DAR Central employees, as well as representatives of DAR regional offices, waved goodbye to “Ka Paeng” Mariano with a heavy heart.
Mariano was the 16th secretary of the DAR since its formation on September 10, 1971. He was one of the  earliest choices of the President to lead the agrarian reform department following the nomination of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) on May 31, 2016. The NDFP nomination of Mariano as DAR secretary was part of the peace negotiations with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).
Mariano was a three-term representative of the Anakapawis Partylist from 2004 to 2013. He also served as  the national chairperson of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP).
In his speech during the turn-over rites held Wednesday, Mariano recounted his accomplishments in his 14 month-long period as secretary.
Beginning with his first move for the DAR to maintain an “open door” policy, Mariano said “Kung inyo pong maaalala, ang una ko pong aksyong ginawa bilang kalihim ng DAR ay ang buksan ang nakapinid na mga pinto ng DAR para sa mga magsasaka [If you would remember, my first act of office as DAR secretary was to open the closed doors of this agency to the farmers].”
According to Mariano, his  “open-door” policy has facilitated 209 consultation-dialogues involving 12,292 farmers with DAR officials from July 2016 to June 2017.  He explained that this is more than double the 97 consultation dialogues conducted the year before and more than 12 times the number of farmers involved in the previous year.
Mariano’s ad interim appointment was rejected by the Commission on Appointments on September 6, Wednesday after hours of grueling  question-and-answer out forth by its members. He was bypassed twice on May 23, and July 22, 2017.
On Friday, September 8, the Palace appointed Rosalina Bistoyong as officer-in-charge secretary of the DAR. Bistoyong, or Rose as fondly called by her friends and close associates, has been the agency’s undersecretary for support services since 2008. She rose from the ranks of government; a career executive spanning 28 years of public service.
At present, Bistoyong  serves as the elected national president of the National Union of Career Executive Officers (NUSECO)—a national association of government executives from the different national and regional government agencies.
In the turn-over rites, Bistoyong said, “atin pong pagsisikapan na ituloy ang magandang gawain na sinimulan ng ating mahal na kalihim at makaabot sa mas malaking bilang ng mga magsasaka [We will try our best to continue with the advocacy started by our beloved Secretary (Mariano) to reach out to more and more numbers of farmers].”
She also said that agrarian reform should not stop from awarding or distribution of lands but must continue with delivery of meaningful support services to farmers and agrarian reform beneficiaries.
Bistoyong promised to expand the various credit programs so that farmers can have enough capital and make the land productive. “Atin pong bibigyan ng pansin ang pagpapalawig ng pautang upang magkaron ng tamang kapital at hindi i-aryendo ang lupa [We will give attention to debt extension, to give farmers sufficient time to pay for the land and so as not to force them to sell their agrarian reform lands],’ she explained.
“Sa Negros at iba pang lalawigan, kabibigay lang ng lupa na-aryendo na agad dahil walang sapat na serbisyo [In Negros, and in other provinces, farmers were forced to sell thei lands under an ‘aryendo’ scheme because they did not have enough access to services,” Bistoyong said.
The arriendo system is  an informal leasing arrangement of lands between agrarian reform beneficiaries and local government officials, relatives and military officers among others. It is considered illegal under agrarian reform law and DAR policies.
Bistoyong also said that she will make an appeal to Land Bank of the Philippines to lower the interest rate of awarded lands which is currently at 8.5 percent to 4 percent.
Bistoyong started her career in 1975 as research assistant for the Population Commission. She was promoted twice. In 1989. She transferred to the Office of the Northern Cultural Community and, from 1989 to 1998, served as its Regional Director, then promoted as Executive Director.
She was appointed DAR undersecretary for support services from 2007 to 2010.  In November 2010, she was undersecretary for special programs and agrarian reform stakeholders relations until her reassignment back to being Undersecretary for Support Services in 2014.
The DAR-Support Services Office (SSO) is the lead office which orchestrates, coordinates and provides overall policy directions in collaboration with concerned CARP Implementing Agencies (CARP-CIAs) relative to the delivery of support services to ARBs and their organizations.
Bistoyong was also instrumental for the implementation of support services to former landowners whose landholdings were covered under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
Among Bistoyong’s outstanding accomplishments as Undersecretary for Support Services include the relaxed provision of credit under the Agrarian Production Credit Program (APCP) to ARBs and small holder farmers through their organizations. As of June 2017, the total loan progam amounted to almost PhP1.5B.
Through this provision, according to Bistoyong, the loan program served a total of 54,440 ARBs and paved the way to access the micro-finance services to fund their livelihood and other farm activities.  “Ito po ang ating mahalagang gawain na ating gagampanan upang maging makabuluhan at lalong maging matagumpay ang ating paglilingkod sa ating mga magsasaka,” Bistoyong explained.
Under the Support Services Office, Bistoyong has provided capacity development trainings to more than 239, 183 ARBs in Agrarian Reform Communities (ARCs)  and non-ARCs. Her office also facilitated  the increase in membership of 22,909 ARBs to DAR-assisted organizations.
Bistoyong is the current Chairperson of the National Steering Committee on Gender and Development. Through her effort, it paved the way for the issuance of Administrative Order No. 1 mainstreaming gender and development in all programs and projects of the DAR.
She said that “rural peasant women sector is one of most underserved sectors of the society that needs more attention especially in policy formulation.”


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