Rejected Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano warned President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday against appointing a retired general to his former department.
Mariano, who was rejected by a Commission on Appointments (CA) dominated by Duterte's allies, raised the warning at a forum to announce the Lakbayan ng Magsasaka Para Sa Lupa at Laban sa Pasismo (Farmers’ March for Land and against fascism).
Angry peasant representatives called Duterte an “executioner” and a “pest” to the rural masses.
They also vowed to fight “de facto nationwide martial law” and defeat Duterte's rightward drift.
“In Duterte’s first year of office, 81 peasant leaders have been killed by military and paramilitary troops,” said Danilo Ramos of the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura.
The Duterte administration has denied that members of cause-oriented groups have been victims of extra-judicial killings in the country.
Mariano, a three-term representative for the Anakpawis party before his Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) posting, said allowing a military man to head the department would worsen human rights violations against farmers fighting the onslaught of big developers, miners and plantation firms.
It could also permanently set back agrarian gains that farmers have paid for with their blood through more than half a century of struggle, he said.
“I do not want to see agrarian reform and the redress of historical injustice subsumed to the government’s counter-insurgency program,” Mariano told ABS-CBN News, noting the appointment of retired general Roy Cimatu to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources after environmentalist Gina Lopez was rejected by the CA.
“This happened under former President Benigno Aquino III with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and we see it returning with a vengeance following the rejection of former secretary Judy Taguiwalo,” Mariano added.
At the forum, Mariano said agrarian reform beneficiary communities could see the mushrooming of military detachments, especially in areas where landlords are resisting installation of beneficiaries.
The former DAR chief also raised fears about the scrapping of safeguards for farmers, including one that allows the department to pursue land acquisition and install beneficiaries despite a landowner’s legal challenge.
Mariano said Administrative Order (AO) No. 05 series 2017 corrects a crucial flaw in the agrarian reform program and could help ease decades of unrest in areas where landowners have tied up the process with court cases.
A rollback of AO No. 05, he warned, would spark new conflicts in around a million hectares of plantations that remain undistributed and some 200,000 hectares targeted for conversion to industrial and real estate use.
Mariano said the sixth version of an executive order on a two-year conversion moratorium awaits Duterte’s approval.
The President earlier expressed support for the proposal despite opposition from the National Economic and Development Authority.
The President had enjoyed friendlier relations with farmers. He dropped by their barricades at the Mendiola bridge in May this year at the height of the feud between agrarian reform beneficiaries and Lapanday Food in Tagum, a short distance from Duterte’s home city of Davao.
The President had expressed impatience at the historical slow process of land distribution and pledged to back Mariano’s efforts to impose timelines.
“As the Duterte administration pursues the conversion of agriculture lands to industrial and tourism zones, expect extra-judicial killings in the countryside to rise,” Ramos said.
The human rights group Karapatan said the military arrested 16 indigenous and peasant activists in Sarangani, Nueva Ecija and Batangas from Oct. 4 to 10.
Following clashes with the communist New People’s Army (NPA), the Armed Forces also launched aerial bombardment of communities, displacing communities, Karapatan added.
In Batangas, Nueva Vizcaya and in Palawan, conflicts are often linked to new mining activities and conversion of farmlands to industrial zones.
Joseph Canlas, Kilusang Mambubukid ng Pilipinas - Central Luzon head, said Duterte has abandoned all his progressive campaign pledges for the rural masses.
“He has done a complete turnaround and become a fascist President and we want him out,” Canlas said.
Duterte ran on a platform that promised inclusive growth for the poor.
He slammed the “total failure of land reform” under former President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, calling it a “farce” because of the dearth in support services.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has accused Mariano of aiding the New People's Army (NPA), Duterte said in the wake of the DAR head’s rejection.
Mariano denied the accusations, pointing out that oppression of rural communities provoke backlash from citizens.
Peace talks between the Duterte government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) are currently in limbo, stalling a critical agreement on socio-economic reforms.
Duterte earlier this month said completion of peace talks would not happen under his watch.
“The way that it is now, ayaw ko [I won’t]. And maybe it would take some time to… maybe another President to do it,” Duterte said.
Duterte has said the realities of the Presidency have forced him to step back on some social pledges.
“Of course, you have ideals; on what you want the world to be. But when you get older, you would know that this is not really possible, that life is really unfair,” Duterte said