The lawyers’ group Counsel for the Defense of Liberties (CODAL) is urging Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to retire Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez. But I’m afraid it might as well ask for the moon–or the resignation of Mrs. Arroyo herself.

Twenty-nine lawyers including two judges convened Codal last year in response to their perception, amply validated since then by Proclamation 1017 and its implementation, that the regime has an alarming tendency to savage civil liberties. In addition to lawyers, Codal now includes among its members law students from the Ateneo de Manila University, the University of Santo Tomas, Arellano University, San Beda College, and the University of the Philippines.

Codal says that the Arroyo government “has been suffering [several] legal setbacks due in part to the adventurist legal opinions” of Gonzalez. Gonzalez, the group says, is responsible for the Arroyo regime’s being rebuffed by the Supreme Court on the Calibrated Pre-emptive Response (CPR), Executive Order 464, and Proclamation 1017 cases, since he is Mrs. Arroyo’s main legal adviser and presumably the drafter of these flawed issuances..

But Gonzalez, Codal also pointed out, has recently been rebuffed by Malacanang itself on two issues: the Michael Ray Aquino case, in which Gonzalez wanted the government to ask the United States government to extradite Aquino, and the Batasan 5 case, in which he wanted the five party-list representatives arrested.

“Secretary Gonzalez,” said the lawyers’ group in a statement issued last May 8, “has been overstepping his functions, which should not only be a cause for concern for the executive branch, but [also] a cause for embarrassment.”

Codal noted that the functions of the Secretary of Justice are limited to acting as the principal legal representative of the government. The Department of Justice is mandated to investigate the commission of crimes, prosecute offenders and administer the probation and correction systems; extend free legal assistance to poor litigants; preserve the integrity of land titles; investigate and arbitrate land disputes; and provide immigration and naturalization regulatory services.

“Nowhere in these functions [is it provided] that the Justice Secretary has to provide advance legal opinion to the media and discuss government policies in public,” said Codal. By doing so without that mandate, Gonzalez has “trampled on” the functions of the Executive Secretary, the Press Secretary, the Presidential Spokesman, the Solicitor General “and even the spokespersons of the AFP and PNP.”

Codal pointed out that Gonzalez had been shooting his mouth off about arresting the Batasan 5, for example, but in the end could not do so for lack of a warrant of arrest and because of the political backlash it could have generated.

The amended complaint Gonzalez filed before the Makati Regional Trial Court demonstrated Gonzalez’ “lack of legal expertise.” The complaint contained documents and evidence that had no bearing on the offense of which the Batasan 5 were accused, which led to the case’s being thrown out, said Codal.

Gonzalez’ opinion that the Batasan 5 could be arrested without a warrant “has placed Malacanang in a bind, since such can only be executed if the suspect is committing or is about to commit a crime in the presence of the authorities or they have personal knowledge that a crime has been committed by the accused.” In addition, part of the evidence against Representative Teodoro Casino and Nathaniel Santiago (of the left-wing group Bayan) “was about a supposed meeting by the CPP-NPA in 1992 when [Casino and Santiago] were in their teens!”

Gonzalez is well-known by the media and that part of the public that still bothers to keep track of the horrors in the archipelago of our nightmares. He does have a mouth on him, and his “legal expertise” is the subject of disparaging laughter among certain lawyers’ groups.

He’s also fond of issuing statements and announcing courses of action the Arroyo regime has had cause to regret. Codal did not mention that Gonzalez has also been rebuffed by another judge of the Makati Regional Trial Court, which two weeks ago began hearings on the rape of a Filipina by four US Marines at the Subic Free Port.

Gonzalez had downgraded the charge against three of the four from principals to “accessories”—on the argument, no better than that of your barber’s, that while they were present during the rape, they did not rape the Filipina. The Makati RTC said thanks, but no thanks: all four will be charged as principals on the basis of the principle that those present during the commission of a crime who may even have incited its commission are equally guilty of the offense.

But the worst thing about Gonzalez is not that he’s become the butt of jokes not only among lawyers. He’s also a joke among the media including most of the journalists who cover him. He’s been called various unflattering names, most of them focused on the state of his mental health, by ordinary citizens. Since he’s a loud presence in the media, and a leading regime official, his disrepute reflects on the regime itself.

But does his—to put it kindly—flawed legal expertise, motor-mouth and capacity to say the most outrageous things without the benefit of thought (the most recent was his declaration that “the Batasan 5 should go back to the hills”—a prescription for rebellion if ever there was one) mean that Malacanang will be relieving him soon of his post?

Not likely. The Codal position assumes that Gonzalez is acting on his own and Mrs. Arroyo is not responsible for his acts and statements. But it is likely that his function in the regime is to test public reception of its plans against critics, the media, and the opposition, and to absorb the resulting flak. His task as well is to look for whatever loophole there may be in the Bill of Rights and to devise whatever means there may be to circumvent it. He is at the very center of regime purposes, and as crude as most of his statements and acts are, he is the regime personified.

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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