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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Suspensions and Dismissals

I really have to stop being amazed at the mental gymnastics of politicians.

I was watching “PrimeNews” on ANC last night, and one of the stories that was run was about the suspensions and dismissals of various local officials, and about how these officials were in the process of, or had already secured temporary restraining orders (TROs).

My interest was piqued by the case of Batangas Governor Armand Sanchez, who was suspended for graft and corruption, specifically being charged with awarding a computerization contract to a company that was allegedly being run by his niece. Gov. Sanchez has since filed for, and secured a TRO to maintain the status quo. However, it was not the corruption case that was the story last night, but rather the way Vice-Governor Ricky Recto, who filed the corruption case against Sanchez, interpreted the TRO.

Recto, a brother of Senator Ralph Recto, claimed that the maintenance of status quo, as stated in the TRO filed by Sanchez, meant that, since he had already taken his oath as acting governor, he remains as acting governor. However, I talked with a lawyer friend, and it was his point of view that the status quo meant the prevailing circumstances when Sanchez filed the request for a TRO. Since Sanchez was getting it to stop his being suspended, the TRO maintains his being governor. Therefore, Recto’s oath taking, and assumption of office, has no legal effect.

I had the opportunity to listen to Recto on ANC a few days ago, and he was saying then that, to halt the suspension, all Sanchez had to do was secure a TRO, which Sanchez has. But now, it’s apparent that Recto has designs of his own on the governorship, as his interpretation of the TRO clearly shows. I found him arrogant when he was asked about his differences with Gov. Sanchez, and he replied, “Well, he’s corrupt, and I’m not.”

I do not know the details of the corruption case against Sanchez; it may be that he is truly guilty of the charges. But, be that as it may, he deserves the benefit of due process, and, since he has complied by getting the TRO, Recto, I think, should acquiesce to the authority of the court, and step down as governor. If he doesn’t, it will be clear that he did not file the corruption case against Sanchez out of a clear desire to right a wrong, but out of a clear desire to gain power.

* * *

For the past few days, we have been treated to sight of policemen in military garb, and brandishing military weaponry, storming the provincial capitol of Iloilo, in an attempt to dislodge suspended governor, Neil Tupas, Sr. We were treated to the sight of clearly unarmed civilians, being manhandled and poked about with M16s. If it weren’t for the fact that Gov. Tupas managed to secure a TRO, the incident could have become bloody.

The gall of government officials, notably Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronnie Puno, and Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales, to calmly state that the police did nothing wrong, leaves a sour taste in the mouth. So, it’s all right for the police to act like Gestapo agents and bully civilians?

The blanket excuse was that Puno had received reports of possible armed groups in the capitol. So far, no news story has reported any arrests of armed individuals during the siege; all we have are images of unarmed civilians being bullied by military-looking policemen, images that hearken back to the time of Martial Law.

Once more, I have no details regarding the corruption case filed against Gov. Tupas, but what is disturbing is the heavy-handed manner by which our government has been moving in the suspension and dismissal cases. It almost seems as if there is blatant contempt of due process.

It is the timing of these suspensions and dismissals that is questionable, considering that a number of these were served two days before the election period began. Also, a number of the suspensions and dismissals were served on a Friday, giving the suspended and dismissed officials no way to remedy the situation; they would have to wait until after the weekend in order to act.

It appears as if there is a concerted effort to dispose of any opposition to administration candidates in this coming May elections. While a number of administration officials were among those suspended or dismissed, it may be that these erstwhile allies were planning to defect to the opposition, hence, the suspensions and dismissals to prevent that.

However, all the government has done in these cases is to provide the opposition with more ammunition to use this coming May. If GMA is not careful, she could be looking at a full-scale debacle in May, if her henchmen continue moving about in their heavyhandedness.

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