Raul Gonzalez, ‘courageous public servant,’ dies at 83
MANILA, Philippines–In his prime, he fought for the underdog and also fought presidents and rebel chiefs. At times, people called him “Da King,” while others simply referred to him as “Lolo (Grandpa).”
At 10:42 p.m. on Sunday, former Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez died of multiple organ failure at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute in Quezon City, at age 83.
As a lawyer, a congressman, a Cabinet secretary and a Tanodbayan (now Ombudsman), Gonzalez gave the impression of a man who would not shirk a fight.
“He died peacefully and our family was with him praying at his bedside,” Gonzalez’s eldest son and namesake, former Iloilo Rep. Raul Gonzalez Jr., told the Inquirer.
He said his father had been confined at the hospital since last month due to complications from diabetes.
The elder Gonzalez underwent a kidney transplant in September 2007. His donor was his driver, Felicito Gunay.
‘Courageous public servant’
“He was a responsible husband and father, an indulgent grandfather, a loyal friend, and a courageous public servant. Please remember him in your prayers,” Gonzalez’s family said in a statement
Gonzalez was surrounded by his wife, Dr. Pacita Trinidad-Gonzalez, and their three sons and two daughters when he died.
The wake for Gonzalez began Monday afternoon at Chapel 6 of Heritage Memorial Park in Taguig City and will last until Tuesday before resuming on Friday and Saturday.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the wake will be held in Iloilo City at the Gonzalez residence in Jaro district. Interment will be at Heritage Memorial Park on Sunday morning.
The Department of Justice (DOJ), through Secretary Leila de Lima, extended its deep sympathies to Gonzalez’s family.
The Philippine flag at the DOJ quadrangle was lowered to half-staff in mourning.
“We wish to offer our prayers in the time of sorrow for an astute lawyer and a dedicated family man,” De Lima said in a statement.
De Lima recalled the high-profile cases handled by Gonzalez during his stint as DOJ chief, among them the plunder charges against former President Joseph Estrada, the rebellion cases against Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and Moro National Liberation Front founding chair Nur Misuari, the Legacy Group estafa case, the Nida Blanca murder case, the Dacer-Corbito slayings and the sinking of the MV Princess of the Stars.
Gonzalez served as justice secretary under then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. He served two stints, from Sept. 1, 2004, to Sept. 2, 2007, and from Nov. 16, 2007, to Jan. 11, 2010, because in the interval, he had to have a kidney transplant.
Reporters who covered the justice beat recalled Gonzalez’s indefatigability and approachability, fondly calling him “Lolo.”
For his defense of the Arroyo administration, already then embattled by scandals and destabilization plots, critics branded Gonzalez as a Malacañang “attack dog.”
“She’s too beautiful to go to jail,” Gonzalez said when he was asked about the plan by Susan Roces, widow of actor Fernando Poe Jr., to lead protests against alleged cheating in the 2004 presidential election that Arroyo won.
When then Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. broke up with the Arroyo administration and also joined protests, Gonzalez quipped, “He’s too old to go to jail.”
Gonzalez did not spare former President Cory Aquino’s family, who had also turned Arroyo critics. Asked if the government was monitoring Cory Aquino’s activities, he said: “I think there is no need to monitor Cory Aquino because she’s also busy monitoring her own daughter (Kris).”
However, Gonzalez remained an admirer of Cory Aquino’s slain husband, opposition Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and worked quietly to bring out more facts about the Aquino assassination.
When Gonzalez was a congressman and justice secretary, he would occasionally give reporters exclusive stories about what he had uncovered.
According to him, a good detective work could track down ordinary people who knew about the Aquino slay plot, such as who sewed the mechanics’ uniform worn by supposed Aquino assassin, Rolando Galman.
Gonzalez gained prominence as an opponent of martial law. He was the youngest lawyer of Senator Aquino during his incarceration and military trial.
Gonzalez supported the tandem of Cory Aquino and Salvador Laurel during the 1986 “snap” presidential election called by then dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
However, widespread cheating cast doubt on the election results, leading to mass protests that culminated in the ouster of Marcos in 1986.
After assuming the presidency, Cory Aquino appointed Gonzalez as Tanodbayan, a job he exercised until September 1988. He said Aquino had wanted to appoint him to the Supreme Court but he declined, saying he was “more of a crusader.”
The following year, Gonzalez, then the Tanodbayan, was suspended by the Supreme Court from practice of law for direct contempt. The suspension was lifted four years later.
From 1995 to 2004, Gonzalez served as congressman of Iloilo City. He was one of the prosecutors of the House of Representatives during the Estrada impeachment trial.
Gonzalez was a colorful figure who often drew controversy for his acerbic comments, especially against critics of then President Arroyo.
In 2006, he threatened to “feed to the sharks” local and foreign activists protesting against the holding of the Asean Summit of Leaders.
Confronted with a report on extrajudicial killings and human rights violations in the country, Gonzalez called UN special rapporteur Philip Alston a “muchacho (errand boy)” of the United Nations.
Arroyo’s critics targeted Gonzalez because he was the staunchest defender of the controversial policies of the then President, including Proclamation No. 1017 in 2006 which placed the country under a state of emergency.
Gonzalez’s family had dominated Iloilo City politics for 15 years.
Gonzalez was at times called “Da King,” in reference to his control of Iloilo politics.
The Gonzalez’s electoral dominance was attributed to their vaunted political machinery and influence over most of the city’s 180 barangay (village) captains.
But this influence was severely weakened after longtime allies Iloilo City Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog and Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas broke away from the Gonzalezes.
Those who remained loyal to Gonzalez remember him for his generosity and loyalty to his allies.
“He was a good leader and like a father to us. He gave importance to barangay captains and was always true to his word in helping us,”said Irene Ong, a former barangay captain and city councilor.
Ong said Gonzalez did not abandon his friends and allies even at the most difficult and challenging times.
“He shunned turncoatism, which is common among most politicians today,”
another ally said.
Gonzalez was born in La Carlota, Negros Occidental, on Dec. 3, 1930. He was the fourth child of Delfin Gonzalez, the last mayor of Jaro, Iloilo, and Estrella Jover Maravilla, a school teacher.
Gonzalez completed his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of San Agustin and his Bachelor of Law degree at the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Civil Law in 1955. He passed the bar the same year.
Gonzalez held various government posts for more than four decades, including chief presidential legal counsel (2009-2010).
Gonzalez is survived by his wife, former Zambales Rep. Pacita Trinidad-Gonzalez, and their five children, Raul Jr., Jose Mari, Dennis, Marigold and Charmaine.
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