MANILA, JUNE 6, 2008 (STAR) By Christina Mendez - It took 19 ad interim appointments, three committee bypasses and a kidney transplant, but Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez finally got the nod of the Commission on Appointments (CA) committee on justice and human rights which will forward his confirmation for plenary approval next week.

Gonzalez expressed gratitude to the CA committee led by Sen. Panfilo Lacson for conducting a hearing on his appointment.

The DOJ secretary had been bypassed thrice since his appointment in 2004. He reportedly got the ire of Lacson when he (Gonzalez) tried to prevent the senator’s party from landing at the Iloilo International Airport during the campaign for the 2004 elections.

Asked to comment on Lacson and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada’s sudden change of heart over his appointment, Gonzalez said: “You know, the better angels of their nature, I think, prevailed. I thank the chairman for scheduling me and I thank the members of the commission… The Holy Spirit may have intervened. But the situation speaks for itself.”

During the hearing, several parties opposed to Gonzalez’s appointment, including Bayan party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo and lawyer Bonifacio Alentajan, presented reasons why Gonzalez is not fit to be confirmed as justice secretary.

Ocampo chided the justice secretary for his role in the arrest of the so-called Batasan 5 which included the late Rep. Crispin Beltran, Rafael Mariano of Anakpawis; Joel Virador and Teodoro Casiño of Bayan Muna; and Liza Maza of Gabriela.

Gonzalez was also asked about his alleged “shoot-to-kill order” against the suspects involved in the brutal robbery-slay of 10 people at the RCBC branch in Laguna last month and his alleged claim to be the “King of Iloilo.”

Gonzalez hails from Iloilo.

He, however, clarified that he was misquoted in the shoot-to-kill order and denied claiming to be the “King of Iloilo.”

Near the end of the hearing, Lacson gave his approval to submit Gonzalez’s confirmation for plenary action after he asked the justice secretary about his health condition.

“We may not be the best of friends but between us, we share the same traits. I thought I am hard-headed, but the secretary is more hard-headed than I am. What I like about him is that he loves his job and he loves to work,” Lacson said.

Gonzalez said he feels that his health is “better than before” since his transplant on Sept. 14 last year, and that he has been undergoing monthly check-up to maintain his healthy condition.

Lacson said he admires the justice secretary for his tenacity to work after his transplant.

“Barely recuperating from transplant operation, he immediately wanted to go back to work so I was struck by his tenacity and determination. If only for that, we have reached a point whether to approve or reject your confirmation,” Lacson said.

Estrada cast a yes vote for Gonzalez’s confirmation.

At one point during the hearing, Gonzalez remained steadfast in affirming his loyalty to President Arroyo.

Responding to the statements of Estrada, who talked about Gonzalez’s unrelenting support for the administration, the justice secretary said, “I speak for my President because I believe in my President.”

Shortly after, Estrada wished that the DOJ secretary can now “spend the rest of his remaining days of life” working.

Sen. Richard Gordon butted in, saying the hearing had “started looking like a eulogy.”

With Lacson and Estrada leading the recommendation to confirm Gonzalez’s appointment, party-list Rep. Joel Villanueva withdrew his earlier motion to reject confirmation.

The confirmation hearing of Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes did not push through. The committee on energy rescheduled the confirmation hearing for him in July, when Congress resumes session after sine die.

This move technically bypassed Reyes’ appointment.

Estrada vowed on Tuesday to block the confirmation of Reyes at all cost.

The confirmation hearings for Commission on Elections chairman Jose Melo were reset to next Tuesday.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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