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The Justice Secretary, Free Speech, And Public Tensions

November 28, 2008

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Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales was on nationwide radio at the crack of dawn today reacting to the latest call by two influential Catholic bishops for Filipinos to manifest their rejection of the Arroyo regime this coming Sunday, National Heroes’ Day.

Gonzales singled out the fact that the prelates even read out a new statement from detained colonel Danilo Lim urging public action against the government of the day: “They ( Bishops Antonio Tobias and Deogracias Yniguez) are calling on people to use extra-legal efforts. The State will defend itself. They are telling us the Constitution is written in stone “hanggang mamatay na tayong lahat (until we all die).”

Another outspoken bishop, Oscar Cruz reacted to Justice Gonzales’ warning saying “it would be an honor if the government us of inciting the people to revolt since it is they who should be charged in court for violating the Constitution and betraying public trust.”

Asked about other bishops seen as loyal to Mrs. Arroyo, Bishop Cruz said, “there’s what we call a Malacanang diocese in the CBCP. But there are bishops who are not limp-wrists.”

The DOJ boss, a human rights lawyer in years long past, wears his hat as defender of the incumbent in such unmistakable terms that his critics alternately refer to him as “GMA’s attack dog” and “as combative a justice secretary as this country we have ever seen, one reminiscent of the Marcos era.”

To be fair, Secretary Gonzales exuded calmness as he issued his latest warning to those who might try to mimic the events in Thailand and there are indeed loud murmurs in Metro Manila’s coffee shops and hotel lobbies about “something afoot.”

The unsettled whispers are aggravated by recent bombings down south attributed to Moro rebels increased activities by communist rebels.

To this writer a particular aspect of the justice secretary’s statements stood out: “One problem is how certain people are abusing freedom of speech to agitate the people. There is a thin line between exercising free speech and inciting to rebellion. We hope what they want to happen will not take place.”

Here Mr. Raul Gonzales may be correct.

But in like perspective, the State should stop obfuscating and stone-walling calls for the truth to be revealed behind issues such as the ZTE-NBN deal, the fertilizer fund scam, enforced disappearances, and other concerns that all undermine erode the regime’s credibility, and legitimacy.

And we might add: disabuse the widespread public belief that the push for charter change ultimately aims to scuttle the 2010 election extend the incumbent’s term beyond what the law allows.

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