DAR chief Mariano’s fate likely known Wednesday — Sotto

MANILA, Sept 5 (Mabuhay) — Members of the Commission on Appointments (CA) will likely vote on Wednesday whether to approve or reject the nomination of Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano as head of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

This, after the CA committee on agrarian reform heard the oppositions against Mariano’s appointment Tuesday for more than three hours.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, chairman of the committee, said the CA will likely go into executive session after the hearing on Wednesday, scheduled at 10 a.m.

“Tapos na oppositors so yung members na lang ng commission ang magtatanong sa kanya bukas,” Sotto told reporters.

“We’ll go into executive session afterwards, I’m sure. If we are satisfied, the we will vote tomorrow,” he said.

If the CA goes into executive session, the voting on Mariano’s nomination will be conducted through secret balloting. At least 13 votes are needed to attain a majority vote on whether to approve or reject the DAR secretary’s appointment.

In a separate interview, Mariano said he felt that his appointment to the post was already an expression of support from President Rodrigo Duterte.

“Bago pa magsimula ‘yung pagharap ko dito sa Commission on Appointments, wala akong naramdaman na kaba o pag-a-alala,” Mariano said.

“Kapag tinatanong ako kaugnay sa support ni President Rordrigo Duterte, yung issuance at pagkaloob ng ad interim appointment ni President Duterte, para sa’kin yun ay expression ng patuloy na suporta at pagtitiwala ni President Duterte sa ‘kin bilang kalihim sa Agrarian Reform,” he added.

Some 10 oppositors urged the CA to reject Mariano’s appointment.

‘Conflict of interest’

Noel Mallari, one of the oppositors, 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.

The said order states that “no person should commit acts leading to the dispossession of farmers presently occupying the subject landholdings regardless as to whether or not they are holders of Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOA).”

“Naglabas ng status quo order na kung saan sinasabi na hindi pa identified yung farmers samantalang in-award na ng DAR,” Mallari said, adding that Mariano authorized what he referred to as “grab-a-land.”

“Imbis na tulungan yung mga manggagawa sa Hacienda, mas tinulungan yung ibang magsasaka katulad ng ilang grupo ng Ambala na kamkamin [ang lupa],” Mallari added.

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.

Also questioned during the CA hearing was Mariano’s issuance of a partial revocation order last February, which has yet to be resolved by the Supreme COurt (SC).

In May, the high court ordered Mariano and Ambala to file their respective comments in line with the motion filed by Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC).

RCBC has accused DAR of failing to segregate the 500-hectare property which DAR ordered converted into an industrial estate in 1996. The Yuchengco-led bank owns 184 hectares of the area.

Last February, Mariano partially revoked the conversion order for 384 hectares under RCBC and Luisita Realty Corp. on the ground that the lands remained undeveloped. Mariano’s order essentially put the lands under agrarian reform.

During the CA hearing, Mariano said the revocation order he issued was based on the findings of a February 23 on-site inspection.

Sotto then asked Mariano if he was willing to convert the Hacienda Luisita property to industrial and residential lands.

“Ako, bilang secretary, kung agricultural land, I’m for the preservation of agricultural lands pero siyempre po, may iba-ibang konsiderasyon yan for the common good, for the preservation of agricultural land to ensure food security,” Mariano said.

Lapanday

Representatives of the Lapanday Foods Corporation also expressed their opposition to Mariano’s nomination as DAR secretary, saying he is “unfit” to occupy the post.

Hernani Geronimo, human resource services head, said Mariano “abused his authority” and “mocked the Constitution” for allegedly favoring Lapanday farmers in their demand to turn over the disputed lands to agrarian reform beneficiaries.

Geronimo accused Mariano of “conspiring” with members of Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. (MARBAI) to take over the land in Tagum, Davao del Norte.

Mariano on April 18 was supposed to install MARBAI farmers to the 145-hectare land, but it was postponed to “ensure the safety and security of agrarian reform beneficiaries.”

On April 29, at least 80 members of the New People’s Army (NPA) attacked and torched the packing plant of Lapanday at Barangay Mandug. A fish vendor was injured, and later died, because of the incident.

“Where does his loyalty lie? To the public or those who seek to destroy it? For this crisis he fanned, enflamed and imposed, he is not fit to be secretary of DAR. We urge the Commission on Appointments to reject his appointment,” Geronimo said.

Outgoing Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano joins supporters outside the Senate after a Committee on Appointments (CA) hearing on his confirmation on Wednesday. At least 13 members of the bicameral body rejected Mariano’s appointment. (MNS photo)

Mariano said he never abused his authority with regard to the Lapanday case. (MNS)

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