The Commission on Appointments (CA) on Wednesday afternoon voted to reject the appointment of Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano as secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).
Mariano is the fourth Cabinet official to be rejected by the bicameral body. The CA has previously thumbed down the nominations of Perfecto Yasay, Jr. as Foreign Affairs Secretary, Regina Paz “Gina” Lopez as Environment Secretary, and Judy Taguiwalo as Social Welfare Secretary.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, chairman of the CA committee on agrarian reform, announced the decision was reached through secret voting during executive session.
"The weight of the scales ultimately tipped the balance against the confirmation of the appointee," Sotto said.
He said 13 members voted against the confirmation of Mariano.
Sotto previously said he would have confirmed Mariano's appointment if it was up to him.
"I have known Ka Paeng personally for a long time, and I know him to be capable, competent and with integrity," Sotto said.
Mariano is expected to vacate his office immediately following his rejection.
Won’t endorse armed struggle
Earlier in the day, Mariano vowed before the CA committee that all acts of the DAR under his term will be in accordance with the law, saying he will never support nor endorse any illegal activities of farmers organizations and agrarian reform beneficiaries.
“This [public] servant intends to serve justice in the highest of interest na tinitiyak ang fairness...I will do my duties within the bounds of the law. Hindi tayo nag-e-endorso at sumusuporta sa mga ilegal ng mga gawain sa labas ng mga balangkas or [outside] the bounds of the law,” Mariano said.
“Tinitiyak ko na ang DAR, na ako, hindi nag-a-advocate, nag-e-endorso, hindi ako susuporta sa illegal activities. As DAR secretary, I do no support, I do not endorse armed struggle,” he said.
Mariano was a representative of Anakpawis party-list and chairman of militant peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP). He was also one of the nominees by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to Duterte.
Mariano was also asked by members of the CA about his stand on the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), which he supposedly criticized as being “fake.”
Mariano said he simply wants to review some of its provisions, including the prescriptive five-year period requiring landowners to implement a development plan of converted land.
He said the DAR is mandated to review if landowners complied with developing the land, and if not, it can be converted to agricultural lands.
Senator Panfilo Lacson questioned such review. “Kapag nag-review kayo, may element ng subjectivity at kung hindi sang-ayon sa inyong paniniawla, puwede n'yo baguhin. So nasaaan ang stability sa pagpapatupad ng batas?”
Mariano said the review does not mean it will lead to an automatic revocation. “Nakikiisa ako sa pag-aalala na walang stability.”
Direct participation to NPA attacks
Mariano was also confronted by members of the CA of a resolution forwarded by the Regional Development Council (RDC) and Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) in Davao Region over the New People’s Army (NPA) attacks at the facilities of Lapanday Foods Corporation early this year.
The said resolution was signed by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff General Eduardo Año, AFP Eastern Mindanao Command commander Lieutenant General Rey Leonardo Guerrero, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, and Davao Occidental Governor Claude Bautista, among others.
In the explanatory note of the joint resolution dated May 5, the RDC and RPOC said: “It was pointed out that, based on intelligence reports, officials of the National government have been linked to the Lapanday incidents.”
“It was in fact suggested that the GRP 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 planning of the Lapanday incidents, thus, have betrayed the trust of the Office of the President,” the note read.
Mariano said the allegation was “baseless, unfounded, and malicious.”
“I categorically deny my involvement and participation, directly or indirectly whatsoever diyan sa allegations na ako ay kasama, may partisipasyon or pagkakasangkot sa pagplano at insidente sa Lapanday,” he told the CA.
During Tuesday’s hearing, representatives of Lapanday also expressed their opposition to Mariano's confirmation, saying the secretary “abused his authority” and “mocked the Constitution” for “conspiring” with members of Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. (MARBAI) to take over the land in Tagum, Davao del Norte.
Mariano’s nomination as DAR secretary received 24 endorsements and 11 oppositions. Oppositors earlier appealed to the CA to reject Mariano’s appointment on the basis of his supposed partiality to his affiliations.
Owners of a cattle ranch in Nueva Ecija earlier alleged that Mariano was “involved in inciting and supporting the illegal armed entry” of 250 trespassers armed with bolos, machetes and samurai swords when they illegally entered their property in October 2016.
Noel Mallari, one of the oppositors, meanwhile raised the alleged “conflict of interest” for supposedly “protecting and favoring” members of the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Hacienda Luisita (Ambala) when the DAR issued a status quo order on July 1.
Mariano defended the order he issued, saying it was meant to find an “amicable” solution for all concerned farmer beneficiaries. He also said that he was never a leader nor a member of Ambala. —ALG, GMA News