PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III appointed former Negros Occidental governor Daniel Lacson as the new chairman of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).

"I have signed the appointment papers of GSIS chairman yesterday (Wednesday)," said Aquino in an ambush interview in Ilagan town in Isabela province Thursday.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

Lacson replaced former chairman Bernardino Abes who served in GSIS since 2004. He played a very important role in the Liberal Party's campaign in the May 2010 elections.

He was a former president of the Philippine National Bank during the reign of Aquino's mother, late President Corazon Aquino. He also served as chief executive of the Social Security System and local Philamlife Group.

How about Garcia?

Aquino meanwhile said there is no appointment yet to replace GSIS President and General Manager Winston Garcia.

"We are still finishing interviews of the nominees for President but we are keeping an eye on the problems of the GSIS," he said.

Immediate replacement of Garcia has been urged since he and Abes are supposedly co-terminus with former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Garcia has drawn criticisms from several sectors such as teachers and GSIS members as well, for his alleged mismanagement of the government agency.

Some complaints that hounded Garcia were the delayed posting of collection and remittances of GSIS members, low retirement benefits and deductions from loans that members did not apply for.

"In every place that we have visited during the campaign, most teachers would ask me, 'Where did our pensions go?' I would like to know the real situation of the GSIS. I can't accept that the reason was just computer malfunction," Aquino said.

He tasked Lacson to look into the matter once he assumes his post.

Lacson's credentials

Lacson is one of the 1985 The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) Awardees for Community Services.

A year later, he received a University of St. La Salle Fides Award. In 1988, he spearheaded Project Dunganon, another micro-enterprise project that provided around P500 million worth of funds for its 70,000-strong members.

Lacson has been a prominent fixture in the Visayan political and socio-civic schemes, having served as governor of Negros Occidental from 1986 to 1992.

"Bitay", as fondly called by friends, obtained his business major in the University of St. La Salle in Bacolod City.

He spearheaded the small-and medium-scale entrepreneurships in his province, which now provides income to more than 12,000 employees and organizes the Philippines' longest-running trade fair for Negros-made products in Manila.

In 1998, President Fidel Ramos accorded him with the Golden Heart Presidential Award for his services to the community and as presidential adviser for rural development and chair of the presidential council for countryside development.

He is the chairman of the Negros Business Forum, and, in 1994, was awarded an honoris causa degree by University of St. La Salle - Bacolod, his Alma Mater.

New chief of peace panel

Aquino also named University of the Philippines-College of Law dean Marvic Leonen as head of the peace negotiating panel that will facilitate discussions with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles said Leonen is apt for the position not merely because he is an expert in Constitutional and International Law but also with his efforts to engage himself in Mindanao communities.

"He brings to this critical task a varied and rich experience and expertise in advancing people's rights, having worked on various concerns ranging from agrarian reform, access to justice, ancestral domain, health, environment, international economic law," Deles said.

She said Leonen has gained the respect of the people in Mindanao as he took part in initiating and sustaining a collective endeavor within the academe, including Mindanao-based universities.

Aquino directed Leonen and his team to review all previous agreements, records of the talks, and documents exchanged by the preceeding panels.

The President also approved the establishment of an advisory council that would help the panel in to come up with peace negotiations with the MILF.

Members of the body will be drawn from representatives of our legislature, members of the 1987 Constitutional Commission, retired Chief Justices of the Supreme Court, representatives of local governments, and former chairmen of the government negotiating panel.

The peace panel is set to convene peace advocates from different parts of the country to determine the structures and mechanisms to ensure sustained consultation and engagement among constituencies.

"We seek to restart peace talks with the MILF fully cognizant of the parameters set by the President for securing the safety and well-being of our people," Deles noted.

"The path to peace will not be easy. In the face of difficult challenges, we ask for the understanding, participation, and support of all concerned citizens. The peace process requires the involvement of myriad hearts, hands, and minds," she added.

Deles vowed to update the media regularly about the status of the peace process.

Leonen is currently the Vice Chairman of the Constitutional Law department of the Philippine Judicial Academy. He has degrees in A.B. Economics (magna cum laude) and an LL. B. from the University of the Philippines. He also holds a Master of Laws degree from the School of Law of the Columbia University in New York.

In an interview, Leonen assured that the people in Mindanao will have a major role in achieving peace in their province.

"We will engage the public in the appropriate way," he said.

Leonen also said he is willing to discuss the issue of memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD) if it will be brought up in the table.

The junking of the MOA-AD, which supposed to set up Bangsamoro Homeland with the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, resulted in rise of violence in Mindanao in 2008.

Meanwhile, the panel tasked at handling talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) is yet to be organized.

CHR chief's appointment hit

In a related development, progressive coalition Makabayan has joined calls for President Aquino to reconsider the appointment of former Akbayan congresswoman Etta Rosales as chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

"Nagtataka nga kami kung bakit walang ibang pangalan na lumulutang dahil ang CHR should be non-partisan and Akbayan is part of the Liberal Party (LP)," Makabayan's President Satur Ocampo said.

In fact, Ocampo added, that Risa Hontiveros, who also served Anakbayan in the Congress and ran but lost under the LP ticket, has attacked the campaign of the Nacionalista Party, where Ocampo ran.

The group said Aquino should consider other names for the post considering that Leila de Lima, who now heads the Department of Justice, is a "difficult act to follow."

"Malinaw sa amin that she has her ideological bias against the mainstream left on human rights issues," Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casino added.

Rosales's credibility is even questioned by human rights communities, which will in effect, make her ineffective for the position.

The Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at para sa Amnestiya (SELDA), an organization of former political prisoners including those who were victims during Martial Law, also expressed disgust over the appointment.

"She has shown evident bias against most of the political prisoners and victims under the Martial Law period when she has sown disunity and created divisions among the victims by forming a breakaway group which took advantage of the victims solely for monetary claims," Romy Luneta, a member of SELDA, said.

The group cited Rosales's record of compromising the victims' interest for justice when she agreed with the settlement with the Marcoses for pecuniary reasons and in exchange for the dropping of the entire class suit filed by them.

Luneta and his eight siblings were tortured and imprisoned during Martial Law.

His sister Maxima, who was pregnant then, lost her child due to heavy torture. Her sister in law, a seamstress, together with her three-year-old daughter (Mr. Luneta's niece) were abducted and went missing since 1976; both were never found until today. (Jill Beltran/Kathrina Alvarez/Sunnex)