By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Calling it a “rejection of reforms,” various progressive groups deplored the Commission on Appointments’s dismissal of the ad interim appointment of Judy Taguiwalo as social welfare secretary on Wednesday, Aug. 16.
“The rejection of Sec. Taguiwalo only shows that the interest of patronage politics and corruption prevails. Those who are opposing her confirmation clearly are against pro-people reforms in the department”, Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao said.
Taguiwalo was former faculty regent of the University of the Philippines, from where she retired from teaching in 2015. A former political prisoner, she was a leader of the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees laban sa Detensyon at Aresto or Selda, and various other human rights and women groups before her appointment.
Last year, in response to President Duterte’s offer of Cabinet posts to the Left, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) nominated Taguiwalo for the Department of Social Welfare and Development, as well as peasant leader Rafael Mariano to the Department of Agrarian Reform. Duterte subsequently appointed the two, along with maverick environmentalist and media conglomerate scion Gina Lopez.
The three apointees were bypassed twice by the CA. Lopez was first to be rejected this year; while Mariano is yet to face the CA again.
Anakbayan chairperson Vencer Crisostomo also said that Taguiwalo’s rejection “only exposes how the neocolonial state with Duterte at its helm is utterly rotten to the core and has no qualm at suppressing progressive, patriotic, pro-people leaders like Taguiwalo and Gina Lopez who stood up against plunderous mining operations.”
‘Rejection of reforms’
ACT Teachers Representatives Antonio Tinio and France Castro cited Taguiwalo’s support for the SSS pension hike, the regularization of contractual employees in DSWD, as well as her controversial memo against political patronage.
Last year, Taguiwalo issued Memorandum Circular No. 9 which listed requirements for those wishing to avail of DSWD services. The memorandum made the agency’s services accessible to the poor who no longer need to get referral letters from the office of lawmakers, which was the practice before. The memo was also enforcing the Supreme Court ruling that Priority Development Assistance Funds, the lawmakers source of funds, as unconstitutional.
This earned her the ire of congressmen, who grilled her during the 2017 budget deliberations for the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Taguiwalo also supported the call for the resumption of peace talks and to address the roots of armed conflict and poverty.
“This rejection of Secretary Taguiwalo’s appointment is also a rejection of the reforms she instituted in order to end political patronage in the management of public funds. It is the rejection of the kind of DSWD that genuinely served the poor and marginalized,” said the ACT Teachers solons.
During the Arroyo and Aquino administrations, the DSWD under then Secretary Dinky Soliman was questioned several times for irregular use of conditional cash transfer funds. Soliman also came under fire from the public during Pope Francis’s visit in 2015, when the DSWD collected the homeless from the streets and brought them to a resort to hide them from view of the Pope.
“In the short year of her service, the DSWD championed the poor, women, children, and the Lumad and other indigenous peoples,” said the solons.
The CA through Davao Del Norte Rep. Joel Almario did not mention its basis for rejecting Taguiwalo. He said the CA has meet the 13 votes required by the CA to reject the confirmation. At least eight senators expressed their support to Taguiwalo’s confirmation as DSWD Secretary.
“Kung ang batayan ay competence, integridad, track-record at determinasyong maglingkod sa mamamayan, walang batayan ang rejection ng appointment,” said Taguiwalo in her interview with the press in the Senate. (If the basis is competence, track-record and determination to serve the people, there is no basis for the rejection of appointment.”
With Taguiwalo’s apparent removal from DSWD, Kabataan Partylist Rep.Sarah Elago said it would mean the “return of the department’s nature to fuel the neoliberal framework, through dole-outs and programs funded from foreign aid and debt.”
“These programs are set to also serve as counterinsurgency programs in the rural areas,” said Elago in a statement.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate also said, “Di dapat ganito ang pamamalakad na yung mga gustong-gustong bombahin o patayin ang mga mamamayan ay confirmed agad pero yung mga tunay na naglilingkod sa bayan ay nirereject.” (It should not be this way, those who aim to kill and bomb people are confirmed without a fuss, but those who truly serve the people are rejected.)
Meanwhile, women peasants group Amihan Peasant Women said the CA only showed how they are “salivating over the millions of funds” of the DSWD.
“The CA and their cohorts wanted a DSWD chief that will tolerate corruption,” said Amihan chairperson Zen Soriano.
Soriano said Taguiwalo has supported their call for genuine agrarian reform during her time as DSWD secretary.
“She understands that genuine agrarian reform and rural development is the key to address poverty in the countryside, being the founding Secretary General of Amihan. She consistently supported the peasantry’s struggle for genuine agrarian reform. During calamities, she was always on the peasant communities ensuring the quick relief for the victims where women and children are the most vulnerable.”
Human rights group Karapatan also expressed their indignation over Taguiwalo’s rejection. The group said Duterte has once again proven that the government is for the elite and not for people.
“With Taguiwalo gone and Rafael Mariano’s appointment still uncertain, the Cabinet is once more overwhelmed by militarists and neoliberal foggies,” said Karapatan seretary general Cristina Palabay in a statement.
Under Taguiwalo, DSWD worked for the swift delivery of relief to the disaster-affected communities. Taguiwalo has also said she is open to correcting flaws in the implementation of the much criticized Conditional Cash Transfer program.
In his supposed speech upon Taguiwalo’s confirmation, Senator Ralph Recto said, “I am seconding her confirmation because she brings a fresh perspective in the DSWD – and that is to treat not poverty’s symptoms but its roots, for the poor need more than relief, but a release from the social shackles that prevent them from bettering their lives.”
Taguiwalo said that it was an honor to serve the people as DSWD Secretary even just for a short time. Taguiwalo only served the DSWD for a year.
“Walang forever sa posisyon pero may forver sa paglilingkod sa bayan,” Taguiwalo said. (There is no forever in the posisyon but there is in serving the nation.) She also expressed her gratitude to all those who supported her.