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Nabuking! DAR secretary admits to lawyering for landlords

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By: Xave Gregorio

Acting Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary John Castriciones admitted before the Commission on Appointments (CA) to having lawyered for landlord and land tenants when he was still in the legal practice.

Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin questioned Castriciones’ qualifications, which the acting DAR secretary rebutted by bringing up his 26 years of legal experience, where he was a lawyer in cases involving disputes on farm land.

“I have had handled cases, your honor, pertaining to agrarian cases,” Castriciones told members of the CA Wednesday (March 14) during the hearing for his confirmation as DAR secretary.

He added that he gave legal advice on land dispute cases to fellow Nueva Vizcaya residents and farmers and to his former students at the Arellano Law School “who are now lawyers ad some of whom have been judges.”

However, when asked by Senator Ping Lacson on who he lawyered for in these agrarian cases, Castriciones admitted he was legal counsel for landlords and land tenants.

In a chance interview after the confirmation hearing, Castriciones said he was a general practitioner and handled criminal and civil cases of all sorts, including cases involving farm lands.

During the latter part of the hearing, Occidental Mindoro Rep. Josephine Sato asked Castriciones to provide the CA a list of the agrarian cases he previously handled.

“The sentiments or the questions about his experience on land reform could be answered [by this,]” Sato said.

Lacson said he also wants Castriciones to give the decisions on the cases he handled.

But the DAR secretary was initially hesitant with submitting the cases he was previously involved in, saying these happened years ago and he may have a hard time retrieving documents.

Sato, however, insisted and said, “If you cannot do it then we’ll stand to do it.”

Castriciones, in an interview, said he will try his best to recover documents from the cases he handled involving farm land.

“I will try my best to really dig my files if they are still there in order to more or less comply to their request,” he said.

Senator Grace Poe, chair of the Senate agriculture committee, noted that law requires the DAR secretary to have at least five years of experience in agrarian reform.

“Titingnan natin kung bilang isang abogado, ‘yung kaniyang mga na-handle nga mga kaso ay may kinalaman dito dahil makakatulong ito,” Poe said.

Issues of Castriciones’ qualifications had surfaced as early as early as his appointment to the post in December 2017, with leftist farmers’ group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas alleging that he does not have any background in agrarian concerns.

Other concerns raised against Castriciones is the delays in the release of land grants to farmers and his alleged involvement in hazing rites which led to the death of a neophyte.

The CA did not act on his appointment yet and set another hearing for his confirmation next week.

Prior to replacing former DAR Secretary Rafael Mariano, Castriciones was a Department of the Interior and Local Government undersecretary.

Castriciones was very active in campaigning for Duterte, having been the executive vice president of the Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte group.