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Philippines' top anti-poverty official resigns

Liza Maza says resignation due to attacks on activists and the collapse of peace talks with rebels

Inday Espina-Varona, Manila

Inday Espina-Varona, Manila

Updated: August 20, 2018 10:58 AM GMT
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Philippines' top anti-poverty official resigns

Secretary Liza Maza, chairwoman of the Philippines' National Anti-Poverty Commission, announces her resignation from the government of President Rodrigo Duterte on Aug. 20. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

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The Philippines' top anti-poverty official resigned from the government on Aug. 20, citing the collapse of peace talks with communist rebels and continuing attacks on activists as reasons.

Secretary Liza Maza, a leftist legislator who was named chairwoman of the National Anti-Poverty Commission, said she resigned because of "the direction in which this administration appears to be heading."

"I realized that singular attacks by the anti-reform, rightist, and militarist forces in our society will continue to undermine my leadership of this agency," she said.

"I am gravely concerned about this rising trend of resurrecting or initiating fabricated charges, filing proscription cases, arbitrary arrests, and other forms of harassment against activists," she said.

Maza and three other former legislators of the so-called nationalist bloc in the Philippine Congress had gone into hiding for three weeks last month after an arrest warrant was issued against them for charges of murder.

A judge, however, dismissed the allegations on Aug. 8, saying government prosecutors failed to submit enough evidence to support the case.

Maza said she is leaving government service "upon deeper reflection on the events of the past few weeks."

She said that the termination of the peace process, which aimed at ending almost 50 years of communist insurgency in the country, "killed whatever hope left in me for peace and meaningful socio-economic and political reforms that would end poverty and conflict."

"It's only through peace negotiations that the door to true change for our country can happen because it's here we concretize the agreements on economy, sociopolitical [reform], that will bring an end to poverty," Maza said.

Maza's resignation surprised a lot of people because she even told her members of her staff on Aug. 17 the urgency to strengthen the government's anti-poverty programs and campaigns.

She told ucanews.com last week about her eagerness "to get back to my work on pushing for anti-poverty policy reform, fulfilment of the people's basic needs, and greater participation by the basic sectors in governance."

She also defended her record as an activist amid mounting criticism that she was "enabling an abusive regime," saying that she "never looked at holding [her] post as necessarily equal to supporting everything that the administration does."

"Our proposed anti-poverty framework exactly challenges the prevailing neoliberal ideology that has underpinned our economic and social policy for decades," she said.

Maza's position in the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte had ham-stringed her feminist advocacy and sources in the presidential palace said she had not been really consulted by the president for about six months already.

The former government official said she will "continue to fight against political persecution whether I am within or outside of government."

In a statement, the presidential palace thanked Maza for her service to the nation as head of the anti-poverty body. Presidential spokesman Harry Roque cited Maza's "invaluable service" to the country.

"We always regret when people who enjoy the trust and confidence of the president leave their post, but I'm sure there will be other applicants to the post," said Roque.

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