DAR chief backed armed 'land grabbers' in N. Ecija, says CA oppositor

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 30 2017 04:22 PM | Updated as of Aug 30 2017 05:47 PM

Mariano denies allegations, cites DAR's 'open-door' policy

FILE PHOTO: Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano (center) poses with farmers at the Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac, October 2016. Romeo Mariano, ABS-CBN News


MANILA - Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano supported an armed group that stormed a cattle ranch in Nueva Ecija last year, the estate owner claimed Wednesday as she urged lawmakers to reject the official's appointment to the cabinet. 

Land owner Maria Teresa Gallego said around 250 men wielding bolos, machetes and katana forced their way into her family's ranch in Nampicuan, Nueva Ecija in October 2016. 

"They destroyed the cattle electric fence, cut and burned the cattle grass food, and said they are taking over our [land] and planting and building their homes there. In short, it was a breakdown of law and order," Gallego told the Commission on Appointments. 

She appeared as the bicameral body assessed the appointment of Mariano, a leftist peasant leader, as chief of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

Mariano, she said, met with and provided legal cover to the armed group, which turned out to be affiliated with the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), which he formerly chaired. 

Gallego said investors dropped plans to build factories that would have created 10,000 jobs in Nueva Ecija due to the alleged communist threat.

Mariano, she noted, had been a prominent left-wing leader from Nueva Ecija. 

Gallego also pointed out that Mariano faces pending charges of murder, direct assault and physical injuries. 

"Secretary Mariano has clearly demonstrated that he has a track record of violating the rule of law and providing legal cover to land grabbers," she said. 

"He lacks objectivity and has an unwarranted prejudice against land owners. He will be an obstacle to the peaceful and inclusive development of our countryside." 

DAR CHIEF FIRES BACK 

Mariano, for his part, denied inciting violence in the Gallego ranch. 

He said he had ordered a probe into the incident, but that it did not prosper because ranch owners denied investigators entry into their property. 

DAR, Mariano added, has enforced an "open door" policy for all stakeholders since he assumed office. 

Mariano was among left-leaning leaders who President Rodrigo Duterte appointed to his Cabinet at the start of his term, opening his government to the left in a bid to restart long-stalled peace negotiations with communist rebels. 

The CA earlier this month rejected the ad interim appointment of leftist Judy Taguiwalo to the Department of Social Welfare and Development. 

The rejection came about a month after Duterte suspended peace talks due to a string of attacks by the communist New People's Army on state troops. 

Duterte also earlier appointed former Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza as chief of the National Anti-Poverty Commission.