"The Justice secretary has done the job well."
Whether he likes it or not, Justice Secretary Meynard Guevarra is conflicted. Not for personal reasons but professionally.
As a lawyer and the government's legal honcho, he has to uphold the Constitution and the law, without fear or favor. He has to work within the existing legal framework no matter how fractured this may be. He has to observe all the processes and do justice to one and all in his best lights. And in doing so, promote the public welfare, protect the national interest and enhance the institutions of democratic governance.
But he is not the government's lawyer. That is the job of the Solicitor General. In fact, he can rule against government and indict government officials if need be. At the same time, as a member of the Cabinet, he has to weigh in as the President's alter ego and make his principal's case stick as best as he can within the limits of the law without being slavish and overly technical or unduly taken in by the passions of the moment.
Guevarra’s mettle will now be tested to the limits as President Rodrigo Duterte has opened up another front, raging against what he calls the "oligarchic class" for what he believes as their sins against the people.
As the President exposes and denounces the abuses of the water concessionaires, for example, Guevarra has gingerly walked the fine line as he outlines the administration's case against these companies and their enablers, in and out of government, both local and overseas including those past officials who officiated over the implementation of what the Chief Executive considers highly problematic and onerous contracts. He has to ensure that reforming the contracts which the President wants and which a solid majority of consumers are looking forward to will not be compromised by any misreading or misinterpretation of the law or undue tweaking of the processes involved.
While the President has so passionately indicted the concessionaires to high heavens, Guevarra has calmly stuck to his role indicating the flaws in the contracts. He has identified 12 onerous contract provisions needing reformation and has publicly asked the companies to address these. Then again, even as President Duterte has emphatically said that five of those are non-negotiable, he has studiously pointed out why and told all concerned—specially the companies—to check these before even saying anything. He has, in fact, openly admitted that he would seek professional guidance insofar as the financials of the contracts are concerned noting that his department is not in the best position to discuss the details involved. Where the President has been so passionately engaged, boiling hot and spewing out venom at every turn, the latest just this week before an audience of top Baptist Church officials, Guevarra has been calm and collected minding possible ways by which a proper, reasonable and reformed contract can be entered into within the next six months.
Somehow, he has to strike a balance between the public welfare and the government's contractual obligations, specially since this involves a critical public service—provision of clean, potable water and proper sewerage services at reasonable cost. So far he has been fair, balanced yet uncompromising in his statements. He has remained focused on the job, even warning some pro-Duterte hotheads not to go overboard in their warnings about the "greed and insensitivity" of the concessionaires lest emotions overwhelm the cold and judicious reformation process.
Which is just as well. At this point, by his demeanor and actions, the good secretary has virtually ensured that the contracts will be reformed and the long-promised deliverance of the public from the curse of unreliable water service at unreasonably high rates and, yes, untreated sewage and unconnected sewerage systems in the concession areas will finally become a reality.
As the man in the middle, Secretary Guevarra has done justice to such a Herculean task.