Power struggle at DOJ: Palace says it’s Calida

- Marichu A. Villanueva, Aurea Calica -
Undersecretary Jose Calida is the acting secretary of justice — and not Undersecretary Merceditas Gutierrez — while Secretary Simeon Datumanong is on an official mission abroad, Malacañang said yesterday.

Deputy presidential spokesman Ricardo Saludo said Calida represented Datumanong in Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting at Malacañang.

"During our Cabinet meeting last Tuesday, the President said this should not be a problem at all, and as we know, all the officials of the Department of Justice (DOJ) do their respective jobs and their operations continue," he said.

Saludo said it would be up to Datumanong when he gets back to explain why he had issued two different designations as "acting secretary" to Calida and Gutierrez.

"At this point we will leave to Secretary Datumanong to clarify any technical or procedural issue related to the appointment of his acting secretary until he returns," he said.

"At the moment, we’re saying the DOJ is running smoothly and Undersecretary Calida has been performing the necessary administrative functions to keep the department operations on track."

Saludo said as of yesterday, Datumanong has not submitted any letter of resignation to Mrs. Arroyo so he could run again for Congress.

At the DOJ, Calida and Gutierrez reluctantly shook hands and gave each other a pat on the back yesterday after Malacañang named Calida acting secretary of justice.

Calida went to the office of Gutierrez upon the prodding of the media.

Gutierrez told reporters she respected the decision of the Office of the President and would abide by it.

"There is no rift between us," she said. "There was only miscommunication because of some documentation."

However, there was a "white paper" being circulated at the DOJ against Calida.

The "white paper" was actually a letter to President Arroyo by a group of supposedly concerned DOJ employees who expressed support for Gutierrez.

The "white paper" assailed Calida for having too many bodyguards who "act as if they are high-profile personalities."

Calida’s staff and other trusted aides were also described as "arrogant" in the "white paper."

"Undersecretary Calida’s act of reversing resolutions and orders by the present secretary despite a short span of being appointed as (officer-in-charge) is also alarming," read the "white paper."

Calida had ordered the reversal of a decision by a panel of prosecutors dismissing the triple murder charges against Iriga City Mayor Emmanuel Alfelor.

"I did that in the exercise of sound discretion, if they are not happy with it they can file a motion for reconsideration," he said.

DOJ employees said they prefer Gutierrez over Calida because she has served longer in the department and knows the needs of the employees.

Gutierrez is more approachable as she does not have a "multitude of bodyguards," the employees added.

But Calida justified his many bodyguards on grounds of threats to his life and the kidnapping of his wife.

"As the President announced during the JIL (Jesus is Lord fellowship, where he is a member) celebration, my wife was even kidnapped so I need to protect myself and my family," he said.

"You know my job has certain risks and although I am not afraid of the risks, prudence dictates that I should be prepared."

Calida said his wife was returned unharmed, but it was done to send a chilling message that he should stop his drive against criminality.

"Those people who are comfortable with their chairs, who are not fighting these criminal syndicates, and would not step on the shoes of powerful people can nonchalantly say that they don’t need bodyguards," he said.

"But I have already paid a sacrifice, my wife was almost killed and I will not allow anybody else to harm my family."

He refused to give details of his wife’s kidnapping.

Calida said "some people in the department" who were envious of him were circulating the "white paper" to sully his reputation.

"I will investigate this, who is the author (of) this vicious attack against me and in due time justice will be done because if I cannot have justice in my own department then nobody else can have it," he said.

"Now let me appeal to those who are envious not to resort to unchristian acts, if they have an ax to grind against me, my office is available, they can talk to me anytime," he said.

"I know who is behind this. I hope those who are writing this would be charitable. I appeal to them not to resort to this, if they want the position of acting secretary that badly, tell me and I will willingly give it to them."

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