By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
The Commission on Appointments (CA) on Wednesday voted to reject Rafael Mariano’s appointment as secretary to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), making him the fourth appointee of President Duterte to be rejected by the powerful body.
The 25-member CA made the decision not to confirm Mariano’s ad interim appointment after an executive session at the Senate.
Earlier rejected by the CA were Judy Taguiwalo as secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Gina Lopez as Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) secretary, and Perfecto Yasay Jr. as Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) secretary.
Senator Vicente Sotto III, CA Committee on Agrarian Reform chairman, announced with a “heavy heart” during the plenary session of the bicameral appointments body the decision to reject Mariano’s appointment. He said 13 members voted not to confirm Mariano’s ad interim appointment as DAR secretary.
Davao Oriental Representative Joel Mayo Almario, a member of the CA, said he “sympathizes with the oppositors” of Mariano’s appointment. The CA “saw their points,” he added.
Almario said he would have wanted Mariano to stop the practice of some farmer-beneficiaries in illegally selling their lands, which he described as “short-sighted and detrimental.”
“I hope that the next DAR secretary would do just that,” he said.
Malacañang expressed regret over the rejection of Mariano’s appointment.
“We regret the news of Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Rafael “Paeng” Mariano’s rejection by the Commission on Appointments,” Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Wednesday afternoon.
“Improving the quality of life of our farmers is the commitment of the Duterte administration, and Sec. Mariano has been pivotal in promoting farmers’ rights and welfare and ensuring their security of land tenure,” he added.
“Our people will always be grateful to Sec. Mariano for his dedicated and passionate service to the nation,” he continued.
Likewise, farmers and fisherfolk groups condemned Maraiano’s non-confirmation.
Like Taguiwalo, Mariano sat in the Senate plenary hall to hear the CA’s decision. His supporters, all clad in red, were emotional as they lambasted the CA.
In a press briefing, Mariano said the CA’s decision indicated that “the interest of big landlords, oligarchs, private corporations” prevailed against the interest of farmers and the Filipinos.
“Kahit pa gampanan natin nang buong giliw at walang pag-iimbot, nang patas at walang bahid ang atas sa akin bilang kalihim ng DAR, hindi po basta na lamang mareresolba ang mga tunggaliang sa usapin sa lupa,” he said.
Mariano, who is expected to immediately vacate his post, said he will continue pushing for his advocacy of a “genuine agrarian reform” and will continue “to serve poor farmers.”
“Hindi naman po umalis sa hanay ng magsasaka. Mas hihigpit po ang aking pakikipagkapit-bisig sa hanay ng aking mga kapwa magsasaka, ang masang Anak Pawis at ang samabayanan…Tuloy tayo sa pag-abante para sa tunay na reporma sa lupa at kapayaapaan. Tuloy po ang laban,” he said.
Like Taguiwalo, Mariano was chosen by President Duterte to lead the DAR after his nomination by the National Democratic Front (NDF). He was a three-term representative for Anakpawis party-list and a chairperson of peasant farmers’ group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) for 30 years.
In the three CA meetings on his ad interim appointment, Mariano was grilled on his alleged partiality to leftist groups and even influencing their violent protests in various disputed lands. Mariano, in all the hearings, repeatedly denied the claims.
At the CA hearing, Mariano dismissed claims that he had influence over the attacks of members of the New People’s Army (NPA) on a banana plantation in Davao Region.
Mariano raised his voice at the resumption of the CA deliberation as he denied his involvement in the burning of the facilities owned by the Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) last April.
Occidental Mindoro Rep. Josephine Ramirez Sato, in the third hearing of the CA Committee on Agrarian Reform on Wednesday, brought up a joint resolution from the Regional Development Council and Regional Peace and Order Council of the Region 11 opposing Mariano’s confirmation as DAR secretary on the ground that he had links to the Lapanday incidents.
It was the resolution revealed by Sotto last Tuesday, with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Eduardo Año as signatories.
“I categorically deny my involvement, my participation in the planning of the events in Lapanday. These allegations are baseless, unfounded, and malicious,” Mariano told the CA agrarian reform panel.
Aside from Lorenzana and Año, the resolution was signed on May 5, 2017, by Governors Anthony del Rosario, Jayvee Tyron Uy, Nelson Dayanghirang, and Claude Bautista.
Tagum City Mayor Allan Rellon and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte Carpio also affixed their signatures on the said resolution.
The resolution, citing intelligence reports, singled out Mariano as among the government officials who have been involved in planning of the assaults by alleged NPA members on the facilities of the LFC in Panabo City, Tagum City, and Davao City.
The LFC has an ongoing dispute with members of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc. (MARBAI).
The provincial and local government officials likewise sought to remove Mariano from the pending peace talks with representatives of leftist Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front-New People’s Army (CPP-NDF-NPA), where he serves as the government panel’s (GRP) representative for social economic reforms. (With reports from Argyll Cyrus B. Geducos and Ellalyn de Vera Ruiz)