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The Philippine’s Loony (in)Justice Secretary

January 14, 2008

PHILIPPINE Daily Inquirer‘s January 14 editorial hit the nail when it described justice Secretary Raul Gonzales (I intentionally dropped letter “J”) as “obviously irascible” and someone whose “pronouncements are always animated by a political agenda.” Actually PDI’s choice of words was the kindest of all descriptions about the predictable and weird justice Secretary.

Gonzales’ actuations and behavior are so alarming and worrisome that he now needs psychiatric treatment. The Arroyo Administration he so faithfully serves should now take the initiative to give the DOJ’s top muchacho what he desperately needs-  rehabilitation in a mental hospital.

The world will never forget his uncalled for, uneducated, unethical, unprofessional and un-person (just to emphasize his being half-human) comment on UN’s special rapporteur Philip Alston. At the height of the UN probe on the country’s extra judicial killings and enforced disappearances, Gonzales called Prof. Alston a “muchacho” (errand boy) and “brainwashed.”

But despite the numerous unconscionable, unethical and illogical actions of Gonzales, his generous boss Gloria Macapagal Arroyo showered him with praises and is determined to keep him as one of his top cabinet members until 2010 (and/or beyond).

Now Gonzales appears to be again out of sync with his latest warning on the media not to go beyond Gloria’s rule during conflict situations and “emergency”. The AFP recently issued unprecedented statements about a destabilization plot being brewed by the “enemies of the state” and “destabilizers.” Said group, according to the military, will carry out its rebellious plan come next month’s Edsa celebration.

So the justice Secretary is now warning media men not to “disobey the lawful orders” of the regime. Media organizations, he said, “may incur criminal liabilities under the law if anyone of your field reporters, news gatherers, photographers, cameramen and other media practitioners disobey lawful orders from duly authorized government officers and personnel during emergencies.” Such a statement is not just full of crap but also of irony.

With the system we have today, when people in power who should not be there in the first place to carry out governmental duties are setting the rule of the game, right and rights no longer exist. They who set the rule are the ones who determine what is right and wrong, lawful and unlawful, proper and improper. Reason, under this rotten and corrupted system, no longer exists.

That simple yet lunatic statement of Gonzales contains the regime’s newfound rule. The terms “criminal liabilities under the law”, “lawful orders”, duly authorized officers” which comprised the Orwellian parameter set by Gonzales are just some of the newspeaks being used by the current regime.

For those who failed to grab a copy of the Inquirer’s 1/14/08 issue, here’s the editorial:

Who’s interfering?

MANILA, Philippines – On the face of it, the latest advisory from the Department of Justice looks unremarkable, another needless belaboring of the obvious by an irascible justice secretary. News organizations “may incur criminal liabilities under the law if anyone of your field reporters, news gatherers, photographers, cameramen and other media practitioners disobey lawful orders from duly authorized government officers and personnel during emergencies,” the warning from DOJ chief Raul Gonzalez read.

Unfortunately, bitter experience tells us that Gonzalez’s pronouncements are always animated by a political agenda—and that if the opportunity exists to unsettle the country’s main media organizations, the Arroyo administration will almost always seize it.

Like the robots in “Transformers,” therefore, there is much more to Gonzalez’s “reminder” (as Presidential Management Staff chief Cerge Remonde prefers to call the advisory) than meets the eye. The order is yet another offensive in the administration’s war of attrition against Philippine journalism.

In the first place, the warning and its context make it sound as though the journalist’s constitutionally mandated duty to inform the public stopped short of covering “emergencies.”

The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines zeroed in on the most serious implication the DOJ memorandum bore for the practice of journalism. “It is a clear and shameless attempt to criminalize the exercise of press freedom,” the NUJP statement read, “and a clear case of prior restraint—a violation of the Philippine Constitution, no less—that no self-respecting journalist and media outfit will accept.”

Secondly, the warning and its context wrongly assume that coverage (of the events that Gonzalez may describe as political emergencies) necessarily equals participation.

This assumption becomes clear when Gonzalez inexplicably states that journalists at an emergency who disobey so-called lawful orders “may lead to collateral damage to properties and civilian casualties in case of authorized police or military operations.” This is the reasoning of those who believe that “destabilizers”—militant activists or military adventurers alike—draw both publicity and protection from the reporters and TV crews who cover them.

Thirdly, the warning and its context lay the groundwork for a legal defense, in case journalists get litigious.

A revealing comment from Remonde tells us that much about this over-assertive Executive can still be explained by its overriding defensiveness. “As far as I’m concerned, if the media people really insist on staying on notwithstanding a possible gun battle, they should not blame government if they are hurt in the process. Because I’m 100-percent sure that if something of that nature will happen, they will blame the government.”

Fourthly, the warning in its chilling context is a pre-emptive strike—at media coverage of another alleged plot to oust President Macapagal-Arroyo.

“I understand that on Jan. 22 there will be a mass action that will take place to oust the [administration],” Gonzalez told reporters the other day. “We’re just preparing for the possibility that something like what happened at the Manila Pen or Oakwood may take place again.”

But we’ve heard about these alleged plots before, haven’t we? Even a letter-writer sympathetic to Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno and Armed Forces chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon does not believe “all this nonsense about a coup plot (which does not really exist).”

The truth is, the administration’s hard-liners like Gonzalez and Puno and Esperon and National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales use such alleged plots to push back inquiring journalists little by little, to probe media’s defenses or its readiness to resist.

Less than two months after the Peninsula Manila adventure degenerated into an acrimonious debate over the limits of media coverage, Gonzalez has signaled the start of another debate. Do journalists covering emergencies interfere with official business? If it is Gonzalez et al. who define interference, the answer—unfortunately for the Constitution—is always yes.

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