The top anti-poverty official in the Philippines quit on Monday, days after a local court threw out a murder charge against her and three other leftist colleagues in what they had denounced as part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on dissenters.
Liza Maza, secretary of the government’s National Anti-Poverty Commission, said she was leaving the government after a court in the northern Philippines had revived a murder case against her and the three other leftist leaders, even though the case was eventually dropped.
“Upon deeper reflection on the events of the past few weeks, as well as the direction in which this administration appears to be heading, I am announcing that I have tendered this morning my irrevocable resignation as secretary and lead convener of the National Anti-Poverty Commission,” Maza said in a statement.
The judge who had issued arrest warrants against the four withdrew after the 14-year-old case had gained widespread public attention and her replacement threw it out, saying she had found no probable cause to indict the four.
Maza and the others charged – former congressmen Satur Ocampo and Teddy Casiño, and ex-agrarian secretary Rafael Mariano – had denounced it as an attempt by the government to stifle the voice of the opposition.
Maza said that while the “fabricated and baseless murder charges” were dismissed, the case had taken its toll on her work as leader of the government’s premier agency tasked with aiding the poor.
“I realized that similar attacks by the anti-reform, rightist and militarist forces in our society will continue to undermine my leadership of this agency,” she said. “As such, I simply can no longer work under these circumstances.”
In July, the four said they believed the charges were meant to stop legitimate dissent against the Duterte’s administration’s war on drugs.
Mariano and another prominent leftist, Judy Taguiwalo, were removed as agrarian reform secretary and welfare secretary, respectively, after the powerful appointments commission –mostly politicians allied with Duterte – turned down their appointments.
Maza also protested Duterte’s move to cancel peace talks with communist insurgents.
Despite resigning, Maza said she planned to return to helping the marginalized poor, including many victims of political persecution.
“I see that that is one of things I would like to focus on,” she said.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque thanked Maza for her service during the past two years, and insisted that the government had not abandoned the peace process aimed at settling one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies.
“She had the trust and confidence of the president and she resigned. We always regret when people who enjoy the trust and confidence of the president leave their post,” Roque told reporters.
Still, he said Maza could be easily replaced. In fact, Roque said “there’s already a very long list of individuals wanting to apply for the post.”
Ties to communist leaders
Maza and the three other leftist officials are alleged to have close ties with the communist hierarchy, including its founder Jose Maria Sison, leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) who remains in exile in the Netherlands. He had rejected an invitation from Duterte to return to Manila personally to talk peace, fearing he would be thrown in jail.
Last month, the government said it would stop all negotiations at a national level, although localized talks could take place with rebel units.
“Again, we maintain the president will only have peace talks with the communists if it is in the Philippines, if they will stop the collection of revolutionary taxes, if they will momentarily –while peace talks are ongoing – commit themselves to refrain from resuming the insurgency and will stay in a designated camp where President Duterte has promised that he will provide for their provisions during the peace talks,” Roque said.
Shortly after the talks collapsed, the government accused the rebels of plotting to overthrow the government even as they were pushing for them.
To broaden his appeal, Duterte courted members of the political left and heaped praise on Sison, his one-time college professor. Duterte released jailed communist insurgents to join peace talks abroad and appointed Maza and other prominent leftist leader to his government.
That soon soured after leftist organizations questioned some of his policies, including his drug war and the decision to transfer the remains of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos to a heroes’ cemetery in Manila.