP demanding, among others, the demilitarization of the countryside and insisting on a unilateral ceasefire, and with the government standing firm on a bilateral truce and unconditional decommissioning by the NPA of its firearms and ammunition.

    Mariano and Taguiwalo are perceived not to have shaken off their leftist leanings, with the former Social Welfare secretary having to deny on a public TV news broadcast allegations that she publicly channeled cash meant for a government anti-poverty program into beefing up the NPA arsenal.

    Sought for a reaction to the Commission’s decision on Wednesday to spurn his appointment, Mariano, however, saw the interest of “big landlords, oligarchs, businessmen and multinational corporations” as the force behind his rejection.

    Mariano’s fate seems to have been sealed by Rep. Josephine Ramirez-Sato, who called out his alleged involvement in an attack by armed militant farmers on a banana plantation in Tagum City, Davao del Norte in April; his order temporarily banning the conversion of agricultural lands; and his directive to review all land conversion orders issued by the previous DAR since 1988.

    During his confirmation hearing, he assured the CA that he does not advocate illegal activities of militant farmer groups.

    “As secretary of the DAR, I do not support, I do not endorse armed struggle,” he told the Committee on Agrarian Reform.

    Indeed, he may not, and both he and Taguiwalo had wanted to stay in government to continue what they perceived needed to be done, but despite good intentions and all, they had been weighed on the scales and were found wanting, as far as the Commission on Appointments was concerned.

    The stark reality of conflicting government and communist interests in this country where anti-communist sentiment remains strong now proves difficult to handle even for a president who had openly expressed support for leftist causes in the past. This may serve as an eye-opener for both the President and the Filipino nation as we all go through the pains of transition to the next level of growth as a struggling democracy.

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