Maza quits Cabinet, hopes peace talks with Reds will continue

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National Anti-Poverty Commission Secretary Liza Maza

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 20) — "It's hard, but it's time."

That's how resigned Anti-Poverty Commission Secretary Liza Maza described how she felt about leaving the agency.

Maza was the last person standing among the activist appointees of President Rodrigo Duterte in his Cabinet.

The resigned Cabinet member, who served the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) for more than two years, cited three reasons why she filed her irrevocable resignation to the President Monday morning:

  • Termination of the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP);
  • Return of old and corrupt officials in the government; and
  • Attacks against activists like herself.

After deep reflection, she realized that the direction of the Duterte administration does not align with her advocacies anymore.

"With the current developments, hindi na po, parang hindi ko na nakikita na magkakaroon ng tunay na pagbabago na siyang tinutuntungan ko nung tayo'y unang umupo at hinawakan ang posisyon na ito," said Maza in a one-on-one interview with CNN Philippines.

[Translation: With the current developments, I don't see anymore that there will be genuine change, which was my basis when I took office.]

She sent her irrevocable resignation letter to the President Monday morning.

But, she disclosed that she never had a chance to talk to the President about her decision.

The last time she had a chat with Duterte was around May last year, saying that the President was busy with the Marawi crisis.

Maza said she spoke to Special Assistant to the President Bong Go about her decision, and informed him that she will go public about her resignation.

"Actually, just 30 minutes before or one hour before the presscon, I talked to Sec. Bong that I am going to announce my resignation. And he said he understands me," she said.

Malacañang thanked Maza for her service, and regrets her early departure from the Cabinet.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said "she had the President's trust and confidence."

"We always regret when people who enjoy the trust and confidence of the President leave their post, but I'm sure there will be applicants to the post," Roque said in a press conference in Malacañang on Monday.

Termination of Peace Talks

Maza said she accepted the position as the lead convenor of the NAPC, a secretary-level position under the Office of the President, because she wanted to help facilitate peace talks with the NDFP.

In fact, she became one of the government panel's advisers.

She added her job in the NAPC was related to the agreements being pushed in the peace talks, particularly on the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio Economic Reforms (CASER).

CASER is the supposed joint agreement being formed between the NDFP and the government that focuses on social and economic reforms.

These reforms include land ownership, profit, prices of goods, wages, tax and the development of various industries, such as agriculture, manufacturing and service.

Initially, the discussions went well, as the President was very open to end the decades-long insurrection, Maza said.

"Maganda na sana ang simula [The start was really good]. At saka [And] I was really hoping that CASER will be forged thereby addressing the root causes of armed conflict," said the resigned secretary.

But Maza said things changed when Cabinet members, who are former military men became aggressive in campaigning against the peace talks with the Reds.

"Talagang lumakas ang boses ng mga rightist, mga militarist. Sila ang unang-unang ayaw sa peace talks. If you are monitoring the news, we've heard Secretary Lorenzana saying na [that] the talk should be terminated. Gusto siguro nila yung gera dahil nga naman ang kanilang budget ay patuloy na nandiyan," Maza explained.

[Translation: The voice of the rightists, militarists is getting louder. They are the first ones who dislike the peace talks... They want war because they always have the budget.]

Since then, Maza said the President started setting conditions for the peace talks to resume... conditions that the NDFP is not inclined to accept.

For example, the President said that he will only allow the peace talks to continue if NDFP political consultant Jose Ma. Sison, who is in asylum in the Netherlands, will return to the Philippines to negotiate.

Sison responded against the President's proposal due to lack of assurance of his safety here in the Philippines.

Maza said since September last year, she was no longer invited in Cabinet meetings.

And she never got the chance to talk to the President as early as May 2017. All work related communications with the President were coursed through SAP Go.

Maza explained, "It was also during that time na nag-bog down ulit ang talks. So siguro alam naman ni Presidente na isa yan sa aking mga isinusulong din, ang usapang pangkapayapaan. Baka naaapektuhan ang attitude kung nagba-bog down... Di muna ako pinapa-attend. I don't know. Malacañang can explain that."

