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Nov 07

Cruz cut loose

The President finally accepted Avelino Cruz, Jr.’s resignation from the cabinet today.

Honors Code-2
My only interaction with Avelino Cruz, Jr. was when he was still Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and months of meetings and consultations had finally produced a draft of Executive Order 236 (the Honors Code of the Philippines). As the proponent I was summoned to a final meeting with representatives of the different government departments and agencies I’d had to consult, to thoroughly go over the text and resolve any issues before the draft was submitted for the President’s signature (it would be fairly easy going, bureaucratically speaking, after that in terms of approving the Implementing Rules and Regulations). At the time of the meeting, there were only a few issues left to tackle but they basically had the Department of Foreign Affairs and the National Historical Institute at loggerheads while there were some lingering concerns about the usual turf and so forth.

It was held on the second floor of Bonifacio Hall (formerly the Premier Guest House) and consisted of everyone being asked to sit around a table, with Cruz presiding over the meeting. The draft was produced; a brief review of the origin of the proposal, and the process followed in arriving at the document undertaken; and the Cruz began to go through the document, line by line. At the conclusion of each section, he would poll those present to determine if all the represented offices were in accordance with what was written. This included whether past presidential issuances cited in the text had been properly mentioned, and numerous references were made to the Administrative Code.

In the beginning, he presided over the meeting like a genial, barong-clad buddha, all smiles, but as the meeting went on he became more intense and showed a keen grasp of both the purposes behind the draft, and the various points of law (and administrative matters) raised during the drafting process. The only time he showed irritation was when individuals would begin to harangue the meeting while failing to support their opinion (or departmental position) with the necessary documents. There was also a time when he bluntly said one interpretation raised was contrary to law and the product of insufficient research. In general he was quite neutral except for one point (which I personally appreciated, because I also felt strongly about it), which was the need for a National Order of Social Scientists: he didn’t agree that the Social Sciences should be lumped together with the physical sciences as had previously been the case.

Unlike other officials I’ve worked with, he didn’t pull rank as a rule, and he didn’t show any inclination to rush through things: but at the same time he was able to keep people from rambling too much and was pretty adept at getting to the heart of the debates that emerged. Most issues were resolved, as I said, simply by referring to the law and by clarifying the weight various executive documents carried, with regards to each other and within the framework of the powers of the presidency and the other branches of government. For example, there were some things the Department of Foreign Affairs wanted, but Cruz pointed out everyone’s hands were tied because what would be affected was a presidential decree, and that pertained of the nature of a law -which meant, if any changes were to be made, it would have to be undertaken by Congress. Also, another proposal would have placed an inferior (bureaucratically speaking) government office in a superior position to the President.

When tempers rose, he would diplomatically take a phone call and leave the room, magically returning when people had sorted things out; at other times, he would call for a round of sandwiches and that would dispel the tension. After every section had been read, discussed, and changes noted, he then went over the draft with the new changes, and once again polled everyone. He then asked for copies to be made of his copies, and for everyone to sign the revised draft, and to furthermore submit a letter to his office signifying conformity with the changes.

His method of handling meetings, I must say, was in marked contrast with then-Executive Secretary Romulo who is also an exceedingly nice man but who simply avoided any decisions if he could help it.

His former cabinet colleagues have told me he’s pretty much a nerd, and happiest buried in books and formulating and then implementing policy. While rather miffed he hadn’t decided to quit the cabinet last July, they kept saying then that there would come a time when he would reach a line he wouldn’t cross -or discover that his decision to stick it out in order to meet goals he’d become engrossed in, was no longer tenable. He was known, even before July, 2005, for run-ins with the President’s husband, but those run-ins were par for the course for anyone with a minimum of backbone and even the smallest of reformist instincts. But even those formerly within the President’s cabinet who turned virulently against her maintained their respect for him and said he was not a crook. Diplomats I’ve encountered have also spoken highly of him.

The question is, of course, that for all his earnestness in reforming the Department of National Defense (and people from the DND have told me it was quite a tough climb for Cruz, there were cases, for example, of officers who refused to vacate their desks), while his plans were thorough and reasonable, he has presided over the DND at a time when the officer corps has become far more independent of civilian authority than at any other time previously. For a year, I’ve been asking people who claim to be in the know, just how much Cruz could be said to be in charge. The clearest answer I’ve been able to get is that he is firmly in charge of the bureaucracy within the DND but that the top brass has direct line to the President and can do pretty much what it wants in the field. So my personal view is that he’s had an impact in terms of lessening inefficiency and corruption in terms of procurement, but he’s been unable to influence the choice of field commands and the behavior of those commanders.

