Saturday, April 22, 2006


OUTRAGE over Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez's downgrading of the charges against three of the four American servicemen accused of raping a Filipina seems to be concentrated more against his words than against his actions. This only goes to show how effective Gonzalez is as the pit bull of the administration, in charge of snarling and frothing at the mouth and lunging at the crowd, both to frighten and distract the public. After all, he is not just any loose cannon but an integral part of the legal and political arsenal of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

There exists, in fact, a clear division between official attitudes toward the case. State prosecutors, such as Olongapo City Chief Prosecutor Prudencio Jalandoni, believe they have adequate evidence to successfully prosecute all the accused American servicemen. Gonzalez has decided to the contrary, and while he hasn't totally let the other three American soldiers off the hook, only one will actually go on trial for rape. The charges against the others have been reduced to their being accessories.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye has gone on record to say the Arroyo administration fully supports Gonzalez. That means that the justice secretary's rather loathsome rhetoric aside, what he has done has the full blessings of the person for whom he serves as an alter ego: the President.

One of the lawyers of the rape victim brought up a point which indicates why Gonzalez's actions have been met with disgust. Even if Gonzalez says there isn't enough evidence to prove the other accused American servicemen actually raped the victim, Evalyn Ursua points out that the three kept chanting "Go, Smith!" as their fellow soldier assaulted and raped the Filipina. The lawyer asserts that egging on a rapist in this manner is tantamount to participating in a gang rape. It is an argument important enough, to our mind, to deserve being pursued in court. But because of Gonzalez, it won't be brought up when the case is tried.

Rape is an act that is less about sex than about power and degrading another person. There are many kinds of rape, and it is necessary in cases not involving actual intercourse to consider psychological intent and the reality that not just the sexual aspect, but the abuse of power and degradation of another deserve investigation and punishment. For these are crimes against persons, too.

In the end, Gonzalez will have the final say as far as this case is concerned. Individuals who don't agree will simply have to protest or, if they are officials, relinquish participation in the case. This is why Jalandoni had no honorable option other than what he's done: to resign from the prosecution team.

It's important to note that none of the four accused servicemen are off the hook. One, as we've said, will go on trial for rape; the other three, as Gonzalez has explained, will have to answer for witnessing the rape and doing nothing to stop it, and then abandoning the victim. There is still hope that all of them will be punished, though not to the extent the victim or her lawyers, including some government lawyers, feel they deserve.

Even as MalacaƱang notes that only seven months remain for the resolution of the Subic rape case, the nation will have to continue to bear the problem of a useful, but often nasty and alarmingly bigoted official in charge of what should be the clear, dispassionate, but unstoppable dispensation of justice. These things require judgment. And if the judgment calls of an official are immediately put into question because of the zeal and relish he displays in hitting back at critics, what does that say about his ability to inspire confidence?

Again, we return to our original point: For every comment Raul Gonzalez has made that offends, it is well to remember that the man, his thinking and the fruits of his thinking have the full and unequivocal support of the President and the rest of the Cabinet. And that's the most offensive thing of all -- as well as the greatest injustice, not only to the executive branch of government but to the country.

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