Over the edge

Buencamino writes political commentary for Action for Economic Reforms.  This article was published in Business Mirror January 10, 2007  edition, p. A6

“The Edge …. there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.” – Hunter S. Thompson

De facto Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) secretary Ronaldo Puno stuck his neck out for Gloria Arroyo when he ordered the midnight turnover of convicted rapist Daniel Smith to US custody. Puno relied on the legal opinion of de facto Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez.

He said, “The specifics of whether the manner of complying with the VFA [Visiting Forces Agreement] was legally sound were left to the departments. So we went to the Department of Justice for a legal opinion.” Bad decision.

Puno was probably not aware that Gonzalez, who described his own opinion as “well thought-out,” had been inspired by something Boy Abunda, co-host of “The Buzz,” a weekly showbiz gossip show aired on ABS-CBN, said on his show.

“You have to bite the bullet sometimes. I was listening to Boy Abunda [who said] that sometimes you have to make difficult decisions,” explained Raul Gonzalez.

Gonzales thinks “bite the bullet” means “to kiss ass in order to save your patron’s ass.”  It does not. But that’s what happens when a man who does not understand the meaning of a simple English word like “noted” messes around with idiomatic expressions.

Days before Puno sought the advice of Gonzalez, his colleagues were singing a different tune.

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Ed Malaya said, “The VFA does not supersede court authority. The VFA being a treaty is part of the laws of the land. The courts interpret the laws of the land.”

Rafael Seguis, DFA undersecretary for special concerns, said, “Mr. Smith may be transferred to the custody of the United States authorities only upon the authority of the court. We cannot interfere in the judicial process. That would be a violation of the principle of the separation of powers.”

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said, “All we can do is wait for the decision of the Court of Appeals.”

Still Puno followed the legal advice of Raul Gonzalez, a lawyer who, as de facto justice secretary, demonstrated the unenviable ability to lose case after case from the lower courts all the way up to the Supreme Court.

What drove Puno to act based on a nine-page misinterpretation of the meaning of “noted”? Beats me. But I feel sorry for him because it took some time before anyone in the Arroyo regime changed their tune and openly supported his move.

Raul Gonzalez tried to insulate Mrs. Arroyo from Puno’s decision. He said, “Right now, the President is above it all….Right now she is not committed on discussing it,” when in fact, as she admitted a few days after Smith’s transfer, she was on top of it all.

Solicitor-General Eduardo Nachura said, “We have no hand on that. We were also surprised by the transfer. Our only concern is the case before the Court of Appeals.”

Even Gonzalez’s subaltern, chief prosecutor Jovencito Zuno, said, “I’d rather not make any comment. We still have to meet with the DFA to discuss this sensitive issue.”

And now former senator Rene Saguisag discovered that Gonzalez may have “deliberately hidden” from the Court of Appeals a 1999 Department of Justice (DOJ) circular setting guidelines on criminal jurisdiction.

That DOJ circular which Raul Gonzalez may or may not have been aware of says, “in case of conviction, the accused US personnel shall be subjected to disposition by the court which may order his confinement or his release on bail or recognizance, if accused personnel should appeal.”

Gonzalez, who brought Judge Benjamin Pozon’s decision to the Court of Appeals, once said, “We don’t have to argue what the VFA allows. That is written in plain English. It is not written in Ilocano or Latin.”

We could throw those words, along with the DOJ circular on custody, back at Gonzalez but will he understand what the circular says?

Saguisag thinks he should. He said, “If anybody should know a DOJ Circular, it should be the Justice Secretary. If he was not aware of it, in a case of visible ignorance, let him say so, in a culture said not known for deep legal scholarship or a passion for thoroughness and excellence. If he was so aware, he should explain why he suppressed it, contrary to the requirement of candor to courts.”

Ronaldo Puno is the only person I know who has ever sought and heeded the advice of someone who has gone over the edge.

Over the edge with Raul. What a distinction. Poor guy.

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