Exclusive Interview | Paulo Cardinal: ‘I will not be disposed of like chewing gum’

Veteran advisor Paulo Cardinal who was dispensed by the Legislative Assembly in August last year without plausible cause breaks the silence and in an interview with the Times speaks about his dismissal, about Ho Iat Seng, Sulu Sou and the “paranoia” of security that has damaged the respect for fundamental rights in Macau.

Cardinal says he wants to stay in Macau “although I don’t have a normal job yet.” After more than 25 years living in the territory, he charges “I will not be disposed of like chewing gum.”

In the interview, Cardinal contends that Portugal should be “vigilant” towards Macau’s affairs. “Portugal is a contracting party to the Joint Declaration. Therefore, if Portugal intervenes in this regard, it will have complete legitimacy … Publicly Portugal does not do this,” the legal expert lamented.

“There is a sort of progressive siege against these values in our system, whether in Macau or in Hong Kong. Without fundamental rights, without the rule of law, there will truly be no “second system.” Hence, we must be resilient.”

The interview with Paulo Cardinal started with the dismissals of him and his colleague, Paulo Taipa, where he lays out the “alternative” theories for his sacking, and vehemently refutes each one.

Macau Daily Times (MDT) – Do you know already why you were dismissed?

Paulo Cardinal (PC) – The rationale that was passed on to us, subsequently made public, and used as justification was that of a restructuring of the legal team. This is not an acceptable argument to me and the fact that it has not generally been accepted as valid is well known. This has given rise, especially in a small parish-like place as this, to the circus of theories and conjectures, some leading to character assassination. The justification given [by AL President] does not correspond to reality. On the one hand, two good jurists are dispensed with in this restructuring, as was reaffirmed by the President of the AL. He said there were two people too many. On the other hand, precisely two people are hired. This reversal of intentions proves that the justification presented by the AL does not conform to reality. It also proves that it made a mistake and sought to remedy it.

MDT – It was said that information was passed from the advisors to Sulu Sou.

PC – I did not have access to the internal process [leading to Sou’s suspension], and I personally challenge anyone – and I’m willing to rescind of my right to privacy in this case – to demonstrate whether there were phone calls, emails, SMSs or any messages exchanged via Viber, Skype, WhatsApp, whatever, between me and Sulu Sou. The first time I spoke to Sulu Sou was in the AL after his return from the akward suspension.

For many years in my work at the AL, I dealt with very complex and sensitive processes, involving people in high places, and never ever has anyone questioned my honesty in the dispensing of my duties, much less to ever have leaked confidential documents.

A different matter is to ask me if I agree with Sulu Sou. And the answer is clear and it is not secret. Any advocate of more and better democracy and more and better respect for human rights will naturally agree with Sou on many issues.

MDT – There was one person or people who accused you of prying. But how, and about what, if you had no access to privileged information?

PC – This is a regrettable situation and not deserving of attention because it only represents human misery: the filthiness of the “anything goes” principle; a lack of a conscience in the constant gossip about groundless accusations inside and outside the institution. When someone is flawed in competence, in integrity, in courage, one seeks a scapegoat and invents and exhorts some tale of betrayal. You don’t look at the means, you do not look to the persons (who may even have saved one’s colleague’s job in the past), you don’t care about the consequences. Human misery. Filth.

MDT – But do you agree with lawyer Jorge Menezes that the ultimate intent was “the discomfort they represented by devoting themselves courageously to the defense of the BL, the Rule of Law, to the defense of the legality and integrity of the juridical system?”

PC – The defense of constitutionality, that is of the Basic Law (BL), of the legality, of the Rule of Law, of the fundamental rights, for me, are natural and necessary to effectively exercise the advisory role. Otherwise, it will not be an advice but a different thing. More like a ‘rubber stamping’ service.

MDT – Do you think that your sackings will affect the impartiality of other advisors at the legislative and executive levels, who are expected to apply the law and not succumb to political pressure?

PC – Yes, of course it does. There is sheer incompetence of blunt ignorance of the law. The most pernicious incompetence is not having the character and courage to duly perform the duties [of a legal advisor]: willing to do anything to keep the job and [receive] a salary at the end of the month. Of course, people will think ‘if veterans like Paulo Cardinal and Paulo Taipa can be dismissed just like that, it can happen to me, to anyone.’ And that creates fear and anxiety among people, especially when the reasons for the dismissal were not explained. But there are still competent advisors in the AL.


MDT – Did the Board of the AL and President Ho violate the Members’ Statute or the Rules of Procedure in the process of suspending lawmaker Sou? Was Sulu Sou in the end illegally suspended?

