Taguiwalo says antipork, tax stand behind rejection
Judy Taguiwalo on Wednesday said her opposition to pork barrel funds for congressmen in the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and to the executive’s tax reform package could be the reason for her rejection by the Commission on Appointments.
“What more could they ask from me? I did not steal money,” she told reporters.
Taguiwalo, a left-leaning activist who was jailed during the martial law era of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, failed to acquire the 13 votes needed to get approval of her nomination as social welfare secretary by the 24-member appointments commission in Congress.
She is expected to vacate her office immediately following her rejection by the body.
Third to be rejected
Taguiwalo was the third member of President Rodrigo Duterte’s Cabinet to be rejected by the appointments commission, after Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr., who was found to have lied about holding US citizenship, and Environment Secretary Gina Lopez, who was deemed unsuitable over her widespread suspensions and closures of mines.
Eight senators voted for the confirmation of Taguiwalo, who was one of three Cabinet members nominated by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
The two other NDFP nominees are Agriculture Secretary Rafael Mariano and National Anti-Poverty Commission chief Liza Maza.
Four senators — Ralph Recto, Loren Legarda, Francis Pangilinan and Sonny Angara — stood up during the plenary session to defend Taguiwalo and declare that they had voted for her confirmation.
Recto, the Senate president pro tempore, said the Philippines “can never ask for a package as complete as her.”
Pangilinan said aside from him and Recto, two other Liberal Party members on the appointments commission — Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Bam Aquino — also voted for Taguiwalo.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III told reporters he voted for Taguiwalo but said that after Wednesday’s hearing and before the appointments commission’s committee on labor, employment and social welfare met to decide her nomination, the situation for the social welfare chief was “touch and go.”
Sotto said this was because of Taguiwalo’s answers during the two-hour committee hearing where she was asked about her position on the tax reform package and the national identification system.
A source from the appointments commission told the Inquirer that the House of Representatives contingent on the commission had planned to reject the nomination of Taguiwalo.
The House and the Senate each has 12 members on the appointments commission.
Except for the eight senators who admitted voting for Taguiwalo, there was no way to say for sure how the other members voted, according to Sotto and Sen. Panfilo Lacson.
This was because before the secret voting began, the agreement was that they would count the votes until they reached the majority vote of 13 either for or against Taguiwalo’s confirmation, they said.
“Some spoke there, but I know they voted for rejection,” said Lacson, who declined to disclose his vote.
Senators Gregorio Honasan II, Manny Pacquiao and Cynthia Villar also did not say how they voted.
Despite her rejection, Taguiwalo attended the plenary session and sat with the audience to hear the committee chair, Davao Oriental Rep. Joel Almario, say that the panel rejected her appointment.
Almario said 13 votes for rejection was reached during the count. He did not say how the members voted.
When asked how he voted, an appointments commission member from the House said he risked losing his post if he violated the secrecy rule.
She expected the worst
But Manila Rep. Rosenda Ann Ocampo told the Inquirer: “Yes, I voted for her. She would have been a great equalizer.”
In her news conference, Taguiwalo repeated her earlier statement to reporters after she faced the committee that she was “hoping for the best but expecting the worst.”
She said she saw no reason for the appointments commission to reject her if it was only a question of competence and integrity.
But she accepted her rejection, she said.
“I have served the people well. I gave my all and I’m proud to say that my integrity remains intact and I have never lost sight of the people I have sworn to serve with fidelity and courage,” Taguiwalo said, reading from a prepared speech.
Speaking about her stand against her department releasing pork barrel funds to lawmakers, Taguiwalo said she had issued Memorandum Circular No. 9 to clarify that congressmen did not need a referral to get access to DSWD services.
“I stood up against continued pork barrel,” she said, adding she had told DSWD regional directors that the department’s funds were “not common funds and entitlements of congressmen or congresswomen.”
She said she had told congressmen who claimed their districts had money with the DSWD that there was none and that she did not want to violate the law, particularly the Supreme Court ruling that outlawed the pork barrel system.
Likewise, she had ordered audits and status reports to find out where DSWD funds go.
Another possible reason for her rejection, she said, was her stand against the tax reform package, which she described as disadvantageous to the poor.
She said she also took a strong stand for free tuition at state universities and colleges as well as additional pension or gratuity pay for workers.
Identification with Left
Another possible reason was her identification with the Left and that the assistance she would give to the needy tended to be questioned, she said.
Taguiwalo said now that she had lost her job, she planned to pack up her things and take a break.
She said she also planned to visit her mother.
She would miss one thing, though, she said: having a personal driver, which came with the job.
Taguiwalo said she, too, had a parting song like Lopez, who sang “I Believe I Can Fly” after the appointments commission rejected her in May.
She said her song was “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from the musical “Les Miserables.”
“That’s [what] I want to tell the people. That even if I’m not with the DSWD, I am with the people who are standing for what is right, for the people and for the poor,” she said. —WITH REPORTS FROM DJ YAP
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.