MULANAY, Quezon—“I’m not sacred and I’m not a cow.”
This was the reaction of Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes to Fr. Edu Gariguez, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-National Secretariat for Social Action (CBCP-Nassa).
On Tuesday, Gariguez said the chief of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) was “untouchable” and a “sacred cow” in the Aquino administration because the President would not let him go despite growing calls for his resignation.
“I’m sad that a priest said that. I’m just doing my job and will continue doing my task as long as the President wants me here,” De los Reyes said on Wednesday, on the sideline of a DAR land distribution program.
He reiterated his willingness to talk “with my beloved bishops to explain my side and the agrarian reform program of the government.”
De los Reyes described as unfair criticism that he had failed in steering the DAR to meeting its land distribution target under CARP.
“I’m doing my best along with the men and women of DAR,” he said.
Last week, 78 Catholic bishops, including Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, appealed in a letter to the President for De los Reyes’ removal for his supposed mismanagement of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). The Palace, however, chose to defend De los Reyes.
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, chair of CBCP-Nassa, said the bishops were just taking President Aquino to task for the promise he made to farmers in June 2012 that agrarian reform would be accelerated under De los Reyes and completed before the program’s expiration in June 2014.
Nearly 1 million hectares of prime agricultural lands remain to be distributed under CARP.
“This is what we’re trying to tell the President because he’s the one with command responsibility. But if the Palace says that they still believe in the present leadership of DAR, then in the end Malacañang should be the one held accountable,” Pabillo said in a report on the CBCP website.
“Our responsibility is to bring to (the Palace) the sentiments of many people—that there’s a clog and a problem at DAR and so the programs of government are not being implemented and there’s no justice,” Pabillo said.
“But if they stand by (De los Reyes), then that means they are complicit with what’s happening. They are the ones we should now hold accountable and, if in the end the promise of the President is unfulfilled, it is no longer the fault of Secretary Gil de los Reyes, but that of Malacañang.”
Pabillo urged the Palace to address the concerns of farmers about the slow distribution of land to agrarian reform beneficiaries and resolve the row between De los Reyes and DAR employees.
“The leadership at DAR should be fixed. Performance is slow as seen in its track record. If the President still supports (De los Reyes), that means Malacañang will have to answer for whatever happens,” Pabillo said.
“If the promise of the President is not fulfilled, that means it’s (the Palace) that does not want it implemented,” he added.