PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III will meet lawmakers from Mindanao this week to smooth their ruffled feathers after his adviser on the peace process, Teresita Deles, antagonized them in budget hearings and triggered calls for her resignation.
“I am meeting with various Muslim politicians this week. We will thresh out any issues, giving justice to all with the ultimate aim of achieving a consensus,” Mr. Aquino said.
“My confidence in Secretary Deles remains, but we always endeavor to address any legitimate concerns.”
The House of Representatives on Saturday adopted a resolution calling for Deles’ resignation over her remarks to Lanao del Norte Rep. Fatima Aliah Dimaporo, who was questioning her on her office’s P235-million budget for 2011.
“The problem with Muslim legislators is that you are mostly new and you do not understand how it works. I have been working on these issues for a very long time,” Deles told the US-educated Dimaporo.
She also advised Dimaporo to read her books before questioning the government’s peace initiatives in Mindanao.
Incensed, the 58-strong Mindanao bloc and the 30-member minority demanded that Deles relinquish her post.
Davao del Sur Rep. Marc Cagas also demanded that the House grant a one-peso allocation to Deles’ office, a call supported by Valenzuela Rep. Rex Gatchalian on behalf of the 50 member Nationalist People’s Coalition.
When Maguindanao Rep. Simeon Datumanong moved that the House pass a resolution urging Deles to resign, and for the resolution to be submitted to the President, nobody from the majority, or even the from President’s Liberal Party, objected, and the resolution passed unanimously.
Later, Deles said in a statement that she was “disheartened” over the calls for her resignation.
“Congresswoman Dimaporo and I had a cordial exchange of ideas on an issue that is close to our hearts,” she said, adding that she was very glad to see “that there is a young, intelligent Muslim woman leader who shares my passion for the peace process.”
But in a letter to House Minority leader Edcel Lagman, Dimaporo recalled that Deles had cut her off when she was asking about the peace programs for Mindanao.
“The overall tone of Secretary Deles was defensive, bordering on the hostile,” Dimaporo said.
“The things that she said, whether or not she is aware of it, were demeaning not only to me but also to my Muslim colleagues in Congress. I had expected at least some kind of diplomacy from a Cabinet member, and much more so from the leading officer of the peace process in the country.”
Lagman read Dimaporo’s letter to the plenary two hours past midnight on Saturday, when the House was about to approve the P1.654 trillion national budget.
Christine Herrera & Joyce Pangco Panares, Manila Standard Today