Duterte's agri secretary: Cotabato's Manny Piñol

MANILA, Philippines – Will he be good or won't he? That's for the Cabinet that president-elect Rodrigo Duterte is constituting at present.

On Monday, May 16, Duterte identified former North Cotabato (now known as Cotabato) governor Emmanuel “Manny” Piñol as his Department of Agriculture (DA) secretary. (READ: LIST: Who's who in the incoming Duterte Cabinet)

Piñol may have been known in the past year as an ardent supporter of Duterte, announced mainly through viral Facebook posts throughout the campaign period. But going by his track record, he's more than just that.

His upcoming appointment is not his first foray into government. Just like the Davao City mayor, Piñol also has long years of political experience under his belt.

The good: Lower poverty incidence

A Newsbreak profile in 2003 described Piñol as “a politician by accident” who first ventured into politics when he substituted his father for the mayoral position in M’lang, North Cotabato during the 1995 local elections. He then served as provincial governor from 1998 to 2007 and vice governor from 2007 to 2010.

According to officials from the Mindanao Economic Development Council (Medco), Piñol helped push the Malitubog-Maridagao irrigation project. He is also credited for the bottom-up agricultural planning program of the province which focused on rubber, oil palm, banana, and coconut.

The two initiatives are said to have propelled the province out of the poverty trap.

During Piñol’s terms as governor and vice governor, North Cotabato saw an improvement in its poverty situation. From 41.6% in 2000, poverty incidence in the province dropped to 25.6% in 2009.

In 2010, he failed to reclaim the gubernatorial position after losing to incumbent Governor Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza who was recently severely criticized for the violent dispersal of protesting farmers in Kidapawan. The latest poverty incidence of the province is now higher at 48.9%.

Can Piñol apply what he did to his province to the entire Philippines?

Conflict with the MILF

Duterte promised peace in 3-6 months under his administration. The first president to have openly declared he is socialist, Duterte emphasized that his agenda for peace and order includes discussions with warring factions, including the MILF, among others.

When he was vice governor, Piñol was put under the spotlight for being the most vocal opponent of an agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). He was also identified with the Christian Convergence – a group that, according to a 2011 Mindanews story, strongly opposed “the idea of a sub-state and the expansion of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao."

Will the presence of Piñol – given his dissonance with the MILF – affect the “inclusive” peace and order agenda of Duterte?

Indicative of the armed group’s perception of the former governor, various news reports said Piñol topped the MILF's list of “peace spoilers” in 2011.

In 2008, he filed a petition with the Supreme Court to stop the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) between the government and MILF. The MOA-AD would have created the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) which would cover some provinces outside the ARMM, including areas in North Cotabato – Piñol’s bailiwick.

Moro rights group Suara Bangsamoro called on then president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to stop Piñol from “stirring people in their province by calling on them to arm” against the MILF. The group alleged that his statements “bolstered” vigilance against Moro civilian communities.

Piñol, in a Philippine Star story in 2008, was reported to have accused former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Hermogenes Esperon – another name being floated to join the Duterte Cabinet – of threatening to stop military assistance to his province for opposing the MOA-AD. The charge was denied by Esperon.

The High Court, on October 14, 2008, declared the agreement unconstitutional and illegal. The decision, however, triggered clashes and attacks by the MILF in Mindanao which displaced more than 700,000 people. In fact, two banana plantations owned by Piñol were attacked by alleged members of the MILF.

Problem with IPs?

Although his younger brother and incumbent M’lang Mayor Joselito Piñol was recently lauded for his housing project for indigenous peoples in their municipality, the elder Piñol was sued in 2009 by the Federation of Matigsalug and Manobo Tribal Councils (Femmatrics) for violating sections of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA).

Citing Femmatric’s own investigation, Mindanews reported that Piñol, the self-declared farmer, obtained 300 hectares of land in Barangay Binoongan, Arakan, Cotabato worth P3 million. The land was allegedly covered by the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) awarded by Arroyo to the IPs in 2003.

Piñol, however, dismissed the case as “ridiculous.”

Given his background, will Piñol weigh down or boost Duterte’s peace efforts? – Rappler.com

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.

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