MANILA - Several left-wing lawmakers at the House of Representatives on Thursday aired misgivings about the latest additions to President Rodrigo Duterte's Cabinet.
Progressive groups, for one, railed at the appointment of 9 former military officials who now enjoy Cabinet and sub-cabinet positions in the administration.
So far, the following men have been assigned to top government posts:
- Gen. Ricardo Visaya (Ret.) - National Irrigation Administration,
- Ricardo Jalad - National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council,
- Nicanor Faeldon - Bureau of Customs,
- Alexander Balutan - Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office,
- Jason Aquino - National Food Authority,
- Delfin Lorenzana - Secretary of National Defense,
- National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon,
- Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, and
- designated Interior Secretary Eduardo Año.
The progressive bloc, meanwhile, has Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo and Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano in the Cabinet. Both presidential appointees have yet to be confirmed for their posts.
"Makabayan believes na it seems nagkakaroon ang militarization in the cabinet, the civilian bureaucracy, especially the cabinet strategic departments," Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao said in a press conference.
"Nagkaroon na po ng 9 appointments sa different positions in the Cabinet and national agencies occupied by former generals, military generals na may mga track record ng abuses sa human rights," he claimed.
Casilao questioned the human rights records of Cimatu, who took the helm at the controversial post vacated by Gina Lopez; and Año, who was tapped to the post currently headed by officer-in-charge Catalino Cuy.
"[Si] Cimatu, may mga unresolved cases, may mga bones in the Cabinet, may mga unresolved human rights cases. Ito, Jonas Burgos for the case of Año," he said.
Casilao thinks Duterte is "taking a very dangerous track" with these appointments, and may be leading towards an authoritarian rule despite his pronouncements that he will not declare martial law.
"Ang nangyayari ngayon, ang occupation ng former generals in Cabinet positions and national government agencies is going towards an authoritarian militarist policy," he said.
"Kung anuman ang kasanayan at training na meron itong mga dating heneral ng AFP at naka-okupa ngayon sa mahahalagang posisyon sibilyan ay maaaring magresulta ito ng mas malalaking problema and it will not help the Duterte government but it will lead only to serious problems in the future in the different aspects they will be administering," he said.
Casilao also said Cimatu's experience for DENR may be questioned the way Lopez's was.
Casilao claimed that the AFP has protected mining companies. "Sa tingin namin naging mahalaga ang papel ng AFP, being one of the lead agency in the investment defense force, ang ibig sabihin sila po ang nagpoprotekta sa mga mining companies."
"Under the watch of General Cimatu, we fear that mining companies now natutuwa dahil they have all the protection of the AFP to continue plundering the resources of our nation. With the help of the AFP, mas lalong lalala ang karansan at kalagayan ng mga mining communities involving farmers and indigenous peoples," he said.
Gabriela Party-List Rep. Arlene Brosas echoed Casilao's concerns on Cimatu's alleged human rights violations record during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
"Nung siya ay presidente, napakaraming EJK (extrajudicial killings) na nangyari, kalakhan ay aktibista defending the civil liberties and nagre-resist sa fascist na pamamaraan ng mga panahon na yon," she said.
"Kaya nangangamba kami sa pagtalaga bilang DENR Acting Secretary. Tignin namin ang mas mapapaboran sa mga ganito ay mga aggressive na mining companies, big agressive na nandito sa ganiyang pagpoproteksyon," she said.
On the other hand, Casilao also reminded the public that Año is linked to the disappearance of activist Jonas Burgos.
"Yung sinasabi namin, master of differences si Año. The case at hand is Jonas Burgos. Now, with the war on drugs, one of the lead agency not only the PNP [but] also the DILG. Ang kombinasyon kasi ng ganiyang orientasyong militar sa ganitong mga policy na iimplement will definitely endanger further the alarming state of human rights in the Philippines."
The bloc, however, said they don't have the last say on the matter.
"Ang pagpuna namin dito sa mga appointments kasi nga may mga record sila, sinasabi naming previous records na unresolved, sa tingin namin dapat maipa-abot at mailahad. Di naman namin sinasabi na dahil sa mga record na ito wala na silang... It's still the prerogative of the president," said Casilao.
"Sinasabi namin ito mga track record nila na dapat bantayan. Gusto natin ialarma, magraise ng red light dahil sa mga track record na ito pero sa aktuwal na implementasyon, kung makikita positibo, why not recognize," he added.
ABS-CBN News is still trying to get the side of Cimatu and other appointees under fire from progressive bloc lawmakers.
Meanwhile, ACTS OFW Party List Rep. John Bertiz welcomes the appointment of Cimatu, noting the help the former military man has extended to the sector when he was a special envoy.
"Kay Gen. Cimatu napakalaki [ng] naitulong niya sa sector ng OFW lalo na nagkaroon ng crisis sa Middle East. Sa pagiging DENR [secretary] siguro discipline andoon pero di ko alam ang background niya pagdating sa DENR. Dadaan sa most powerful committee na CA."
Cibac Party List Rep. Sherwin Tugna also doesn't see anything wrong with the appointment of the former military officials.
"Ako, doon sa nabanggit na 4, halos jobfit naman yung nai-appoint sa DND si Gen. Lorenzana, former Gen. Esperon, Gen. Cimatu sa DENR."
"Of course I'm merely talking about Gen. Cimatu. I'm just presuming he has discipline because he came from the academy, nag-lead rin siya ng tao pero katulad niya at katulad ng would-be DILG Secretary Gen. Año, dapat marami pa silang matutuhan in terms of the know how when it comes to the agency--meaning kailangan i-fast track nila yung learning curve nila."
"Right now, yes they have the leadership to some extent they have management because they were leaders of uniformed personnel pero siyempre ang bureaucracy ng isang DENR, most especially DILG which has control over the police which has control over all LGUs ibang field yan so kailangan may mga nakapaligid sa kanila na sila ay matuturuan ng tama pinakamahalaga. May competence, may integrity, yung mga naappoint tapos maifast track yung kanilang konowledge," he added.
Quezon City Rep. Winston “Winnie” Castelo also welcomed Duterte’s four new appointments to the Cabinet, saying the are a "fine addition" and an "injection of new blood" to the executive branch.
“The President is creating dynamics in the Cabinet to make way for more creative and effective execution of his policies and programs – one that suits his style and philosophy,” Castelo said.