Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Freedom Delayed

After a grueling nine-hour oral argument before the Supreme Court (SC), National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzalez failed to secure his liberty and remains under custody of the Senate.

This, after the SC delayed deciding on the petition for writ of habeas corpus filed by Gonzalez on account of some unresolved issues such as the executive privilege and Gonzalez continuing refusal to divulge the names of those who referred the controversial Venable LLP contract.

Sen. Joker Arroyo, chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee blocked Gonzalez' move to reveal the names to the justices "in camera" (in chamber, an equivalent of an executive session).

"I don't know how it will be useful for the court, but it will be useful to us," Arroyo appealed to the justices.

SC Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr. suspended the session for five minutes and returned with the ruling that they will not decide on the matter yet. Davide said the court will wait for the memorandum of the Solicitor General which will, among other things, enlighten the court on who could invoke executive privilege.

Invoking executive privilege emerged as a possible key to Gonzalez' freedom.

"If the President invokes that. then we will be hard put ... (we may be forced) to release Gonzalez," said Arroyo in an interview with justice reporters.

The Palace has indeed invoked it but the problem was, Arroyo said, it was only Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita who wrote the Senate.

"I was once an executive secretary and I know, that kind of letter was meaningless," Arroyo told the justices.

Arroyo would like to know if it was the President herself who wanted to invoke executive privilege.

Executive privilege is warranted concerning sensitive matters that have serious national security implications.

Another option for Gonzalez was to take a leave, according to the Court.

Associate Justice Artemio Panganiban asked Atty. Antonio Bautista, Gonzalez' counsel, if his client wanted to take a leave instead of asking the Court to release him.

Gonzalez cited health and humanitarian reason in seeking for his release.

"He can take a leave and be free. If you wait for us, it will take us days or even weeks (to decide on that)," Panganiban said.

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