MANILA, Philippines – Though President Rodrigo Duterte claims to be serious about fighting poverty, he had no problem leaving out his own anti-poverty secretary from Cabinet meetings for almost a year.
Former anti-poverty commission chief Liza Maza admitted that she was not invited to Cabinet meetings since around September or October 2017.
"Noong nandiyan na siya (Secretary Harry Roque), hindi na ako ininvite sa mga Cabinet meetings. That was, I think September, October of 2017. Kaya hindi kami nagkikita," said Maza on Tuesday, August 21, in an interview with Rappler.
(When he came in (Secretary Harry Rpque), I was no longer invited to Cabinet meetings. That was, I think, September, October of 2017. So we never met.)
She was addressing an observation voiced by Roque in a press briefing last July 31 that ever since he was appointed presidential spokesman he had "not seen her in any Cabinet meeting."
Maza said Roque could have just asked Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr why she was not at the meetings, crucial gatherings where the President discusses policies and pressing issues with his alteregos in government.
"He can very well just ask the Cabinet Secretary who sends out the invitations instead of just bringing it out in the public and casting doubt sa aking (on my) responsibility as a member of the Cabinet," said Maza.
When she noticed she was not getting invitations, Maza reached out to Evasco.
"I asked Cab Sec, wala naman silang sinasabi (they weren't saying anything)," said Maza.
Maza tendered her resignation as National Anti-Poverty Commission secretary on Monday in a press conference held around 30 minutes before she called Special Assistant to the President Bong Go to relay her decision to the President.
Timing: If Maza's recollection is correct that the Cabinet invitations stopped around September to October, this means it coincided with the 45th anniversary of martial law, when groups, particularly Leftist groups, held rallies to oppose Duterte's seemingly growing authoritarian tendencies. This was also around the time of the deaths of Kian delos Santos and other teenagers during government anti-drugs operations.
Effect on NAPC: Her non-invitation to Cabinet meetings for nearly a year affected her ability to do her work as NAPC chief, said Maza.
"Of course, it's important because my work was important. Besides coordination and monitoring of poverty alleviation projects, we know it's in Cabinet meetings where policy directions are discussed," she said in Filipino.
"I could have helped monitor the projects linked to poverty, initiatives and decisions and how they impact the poor so that's what I lost when I wasn't able to attend Cabinet meetings. Of course, I had my own solutions I wanted to propose," she added.
While one avenue for her to speak with Duterte about poverty programs was the NAPC en banc meetings, which the President is supposed to preside over, these meetings were held only twice.
There were two other Cabinet members who Duterte had also left out of Cabinet meetings before – Vice President Leni Robredo and former Commission on Higher Education (CHED) chairperson Patricia Licuanan, an appointee of Benigno Aquino III.
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.