New DAR chief Castriciones vows to prioritize farmer beneficiaries

MANILA, Philippines – Newly appointed Agrarian Reform Acting Secretary John Castriciones said that under his leadership, his department will prioritize farmers, especially those qualified to benefit from the government's agrarian reform program.

Castriciones assumed office on Thursday, December 7, in a "meet and greet" ceremony held at the Department of Agrarian Reform office in Quezon City. According to a DAR statement, Castriciones cited the neglect of farmers and the disregard of their plight as among the reasons of unrest especially in rural areas.

Aside from prioritizing farmers, Castriciones also wants to fast-track the distribution of certificates of land ownership awards (CLOAs) to agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARB), as well as the provision of support programs and services to ARB organizations.

He told DAR's top officials to look into the demands of farmers protesting outside the department's office in Quezon City. He also urged DAR officers and employees to serve with honesty and integrity.

Undersecretaries Rosalina Bistoyong and Karlo Bello, together with other DAR officials, welcomed their new chief on Thursday.

President Rodrigo Duterte appointed Castriciones as acting secretary on December 1. He took over the post of Rafael "Ka Paeng" Mariano who was rejected by the Commission on Appointments in September.

Prior to his appointment, Castriciones served as undersecretary at the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG). He is one of the 3 undersecretaries who complained to Duterte about former Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno.

Castriciones, together with DILG undersecretaries Jesus Hinlo and Emily Padilla, were later of accused of corruption in an anonymous complaint sent to the President. The complaint, supposedly from DILG employees, asked the President to fire the 3 undersecretaries.

Hinlo was eventually appointed as a member of the board of directors of the Land Bank of the Philippines.

Padilla will join Castriciones at the DAR as undersecretary, after Duterte signed her appointment papers on Thursday. –