Friday, October 05, 2007

Secretary Gonzalez To Be Released On Sunday

Yesterday, Iloilo City Congressman Jun Gonzalez happily informed me that his father will be released from the National Kidney Institute this coming Sunday. According to him, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez's kidney transplant operation was highly successful and estimates that it will take another week or two for the Secretary to recuperate and be healthy enough to resume his duties in the Cabinet. If it was up to him (and his other siblings), Congressman Jun would rather see his father retire from his highly stressful job in the Justice Department but added that the decision would ultimately be up to the President. He quipped that his father, a known workaholic, doesn't seem to grasp the concept of retirement and he suspects that the Secretary would probably "whither away" when stripped of something to do. He says that even now, his father is aching to get back at the saddle and they are hard put to make him relax and take his mind off his job at the Justice Department.

Vilified in the press, Secretary Gonzalez has become the scourge of people critical of the GMA administration and his "colorful" remarks have offended civil society groups. When news about his failing health broke out months ago, many people hoped that the President would finally replace this petulant Ilonggo with someone more pliant or pleasant. The Philippine Daily Inquirer, in an editorial, called on President Arroyo to retire him permanently, to quote:

"We say, like some senators, that Gonzalez should make his leave permanent because it will be good for his health. He has rendered enough service (or disservice, depending on one’s point of view) to his country and should be allowed to rest. There are hundreds of brilliant lawyers who can fill his shoes at the Department of Justice. It is not as if Gonzalez is indispensable, and is the only one who is qualified to be secretary of justice.

Gonzalez is a prime example of a Cabinet member who has politicized his position. He has not dispensed impartial, unbiased and apolitical justice. In many of his decisions, actions and statements, he has been biased, political and very protective of Ms Arroyo. Most of the time, one listening to him would think that he is not the justice secretary but a political or publicity spokesperson of the President and her administration."

Whoever wrote that Inquirer editorial totally missed the true nature and function of the post. The Justice Secretary in fact is supposed to be "biased, political and very protective" of his or her president. I remember that during his stint at the Justice Department, former Senate President Franklin Drilon (another Ilonggo) had Senator Juan Ponce Enrile arrested (right at the Senate steps, if I remember correctly) for his alleged complicity in the coup plots against then-President Cory Aquino. Even Bobby Kennedy, who served as Attorney General (the counterpart of our Justice Secretary here) to JFK, used his office to defend his brother from his detractors and protect him from politically embarrassing situations. Throughout his stint at the Attorney General’s Office, Bobby functioned more as the "bad cop" to JFK's "good cop," the brass knuckle to President Kennedy's velvet glove. Gonzalez was not the first to "politicize" the position. If you examine closely, all justice secretaries from Quezon down to Estrada have been "biased, political and very protective" of their respective presidents. Serafin Cuevas was not as "biased, political and very protective" of his president, and look where Erap is now. The Justice Secretary, therefore, is more like a samurai who is supposed to defend his liege lord or a matador who tries to impress the damsel with his deft bull-slaying moves.

I am sure that there are probably hundreds of lawyers out there who think they are more brilliant than Gonzalez (as most lawyers are wont to think). But brilliance is but one of the qualifications to the job. Loyalty and political savvy are other traits required of a Justice Secretary. One brilliant lawyer I know who invited GMA to transfer MalacaƱang to Iloilo "betrayed" her a week later by leading the so-called "Hyatt 10" mass resignation. A good Justice Secretary knows that he should leave the business of prosecuting criminals to his State Prosecutors or Fiscals who are career officials. People should realize that what makes Gonzalez valuable to GMA is his unswerving loyalty to the President. He has gone thru thick and thin, to hell and high water, with his President. What makes him apart from the dime-a-dozen brilliant lawyers out there is his willingness to act as the "presidential lightning rod" absorbing all the hate that otherwise would have been directed at the President. I am sure even those in the political opposition would understand the value of loyalty, especially now that loyalty is very hard to find in our present era of "transactional politics."

Secretary Gonzalez is perhaps one of our last surviving politicians who still lives by the old code of "pula-puti" politics. In an age where politicians change parties and shift alliances faster than they change their socks, Gonzalez has managed to thrive in politics simply by staying true and loyal not only to his political superiors but also to his supporters. "What you see is what you get" seems to be his political motto. The other one is "I will be loyal to you if you are loyal to me." In Iloilo City where he served as our representative for three terms, he empowered and gave importance to the 180 or so barangay chairs who have been largely ignored by many mayors past. Now, every politician in the city is courting the barangay chairs' support. He is also loyal to his employees and long-time supporters and almost always says yes to their requests for help. He may appear stern and stiff in public, but many beat reporters at the DOJ attest that he is one of the most approachable Justice Secretaries to occupy the post. Gonzalez is every reporter's dream and his "colorful," often quotable remarks has not only enhanced their journalistic careers but also increased newspaper sales and TV viewership. This may come as a news to some, but Gonzalez is actually well-liked by people who regularly work with him.

It therefore came as no surprise to me that Moroy, Gonzalez's driver of 30 years, would willingly donate one of his kidneys just so his principal could live longer. While dramatic, Moroy's gesture of absolute loyalty to his boss is symptomatic or can be considered typical among the staffers of Gonzalez, most of whom have been with him for more than a decade. When he had a bleeding ulcer and needed blood several months ago, his staff lined up to offer their blood. That kind of loyalty, of malasakit for your boss, can be seldom seen today not only in politics but also in the corporate sector. I wonder how many drivers of senators or CEOs would willingly donate their kidneys to their bosses?

You may not agree with his style, but Gonzalez definitely knows his politics. It's almost as if the song "My Way" was composed for him.


braggito said...

As a PRO Gloria supporter, I admire Sec. Raul Gonzalez's loyalty and tirades against PGMA's detractors. He was an outstanding representative for Iloilo City too.

One Prism, Varied Colors ! said...

must have something to do with the kidney operation. tsk, tsk, tsk..

i have an entry in my book:

“The lower courts as well as the department of justice do not recruit the best legal minds in the country except for the few of them. x x x “.

The government cannot recruit the best lawyers because the best ones are already recruited by the big law firms whosecompensation packages are commensurate to their potentials. Others were recruited by multinationals. The best lawyers felt that their capacity to earn is circumscribed by the pay the government positions had to offer and therefore would rather go into a private practice or become in-house counsel for big companies for the big money. Some of the best lawyers saw the perks in government positions and took the job and become corrupt.

One cannot see the likes of the late Senator Jose W. Diokno, Senator Lorenzo Tanada, Senator Jovito Salonga, my classmate, Alex Poblador and Cosme Rosell, or the youngerlawyer Arno Sanidad, or for that matter, Rene Saguisag waiting in line for Regional Trial Court job.

The country sometimes was able to recruit the best legal minds that were also honest for higher positions because these lawyers saw the prestige of the positions and have the desire to be of service to the country. But most of the times, the executive department recruited judges out of patronage and the Supreme Court which filtered these aspirants was not insulated from the same closed-door horse-trading, backslapping and patronage. Thus, the country ended up staffing most of its judicial positions and positions in the department of justice with legal rejects and intellectual pygmies. This lopsided ratio of legal pygmies and giants in the government defines the quality of justice the country dispenses. If you account for the fact that these rejects are also corrupt, the problem is exponentially magnified.

To quote novelist James Baldwin:

“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power is the most ferocious enemy justice can have”.

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