Notice that he is credited -at least by Senator Drilon- with having foiled a proclamation of martial law last January. That is a feat he could only have been able to accomplish as a lawyer and because he knew the President couldn’t have afforded to lose him at that time (or any other time). Since by then, the AFP top brass was firmly in the President’s pocket (and then Army chief and now chief of staff Esperon clearly showed he wasn’t beyond insubordination), it probably wasn’t because Cruz could have threatened to hold back the army; the only thing he could have threatened to do, was either quit or refuse to sign any orders that crossed his desk. But it was enough.

So perhaps his former cabinet colleagues were correct: on the whole, Cruz felt it was better to hold the fort for the reformists rather than abandon ship, much less publicly confront the President (his instincts as a private lawyer would have strengthened his determination to speak little and stick it out). Even when I’d get to hear scuttlebutt within the official circles I tended to be close to, he wasn’t identified with those obsessed with racketeering or a lust for power. the lesson, though, is that the writing on the wall’s been clear since 2005, it’s just taken Cruz longer than others. So he left, but it would be mistaken, I think, to attribute to him heroic qualities either for his sticking it out, or finally throwing in the towel. The tragedy of many of the reformists I knew in the President’s official family is that the line that could not be crossed kept being moved; or that, the desire to influence policy overcame any instincts to cut ties with the President when her legitimacy evaporated. It’s a dilemma -or a trap- my father used to call the “Cesar Virata problem.”

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  1. manuelbuencamino

    Max Soliven has signed up with the Isagani Cruz Club. His column today includes this paragraph on someone who is aspiring to become Cruz’s successor to the Secretary of National Defense portgolio –

    “One of the aspirants for SND who has surfaced early is a well-known Malacañang habitué. I wouldn’t mind his being a homosexual as much as his lack of integrity and his tendency to plot and conspire behind the scenes. There’s nothing worse, I think, than a gay Rasputin. Why put him in charge of all the men and women in our armed forces? Attack from the rear may be a sound military strategy, but putting this kind of character in charge of planning and reform would be simply too much.”

  2. ricelander

    A measure of a man is how much he could take in the name of loyalty. Some could take more, some could take less. Bunye, Gonzales, and Ermita, for instance, obviously could take more than Cruz. Or that Cruz could take more than, say, Soliman and company. I wonder where and how far should one carry his loyalty to a patron or a friend. By nature too I am extremely loyal, once I chose the deserving recipient of my loyalty. So far, I have not come to a point when I have to break it, I hope I won’t. It must be so heart-rending. It also tells a lot about the reasons that have precipitated it.

  3. Jon M

    I’m sure I’m not the first and the last to ask who might Max Soliven be referring to?

  4. manuelbuencamino

    A more interesting question is, “who is paying Max Soliven to bring up his rear?”

  5. manuelbuencamino

    Or even better yet, “why is alleged alpha male, Max Soliven, screwing another man in the ass?”

  6. Jon M

    mb, because he has his own “pet” candidate for the post?

  7. comelecAKO

    on the whole, Cruz felt it was better to hold the fort for the reformists rather than abandon ship this sounds about right.

  8. manuelbuencamino

    Jon M.

    I suppose you mean his own “puwit” candidate.

  9. anna de brux

    MB,

    Let’s see… I don’t know any gay Rasputins close to Malacanang except for a fellow calling himself Escaler but Gloria just might offer the DND portfolio to Miriam (or to her brother.)

  10. anna de brux

    Mr Avelino Cruz failed to uphold the Rule of Law in the military when he allowed General Esperon to do as he damn well pleased with the so-called coup d’étatists…

    He should have insisted, in his capacity not only as SND but also as a lawyer, constitutional expert, to have Brig General Lim, Colonel Ariel Querubin and the other detainees brought to a proper military venue for prompt trial.

    By not insisting on his prerogative as DND chief and de-facto adviser to Gloria to have these officers brought to trial, he becomes an accessory in the violation of the basic human rights and the elementary military rights of the said officers.

  11. Chabeli

    Received this message: “…Cruz wanted to resign during the later part of 2005, but after his meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, Cruz was told to stay to blunt any attempt by Gloria to declare martial law…” Hmmmm, I wonder how true this is.

  12. anna de brux

    MB,

    Someone’s just suggested it was Tom Alcantara that Max was referring to in his column.

    But of course, I forgot all about him! Much as Tom Alcantara might be qualified for a cabinet post, he won’t do – there are those in the AFP who won’t take kindly to him.

    If he’s indeed the one, I wonder what happened that Max is so much against him today. They seemed to be friendly back during FVR’s term.

  13. john marzan

    so who is max trying to out this time?

  14. Chabeli

    Anna de Brux,
    If Max Solvien was alluding to Tom A. in his artticle, well, Tom A. was not offered the position, and much less is he interested. You’re right to say that “he won’t” take on the job.