[Translation: It was also during that time when the talks bogged down. Perhaps the President knows that's one of my advocacies. It might have affected the attitude, so I was not invited...]

But Malacañang clarified that no one asked the NAPC lead convenor to resign but maintains the President's position on the peace talks with the NDFP.

"The President will only have peace talks with the communists if it is in the Philippines, if it will stop collecting revolutionary taxes, if they will momentarily, while peace talks are ongoing, commit themselves to refrain from resuming the insurgency, and will stay in the designated camp," Roque said.

The return of Marcoses, GMA

Maza is a staunch critic of the Marcoses and former President and now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The alliance of the Duterte administration with the Marcoses and Arroyo has irked the resigned anti-poverty secretary.

"Ang nakakalungkot po sa palagay ko yung luma, bumalik na [It's saddening to think that the old ones are back]. And they are consolidating themselves in power.

"Sabi nga ni Faulkner [Faulkner said]: 'The past is never dead. It isn't even past.' So siguro ganon ang nangyari sa atin, yung pwersa [Maybe that's what happened to us, the forces ], forces of fascism and corruption are still very much, again in power," said Maza when asked about her thoughts about Speaker Arroyo and the Marcos family.

Attacks against activists

The last straw, Maza said, was the issuance of an arrest order against her and three former partylist representatives under Makabayan bloc--Satur Ocampo, Teddy Casiño and Rafael Mariano.

They were alleged to be involved in the killing of two members of rival political party Akbayan in Nueva Ecija in 2001 and 2004.

She believes the case was really a political harassment.

The resigned secretary said she really thought hard about her position in the Duterte administration during the time that she's being hunted by authorities for two murder cases that she had nothing to do with.

"Kaya nga dito parang walang pakundangan na kahit nasa gabinete ako, nangyari pa rin yun. So much more sa iba na walang posisyon at walang means na protektahan ang kanilang sarili."

[Translation: It's relentless that it happened while I was in the Cabinet. It's so much more for others who don't have position and means to protect themselves.]

Maza and colleagues in Makabayan appealed the case before the court. The Palayan City Court eventually dismissed the case and quashed the warrants of arrest against the four due to lack of evidence.

No regrets

Maza said she has no regret in accepting the job to lead the anti-poverty agency.

Known for being vocal about her beliefs, Maza said she went against the tide, pushing for anti-poverty programs that are focused in improving the agricultural sector and strengthening industries in the country.

This, despite strong opposition from economic managers of the Duterte administration.

"I know that I'm going up against strong barriers, but nevertheless, atin pong isinulong pa rin ito [We still advanced it]. Siyempre sa limitadong paraan [Of course, in a limited way]. Ang dominant na pagtingin pa kasi sa ngayon ay yung dala-dala ng ating mga [The dominant perspective is still carried by our] economic managers, which is precisely implementing neoliberal policies," she explained.

Asked if she will recommend anyone to replace her, Maza said it's really up to the President.

She added all the officials in NAPC now are capable of leading the agency.

"Kay Presidente na yan. Pero sana hindi kurakot, yung talagang mauunawaan din ang interes ng batayang sektor, at talagang yun ang perspektiba na tatanganan bilang lingkod lider ng NAPC," she said.

[Translation: It's up to the President. But, I hope not corrupt, but someone who really understands the interest of the basic sector, and bears that perspective as service leader of NAPC.]

But as she left the Cabinet, Maza is hopeful that the President will have a change of heart and will resume the peace talks with the NDFP.

"I hope he finds it in his heart to heed the call of the people for peace talks, for real, genuine change that will once and for all eradicate poverty.

"Ito yung reporma sa lupa, pagsasaayos sa ating ekonomiya, pambansang industriyalisasyon. Gayun din yung pagtigil sa gawa-gawang kaso, yung political persecution and repression," said the outgoing NAPC chief when asked for her message to the President.

[Translation: It includes land reform, fixing our economy, national industrialization. He also stops making up cases, political persecution and repression.]

Aside from her accomplishments, Maza said she is proud that there is no tinge of controversy or corruption under her name, as she exits government service.

She added she will continue being vocal in her advocacies, especially now that she's out of the Cabinet —even if it means openly criticizing the President and his administration.