One of the many attributes of President Rodrigo Duterte is his ability to work tirelessly on pressing matters. He famously claimed that he works until midnight, disregarding normal business hours.
It is no surprise then that this work ethic is reflected in his Cabinet appointees. The more famous names such as Gina Lopez and Nicanor Faeldon are well-known for their gallant achievements in upholding the law and promoting social justice.
There are more Cabinet secretaries that are unsung heroes, who have made significant progress in their respective portfolios but are unheard of to the layman. These individuals include the likes of Social Welfare and Development Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, National Anti-Poverty Commission Lead Convener Liza Maza and Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano.
Secretary Taguiwalo first made a name for herself in the field of women’s development, before her foray into Duterte’s Cabinet she was the head of the University of the Philippines’ (UP) College of Women’s and Gender Studies. She was also a professor in their College of Social Work and is a co-founder of MAKIBAKA – a feminist activist group.
One of the earliest reforms she made upon assuming her post was to give casual workers of the DSWD the same pay and benefits as its regular employees. Taguiwalo also made it possible for destitute families to avail of the government’s cash assistance program without traveling to a DSWD office, a welcome reform given that the country’s rural poor are mostly in far-flung areas.
The management of calamity funds is traditionally controversial, as the disbursement of these funds are often delayed with red tape imposed on the hapless victims of natural disasters desperately trying to avail of cash assistance. Secretary Taguiwalo has seemingly ended this malpractice, the release of funds for victims has been expedited in the recent cases of calamities.
Similar to calamity funds, land reform has also been a bane of previous administrations. Despite mandated by law, the distribution of land to farmers has mothballed and many rural farmers remain destitute to this day. Secretary Rafael ‘Paeng’ Mariano was one such farmer himself before entering politics, President Duterte installed him into the portfolio to spearhead the agrarian reform process.
The trust the President bestowed him with was validated by Secretary Mariano, immediately declaring that he would stop the conversion of farmlands into other uses even before taking office. He also promised to halt all eviction of farmers living inside farmlands owned by feudal landlords.
These commitments to genuine reform have been substantiated, as more hectares of farmland has been redistributed to lowly farmers under the watch of ‘Ka Paeng’. These plots of land include that owned by prominent feudal clans, such as the Aquino-Cojuangco domain of Hacienda Luisita.
If a farmer is a prime choice to lead the agrarian reform department, then a known fighter of the working class is the quintessential pick as Lead Convener for the National Anti-Poverty Commission. Liza Maza was chosen for this Cabinet-level government agency that was specifically created to represent marginalized sectors in the decision-making process. She was previously a congresswoman representing the Gabriela Women’s Party and is a famed women’s rights advocate.
During her time in Congress she authored and successfully passed into law several pro-poor legislation, such as the Rent Control Act of 2003 to help stymie out-of-control rental costs as well as the Anti-Violence in Women and Children Act of 2003. Her dedication to help those in need led her to take a pro-active role in distributing relief goods to victims of Typhoon Haiyan, and representatives of the survivors themselves called on newly-elected President Duterte to appoint her as the DSWD head.
Maza was also among the most vocal figures in defending the urban poor group, Kadamay, when they occupied abandoned government housing stocks in Bulacan. As a result of the incident, she has championed for an improved government social housing program to relocate the urban poor.
The respective credentials and histories of these individuals all indicate a solid pro-poor track record, worthy of serving in the positions they were appointed. They have also proven that they intend to carry-out agenda that would cater to the gripes of the working class in the short time that they have served government through the various reforms they have enacted. It is a pleasure to know what they have in store for the future.
The problem of chronic poverty and underemployment remains a blight on the economic gains made by the Philippines in the past decade. To combat this, a passion to serve and a lot of hardwork is needed. Judy Taguiwalo, Rafael Mariano and Liza Maza have all proven themselves in those regard, the onus is now on President Duterte to ensure he retains these public servants in their respective offices.