I first heard the name of Undersecretary Maia Chiara Halmen Valdez when the head of the Philippine Coconut Authority, Avelino “Billy” Andal, identified this Palace functionary as the one behind the move to have Andal suspended. Maybe I should have paid more attention.
Andal claimed that Valdez was undermining the Duterte administration through her position as a subaltern of Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. Valdez, a lawyer, threatened to sue Andal for libel.
I learned that Valdez was a holdover from the Aquino administration, kept on after the departure of her former boss, Rene Almendras. And that she was also instrumental in the firing of National Irrigation Administration chief Peter Tiu Laviña, a former close-in aide of President Rodrigo Duterte who served as spokesman of the latter’s wildly successful presidential run.
After successfully having Laviña removed and Andal suspended, my sources in Malacañang said, Valdez trained her sights on National Food Authority Administrator Jason Aquino. But Valdez, who represented Evasco’s office in the NFA Council—the agency that sets policy for the NFA—encountered resistance from Aquino because of what she wanted the administrator to do: Extend the rice importation program, specifically by allowing the entry of 70,000 metric tons of the staple.
Now, I don’t really know if Valdez was acting on Evasco’s authority. All I know is that the “unli” rice importation policy of the Aquino administration went against the stated direction of both Duterte and his Agriculture secretary, Emmanuel Piñol, both of whom have been pushing for an end to importation and self-sufficiency in rice.
When word of the NFAC standoff reached Duterte, Valdez’ amazing run of head-hunting victories came to an end. Duterte fired Valdez, the Aquino holdover, saying he would never be able to face the farmers who voted for him if he allowed further importations of rice that benefited only the importers and the middlemen.
What I want to know is how many more Valdezes, officials from the former Yellow regime that is now thankfully ended, are still in the Duterte administration. And if they are indeed, as the PCA’s Andal claimed, working at cross-purposes with the stated goals of the new administration and undermining its policies.
While I appreciate what Duterte and his men are doing by keeping some Aquino appointees in their posts, they should be wary of Yellow Trojan horses and sleepers lying in wait to sabotage them. Duterte may have outed one of them by firing Valdez, but how many more remain?
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I join all those cheering the signing in The Netherlands this week of the interim ceasefire agreements between the Philippine government and the leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front. But I have another reason for joining in the jubilation, other than the obvious one of wanting peace in the countryside and seeing the end of the Asia’s longest-running Communist insurgency.
In fact, I’d like to see a real, full-on peace deal, with all the bells and whistles, signed by both parties immediately. That’s because I want to know if the aging Utrecht-based CPP-NPA-NDF politburo headed by Jose Ma. Sison is still really in control of the cadres and their commands in the Philippine countryside.
Over the past couple of decades, most astute observers of the Philippine Left have concluded that Sison and his graying band of Communist expatriates who have found a home among the Dutch have already ceded all authority to their remaining armed Philippine forces—numbering a few thousand now, from a high of up to 25,000 in the eighties, according to the military. In particular, the NPA is now believed to be operating autonomously where it still has a presence, subsisting on “revolutionary taxes” from local businessmen involved in mining, large-scale farming, infrastructure development and other entities that go through or (heaven forbid) seek to set up shop in hinterland areas.
We’ll know soon enough if Sison and his pals who co-signed the Netherlands ceasefire and whatever other pact they agree to enter into with the government are only expressing the hope that the rebel leaders here will implement them on the ground. And if the NPA continues its depredations, the movement will once again be exposed as insincere and a mere collection of independent entrepreneurs who do not take orders from anyone outside their small fiefdoms.
Of course, I would love for the Left to disprove this long-held belief, mostly in the ranks of the military, that it has lost its ideological moorings and has descended into banditry in order to survive. If Sison, from his Netherlands lair, is able to tell the cadres to lay down their arms and bring peace to the countryside while he and his comrades in Europe hammer out a lasting agreement, he would have done a real service to his country.
Independent third-party monitoring of the newly-minted ceasefire will also be key to its success. Let the whole world watch both sides stick to their truce; if they can do that, the whole country will thank everyone on both sides of the table—and in the countryside, where all ceasefires will have to be tested.