Philippine lawmakers reject leftist cabinet minister in latest cabinet exit

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine lawmakers rejected the appointment of the social welfare minister on Wednesday after more than a year in office, marking the fourth exit from President Rodrigo Duterte’s cabinet this year.

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Judy Taguiwalo, a left-wing activist who was jailed during the 1970s martial law era of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, failed to acquire the 13 votes needed to get approval by the 24 member Commission on Appointments in Congress.

In the Philippines, all cabinet ministers must be approved by the panel and hearings can take place long after they start work. Taguiwalo’s appointment had been bypassed five times.

It was not immediately clear why she was rejected, but speculation had been rife that Taguiwalo’s future was in doubt after the near-collapse of Duterte’s peace process with Communist rebels, which was one of his top objectives when he took office.

Duterte is furious at what he sees as repeated attacks by rebels and duplicity by exiled political leaders to whom he says he has made numerous concessions.

Taguiwalo was nominated to the post by the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and Duterte hoped to show inclusivity and demonstrate his commitment to peace talks by giving two leftists cabinet positions.

Taguiwalo suffered the same fate as former foreign secretary Perfecto Yasay, who was found to have lied about holding U.S. citizenship, and environment and natural resources secretary Regina Lopez, who was deemed unsuitable over her widespread suspensions and closures of mines.

Ismael Sueno was sacked by Duterte as interior and local government secretary over corruption allegations.

Four senators took to the floor of the chamber on Wednesday to defend Taguiwalo, among them Ralph Recto, who said the Philippines “can never ask for a package as complete as her”.

“She holds the post by virtue of her ability, not by her affiliation,” he said. “If she’s an ideologue, then the ideology she subscribes to is the same one we believe in and that ideology is to serve the people.”

Duterte has insisted he does not try to influence the commission, even though he has a legislative supermarjority.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella expressed sadness at the rejection of Taguiwalo, who he said had impacted the lives of many Filipinos and served the Duterte administration with passion, professionalism and integrity.

Reporting By Manuel Mogato and Martin Petty; Editing by Nick Macfie