LUCENA CITY, Philippines—Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes, who is up against Catholic bishops and farmers seeking his ouster for alleged incompetence, has found an ally and defender in maverick priest Fr. Robert Reyes.
“The present DAR (Department of Agrarian Reform) secretary is a man of integrity and competence. He is a man of God, whose conscience cannot live with either dishonesty or corruption. Both his conscience and his hands are clean,” Reyes said on the phone.
The priest said he has known De los Reyes for the last 30 years. They first met at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. De los Reyes was in college then and Reyes was the assistant parish priest there.
On Tuesday, Fr. Edu Gariguez, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-National Secretariat for Social Action, called De los Reyes “untouchable” and a “sacred cow” in the Aquino administration because the President would not let him go despite growing calls for his resignation.
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).
Reyes said that many farmers’ groups have already benefited from the current DAR leadership and these groups, which he did not identify, were grateful to De los Reyes “but were not making any noisy public statements of gratitude.”
“The bishops should also reach out and talk to these groups,” Reyes said.
He appealed to the bishops to also listen to the other side of the current imbroglio in the government’s agrarian reform program and allow De los Reyes “to objectively show how much work has been accomplished.”
In an interview in Mulanay, Quezon, on the sidelines of the land distribution program on Wednesday, De los Reyes reiterated his willingness to engage the bishops in a dialogue “so that they will not only hear one side of the issue.”