Judge Govendo's Muchacho Blues

October 16, 2010

I met Judge Kenneth Govendo once. It was in 1998 when I was in the CNMI as leader of a team investigating the current situation and needs of the foreign contract workers. I was impressed with his perspective and clarity.

I was surprised to see that this judge was hauled before the court for allegedly violating judicial rules and canons for his courtroom remarks that were labeled "racially derogatory.”

Apparently, the judge told a convicted stalker, "Adios muchacho" and made other comments that associate judge  Manglona found to be "a violation of the “principles of decorum and temperance that the Judicial Canons seek to promote.” From a November 2008 issue of the Saipan Tribune:
In that hearing, Govendo had said he was going to notify the Attorney General's Office because he wants criminal charges filed against Castillo.

“It is time to say goodbye to Mr. Castillo. It is time that he went back to the Philippines, OK. He's a problem, he doesn't follow court orders, he's a bully and it's time that he went 'bye, bye, adios,” Govendo said at the hearing.

Govendo said CNMI doesn't need people like Castillo. “And since we're still in charge of immigration it's time to say 'problem! Adios problem! Back to the P.I. where you can be a problem there, OK. We have enough problem children here from the P.I. and it's time we get rid of them,” he said.

Govendo had said he was going to recommend that Castillo be prosecuted. “I am going to personally take this on myself, Mr. Castillo. I want to see you leave the Northern Mariana Islands. And when you leave, I will be at the airport to go 'adios muchacho! Don't come back! Alright!”

He then stated that after the hearing he will call the AGO and that he is going to make it his personal journey to make sure that Castillo leave the CNMI. “I want you out of here Roger.It is now time to start cleaning house in the CNMI. We don't need perpetrators of domestic violence here,” he said.

Govendo also added, “I wish I could get rid of the locals but I can't. They're American citizens. But the ones who are not, there's no reason why we should have to put up with them.”

In her order issued issued Wednesday, Manglona said that Govendo's comments were “at a minimum intemperate and improvident, and his vitriol casts an appearance of impropriety upon the entire Superior Court and brings the judiciary into disrepute.”
Friday, the CNMI Supreme Court held a  hearing to determine if Govendo will be sanctioned for his remarks.   The CNMI Supreme Court previously found some of Govendo's statements made during court procedure in the family court racially derogatory and a violation of canons and rules for judicial conduct.

Good people say inappropriate things that they will later regret; no one is excluded. The remarks were probably out of line for the courtroom setting, but serious enough to have Govendo hauled before the Superior Court for sanctions? Couldn't Manglona have pointed out her concerns in a personal conversation with her peer?

I have always thought of "machacho" as a derogatory slur.  That is because I heard it used in that way. A former CNMI Congressman from Rota used the word to mock and make fun of waiters in a restaurant there.  "Come here machacho; get me another drink machacho; did you take a bath today, machacho?"  Then he would laugh and snicker with the other like-minded guys sitting at his table.  He also called the staff "assholes" and once ordered a cook to give him aluminum foil so he could fashion it into a pipe to smoke ice in the men's room.

At that time my husband told me "muchacho" meant "slave" or "houseboy" and yes, it was meant to insult when coming from the mouth of the dishonorable congressman. In fact, Boboy wrote a blues song called, Machacho Blues. (Muchacho Blues ©1997 Boboy Doromal)

If I hadn't witnessed the derogatory and demeaning use of the word, I probably would not have even heard the word or known what it meant.  Did Judge Govendo mean it in a derogatory way?  The judge's former law clerk, Myrna Santos reportedly told Govendo that the word was an insult.  She said he expressed surprised to learn that it was considered "racially insensitive."

From the Marianas Variety:
But Govendo said he will not resign.

“75 percent of the electorate voted to retained me. I’m not stepping down.”

The judge said he was “tempted” to agree to a reassignment, which he described as a “judicial vacation.”

“But I’ve made a commitment. I’ve tried my best to raise awareness about domestic violence. Nobody is fighting to become the family court judge. I feel I’ve been good at it. I feel it’ll be detrimental to the public [if I’m reassigned], but if you think I’m burned out then that is one of the alternatives,” Govendo told the justices.

“I think I’ve been punished enough.”

He said a public reprimand is in order, but “I don’t want to be stuck with fees and costs. This matter went on for so long because the court prolonged it.”

He also admitted scolding a man who had sexual relations with a minor.

“Now if a judge can’t scold a criminal who had sex with a 14-year-old then put it in the rules.”

Govendo, however, believes that judges can and must express “the outrage of the community — that’s part of our job.”

The high court panel, which included Guam Superior Court Vernon P. Perez, recessed at noontime.

Justice Castro said they would listen to the audio recordings of three cases presided over by Govendo and later issue a written order.
In June 2010, it was announced that Govendo's Family Court received the 2010 National Justice Association Outstanding Justice Program Award for “best practice” evidence-based program from the National Criminal Justice Association.

Focusing on correcting the wrongs with the entire court system may have been a better expenditure of time and money than holding these sanctioning procedures.  Why not investigate if the typical lenient sentences are contributing to repeat offenders; if having a criminal write a letter to the editor or to victims is truly an effective punishment; if there is consistency in setting bail and sentencing criminals; and what needs to be improved in the system?


