Protesters in prison shirts hound DAR chiefBy Jeannette I. Andrade |Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes on Monday played cat and mouse at Quezon Memorial Circle with protesters seeking his resignation for alleged incompetence.
De los Reyes had just conducted a press conference at Max’s restaurant, where he slammed “misinformed” bishops calling for his ouster, and was proceeding to another restaurant, Bacolod Chicken Inasal, nearby to brief “friends” from the National Anti-Poverty Council-Farmers and Landless Rural Workers Council (NAPC-FLRW) about the programs of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).
Along the short route, some 30 farmers belonging to the Church-backed advocacy group Task Force Mapalad (TFM) showed up, wearing orange prison inmate shirts to show that they were not afraid of being jailed, carrying placards calling for the sacking of the DAR chief for his alleged failure to implement the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), which is expiring in 2014.
A stunned De los Reyes was shepherded by DAR staff inside Bacolod Chicken Inasal as park security guards held back the protesters who attempted to storm the restaurant. The DAR secretary slipped out through the back door and disappeared.
After around 30 minutes, obviously after being told that the protesters had left, De los Reyes returned to continue the briefing with the NAPC-FLRW. But soon, the protesters resurfaced and surrounded the restaurant.
De los Reyes decided to leave, this time through the front door, protected by a contingent from the Quezon City Police District from the howling protesters. De los Reyes headed to his sport utility vehicle, barely missing being hit by a placard, and drove off.
TFM national president
Alfredo Jaime explained that the farmers were clad in prison shirts to show that they were not afraid of landing in jail for their stunt. He said that the farmers only wanted to send their message that De los Reyes should be fired.
During the press briefing, De los Reyes explained that his department was on target with the implementation of the land-to-the-tiller program, contrary to claims by his critics that with nearly a million hectares of prime agricultural lands still to be distributed, the timetable could not be met.
“I think they (bishops) were misinformed. The data they have, I think, is inaccurate,” De los Reyes told reporters.
“The decision for me to resign and let go is the President’s decision. I will continue doing what I need to do while I am still here because that is my job,” he said.
De los Reyes pointed out that the bishops’ apprehension that the department only had until June 2014 to distribute land to beneficiaries was based on “a misreading of available data” and “a mistaken interpretation of what the law provides.”
De los Reyes cited Section 30 of the law—CARP with extension and reforms, or Carper—allowed the DAR to continue acquisition and distribution of landholdings with pending cases or proceedings even beyond 2014.
The agrarian reform secretary said that he has started to send letters to the bishops to explain the real status of the Carper implementation as well as the process of land acquisition and distribution as provided by the law.
President Aquino has said that he intends to complete the agrarian reform program which his mother, democracy icon Corazon Aquino, launched in 1988 as the centerpiece of a social justice promise to ease poverty and remove one of the major causes of the communist insurgency.