  15. vic

    I believe somehow that Max Soliven got infected with some kind of virus going around infecting just about every one after a while. The virus is called ‘bigotry’. Why mentioned somebody’s sexuality if you don’t mind it at all? If someone’s integrity doesn’t meet Max’s standard, got nothing to do with his “rear end” somehow, or is he implying something here?

  16. anna de brux

    Chabeli,

    T’was a speculation – someone suggested his name; don’t know if it’s true that’s why am asking if Tom it is indeed, why should Max be going great guns against him. They used to be friendly.

    Anyway, so you reckon it’s not Tom A?

  17. justice league

    The explainer replay is winding down now.

    Atty. LAcierda is good in explaining his points on Conass regarding the PLebiscatory Democracy.

  18. Chabeli

    Yes, Anna de Brux. I heard that rumor, too, and tried to inquire as close to the horses mouth as possible…so, yes, it’s NOT Tom A. It’s pretty much confirmed.

    I, too, wonder why Max S. alluded to Tom A.

  19. Chabeli

    He he he. So, who dropped the soap for Max Soliven to screw whoever-it-is in the rear?

  20. anna de brux

    Chabeli,

    You still in Manila?

  21. anna de brux

    Chabeli, just read this in the Inquirer:

    ““What the President needs now is muscle not brains,” the first Malacañang executive told the Inquirer, referring to Ms Arroyo’s declared policy of subduing the communist insurgency by the end of her term in 2010.”

    Ugh! Geez, Ermita is growing old in the reverse.

    Ebdane’s name has cropped up too. (And he’s close to Max!)

  22. Anonymous

    Some things that Nonong Cruz did while in the government service:

    1. As Acting Executive Secretary in 2002, he sent a copy of a memo that Malacanang was about to officialy send to the PCGG, directing the Haydee Yorac-led PCGG to have Ernesto Maceda — who was then head of Eduardo Cojuangco’s NPC political party — sit in the San Miguel Corporation (SMC) Board AS ONE OF THE PCGG’S REPRESENTATIVE-DIRECTORS. This was Nonong’s way of alerting the PCGG to what would have been a mockery of the PCGG’s mandate to recover coco-levy funds invested in SMC. The maneuver worked: Yorac got up from her sick bed and denounced the would-be appointment of Maceda.

    2. Nonong, together with then ES Bert Romulo, also consistently blocked various attempts at compromising the coconut levy cases that the PCGG under Yorac was already winning in court.

    3. As Chief Presidential Legal Counsel (CPLC), Nonong Cruz also provided the crucial voice that led to the drafting of what is now about to be the law that would provide reparations to the victims of human rights violations during the Marcos dictatorship. He also proposed that $200 M be set aside (or $50 M more than what Robert Swift, the American lawyer representing one faction of the victims in the US litigation, was willing to accept for his clients in a compromise that would have judicially declared the Marcoses as not having committed those HR violations). As SND, Nonong would have also been willing to support the truth-seeking process mandated in the proposed law by opening up the AFP’s records showing the pattern of illegal detention, torture and forced disappearances during the dictatorship.

    4. As a civilian SND (much like SND Orly Mercado before him, Nonong inherited a military that has never recovered from its role as enforcer and beneficiary of Martial Law. The patterns of massive corruption in the military, including those found to have been committed through the Marcos Presidential Decree-created RSBS, is a legacy of a dictator who had to share the spoils with his favored generals. Some of those who were then junior officers under Marcos saw how their seniors enjoyed impunity from being held accountable for both human rights abuse and corruption. In a country where former torturers can become Senators, being a reform-minded civilian SND in an unrepentant military institution only raises false expectations. Given that context, Nonong has done exceptionally well as SND.

    5. Nonong’s resignation — like that of Sonny Marcelo’s earlier resignation as Ombudsman — should be seen for what it is. These are decent Filipinos resigned to the limitations that personal decency can bring to institutions that have been damaged so irreparably by unredressed legacies of human rights abuse or corruption or both.

  23. Anonymous

    Anonymous,

    I’d like to believe you but Cruz has a lot of explaining to do.

    If he’s that good and virtuous, why did he, how could he have joined Gloria’s cabinet of the corrupt, by the corrupt and for the corrupt in the first place.

  24. mik

    Anonymous,
    Sometime you have to get into the scene to do something about the situation, but there are instances that for the sake of yourself and of your own interest and that of your family, and after all attempts been done and were not good enough against the forces, then it’s time to give others a chance to do it.

  25. edmund

    Nonong Cruz has crossed his Rubicon.We are all diminished because of it. GMA lost another good man in her Cabinet.

  1. The road to 2010 | blog @ AWBHoldings.com

    […] to declaring one back in 2006; according to sources unknown, the US had put its foot down, and then Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz disagreed with the idea. The scenario was ideal for the situation: a state of rebellion was declared February 24, 2006 […]

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