Anonymous said...

He didn't mean anything by "muchacho". His statements in the adoption case, however, are disgusting.

Wendy said...

Oh -I did not see those comments, Yes, terrible and inappropriate.

Anonymous said...

Benson found Govendo made statements that violate Rule 6(a)(3).

In one adoption case, Govendo stated he was not going to "approve adoptions with nieces and nephews because the are millions of them all over in the Philippines who can get a better education here."

"Picture all the Filipinos here, every single one of them, has got [sic] five nieces and nephews, back in the Philippines, we would quote ‘be better off here.’ So all you have to do [is], get married to an Americano, beg him, and he’ll adopt them," Govendo said.

In the other statement, Govendo asked a petitioner: "Are there any other kids in the Philippines that you would like to adopt? ...No more? You sure? ...Oh, c’mon. Just about every Filipino here wants to adopt some relative, right?"

Anonymous said...

Yeah, these are terrible things to say. But let's face it, it's not exactly untrue. Being and American married to a Filipina (not many of those out here, right.) I know the situation that she has to deal with. I'm an American and working so I am "rich". Send money, Send money. She wants to send her money some (we send $50 a month), but not all of her other relatives. They pressure her and pressure her and she says she does not work (she does not have a job, but she does work, we have two kids). They get mad and pressure her more.
The adoption thing as come up in our house and was quickly dismissed (by me). But she feels compelled to ask even if she does not want it.
I guess there are people out there that think you are bad becuase you make a good living (I do, but not rich)and you do not give it all away. Although I am never disrepectful in my attitude towards her (our) family (I like her mother), I am firm when it comes to...everything.
I'm willing to give the judge a mulligan on this one, but if he were to continue he does need to seek another form of employment.

Wendy said...

Anonymous 2:07

Not every Filipino family has their hands out.

The adoption statement was racist and inappropriate. I wish I had seen it before I wrote the post. Those statements should have never been said by a judge to a family seeking to adopt a child.

Anonymous said...

Your comment title spells “Muchacho Blues” correctly, but the label at the bottom of the comment is designated “Machacho Debate”.

Anonymous said...

Govendo is really mad at Filipinos. He singled-out Filipinos. Chinese, Koreans, Thais have been doing the same - adopting and helping relatives! What Govendo doesn't know perhaps, is these other nationals can easily work things out. How? e.g. they can easily (literally)change their names(non english names of niece/nephew could be changed to be a child of the US cit petioner)but Filipinos can't do that(it's a long legal battle in the Phils!)

There's nothing wrong to adopt. That's why there's a legal process, and that's why you have your job, Judge Govendo.

Captain said...

In regards to Noni 2:07, what he says is true. I am back and forth to the Phil. constantly and have interests there. The more you give to the ones that ask the more they want.(expect)And there is always another excuse for needing more money. Many of my people are very poor but they work and they receive much extra from me. the ones that keep asking are the ones I keep telling to come and work and I will pay them.(all have no jobs)I have so many "offers" to adopt also.
I have even people with money that will pay me to adopt.
I do have three adopted kids besides my own daughter(one 15, 7 and 5yrs)They all live in the Phil.They are also not aware (at this time) there dual status. When the 15 yr old gets 12 yrs of schooling in she will go to a college of her choice, anywhere she can qualify.
It seems, generally, the ones that are around areas that have many foreigners residing are the least that have their hands out, these people also seem to have the most education.

Anonymous said...

This isn't about remittances or adoptions. It's about inappropriate and racist statements made by a judge. If those statements attributed above to Govendo are true, they are both inappropriate and racist, and he should be sanctioned.

Pluto8458 said...

In our spanish class during my college days, our professor had lectured to us that a spanish word muchacho/a means young boy/ girl in English and she also reminded us that we should not be offended when a Spanish speaking individual will call us muchacho/a. Oddly, to our Hiligaynon vernacular muchacho/a means a vulgar term for a servant/ house help.
Judge Govendo’s remark in spanish, adios muchacho, should not be taken as an insulting statement considering that the judge is not a Filipino or he may be unaware of the hybrid meaning of that spanish word for Filipinos. If we want to claim that we are really a globally competent workforce, then we should also take the controversial word on its global and original English translation. Being privileged to study Spanish while pursuing an engineering degree in Iloilo, I should say that Judge Govendo was been a victim of the ignorance, colonial mentality and guilt ridden reaction from some of our kabayan. I was convinced to believe him as he explained his side that he really meant goodbye young guy when he made that remark to one of our kabayan and not to insult him by labeling him as a servant.
Anyway, the compassionate judge Govendo has already issued a statement of apology to the (word class?) Filipino community for using the spanish language claimed by most colonial- minded Filipinos to be insulting to their reputation and dignity.
To Judge Govendo: Mag- aral nalang po kayo ng Filipino language and culture para hindi na po kayo mailipat ng office at mautusang mag aral sa ethic school in the future. Hehehe.
To my Kabayan: Wow success!!! Congratulations! Is Judge Govenco guilty for his discriminating remark or a victim?

Wendy said...

No, he is guilty for inappropriate behavior in his courtroom, not just this comment. He also made inappropriate remarks to people in court wishing to adopt a child. See the latest post: CNMI Associate Judge Censured