CA bypasses agrarian reform chief over lack of track record

MANILA, Philippines – With no more time left, the Commission on Appointments  bypassed Agrarian Reform Secretary John Castriciones after two CA members continued to question his qualifications.

The CA, in an executive session on Wednesday, March 21, decided to hold another hearing when sessions resume in May. Congress is set to go on recess on March 24.

Senators Panfilo Lacson and Juan Miguel Zubiri said two CA members were not satisfied with Castriciones’ answers and wanted more documents regarding his track record on agrarian reform.

Asked about it, Lacson said the two lawmakers are Senator Risa Hontiveros and Davao Oriental Representative Joel Mayo Almario.

“Requested for more documentation. 'Pag naibigay na (Once submitted), we will vote on the matter. 'Yun lang wala naman pong (That's it, there are no) violent negative reactions in the committee. Nothing to worry about,” Zubiri told reporters.

Minor. Merong members na 'di satisfied, ni-respect na lang namin members na 'di satisfied (Only minor. There are members who are not satisfied, we just respected [their opinion]),” Lacson said.

One of them supposedly sought to invoke Section 20 of the CA rules, which allows any member to move for the suspension of any favorable decision.

Castriciones said his non-confirmation would affect the morale of his subordinates.

"It will probably demoralize some of our employees, subordinates but we will continue to do our advocacy, duties, functions," Castriciones told reporters.

Not qualified?

In the two hearings, Castriciones was grilled on his seeming lack of track record to hold the top post in DAR. But he maintained he is qualified.

He earlier said the Administrative Code states that an official only needs to fulfill two things: to be a natural-born Filipino citizen and be above 25 years old.

But Senator Grace Poe, chair of the CA committee on agrarian reform, questioned this and cited a more specific law – Republic Act 6389 or the Agricultural Land Reform Code.

Section 50 of the law states: “No person shall be appointed Secretary or Undersecretary of the Department unless he is a natural born citizen of the Philippines, with proven executive ability and adequate background and experience in land reform here and/or elsewhere for at least five (5) years, and at least thirty-five years of age.”

Castriciones, a lawyer, also claimed he has experience in dealing with agrarian reform cases as a general practitioner. But on Wednesday, he failed to submit complete documents to back this claim.

Poe said Castriciones submitted to the panel only one case, wherein he was defending a landlord and not a tenant.

Castriciones was also presented a CA investigation wherein he is found to be "overly conscious" on security matters, as well as snobbish to farmer-beneficiaries. He denied this.

"No truth to the matter I am overly conscious and I do not entertain farmer beneficiaries. As a matter of fact, every day I have to take 10 to 30 farmers coming from different areas from Visayas, Mindanao," he said.

Prior to his appointment, Castriciones served as undersecretary at the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). He is one of the 3 undersecretaries who complained to Duterte about former Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno, leading to the Cabinet official's ouster.

Castriciones, together with then DILG undersecretaries Jesus Hinlo and Emily Padilla, were later accused of corruption in an anonymous complaint sent to the President. The complaint, supposedly from DILG employees, asked the President to fire the 3 undersecretaries.

He then filed a libel complaint against a Rappler reporter who wrote about it.

Castriciones is a member of the Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte-National Executive Coordinating Council Committee (MRRD-NECC) that campaigned for Duterte in the 2016 presidential election. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

image