PC – From a technical-legal point of view, several legal norms and norms with weight of law, the Rules of Procedures, were violated in this intra-parliamentary conflict. Some shamelessly. Violated in such a gross manner, that in a couple of cases at least, any reasonable first-year law student would stumble onto these abuses. I said it on TDM-TV before being sacked that in this internal conflict of the Legislative Assembly I agreed about 80% with Sulu Sou. In essence, what I did not agree with regarding Sou’s defense, from what I read in the press, was with the foregoing conclusion that his was not a political act. For me, notwithstanding some doubts about certain doctrine, it seems to me that this would be a political act. Mr Sou was struck down in this process by successive violations of the Basic Law, the Member’s Statute and the Rules of Procedure. There is no doubt about that. And the very TSI’ decision [on Sou’s appeal], if you read it carefully, often criticizes the performance of the AL and its various bodies.

It is also important to note that the responsibility for the suspension of Sulu Sou does not sit with the AL. It started before, with other stakeholders, that should not be overlooked.

MDT – The TSI considered that it had no jurisdiction to hear the case. But are you saying that reading between lines the court understood that Sulu Sou was right and was, indeed, illegally suspended?

PC – Yes, the decision of the case is based a priori, we would say, without technical rigor. The issue of [ruling on] the political act. Well, the judge-rapporteur left relatively clear indications that the law and the Rules of Procedure had been violated at several points in the process: “The Commission [of the AL], which had met twice, drew up a document which it called ‘Opinion’ [between commas],” which is to say, it is not actual opinion [parecer]. And when referring to the intended or implied purpose of the decision to suspend [Sou’s] mandate, it is written [in TSI’s ruling], “We are not saying whether or not it was executed well.”

The Court of Second Instance said that it had no jurisdiction to hear the case because they considered it (the suspension of the mandate) a political act. In this part, I disagree with the position of the court, as I stated publicly and expressly in a debate at TDM while I was still AL’s coordinating advisor.

MDT – There are those who argue that when a political act violates a fundamental right, the courts have jurisdiction to judge this matter.

PC – Yes, the modern doctrine of legal systems in which the rule of law prevails, in several jurisdictions, supports this. This position derives from the need to remove the political act as a tool to escape the jurisdiction and control of the courts. You can see this in Portugal, Spain, Costa Rica, Brazil, Mexico, France… This is my position. For several reasons it would be tedious to present this fully here. As one instance, under the Basic Law only Acts of State are withheld from coming under the jurisdiction of the courts of Macau. So, the Macau courts should have assessed the substance of Sou’s appeal. Then they could agree or disagree with the alleged violations of fundamental rights.

MDT – Scott Chiang’s re-trial was held yesterday. Do you think Chiang (and Sou) committed the crime of unlawful assembly? I believe you are able to comment on this as you drafted the Commission’s Opinion on this law.

PC – I do not know the case. Also, I can only comment here on what is public and published. And I have published articles on these subjects. On this subject, I must say that the decision in the second court [to re-trial] did not surprise me. It is in line with persistent jurisprudence which in the end says, not anything goes. No surprise decisions are allowed. In this regard, what most disturbs and worries me is the “twisted” use of legislation for the protection of fundamental rights that are [instead] adulterated and used as tools to undermine fundamental rights. In the case of the bill of rights of assembly and demonstration, that has been evident. Another is the law regarding the protection of personal data. There seem to be cases of criminal charges laid which, in the normal course of things, should not have arisen.


MDT – From what you know about Ho Iat Seng do you think he would be a good CE?

PC – In this particular context I must refrain from making comments. If I speak badly, the credibility of my comments will be questioned, and it may be regarded as some sort of revenge. To speak well of him, well, to be honest I do not feel so inclined. But above all, I do not want to speak well of him – and there are, of course, good things to say. He always was, or at least up to one year ago, a very educated, cordial and respectful person. Even this speaking well of him can be read as an attempt to re-enter his good graces, now that he may have the opportunity to become CE. It is absolutely indifferent to me to be either in his good or bad graces.

MDT – If the new CE is elected as a single candidate, could this be harmful to the democratization of the MSAR?

PC – First, remember that I am not a voter. Neither I nor you can elect the CE. We must not forget this. Then, it is not yet known if there will be other candidates. In the face of publicly spoken names from the outset, there would be candidates that could potentially be better for Macau and there would be candidates who could potentially be worse than Ho Iat Seng for Macau.

I do not know the platform. That is, he announced that he wants to improve the well-being of the population. Of course, I agree with him. If he is elected CE, as a Macau citizen, obviously I wish him the best of luck in performing his duties. The better he does it, the better it will be for the population.

A different question is what I desire from the new CE. I would like to see a reversal of the paranoia of securitization; I would like to see improvements in the quality of life – health, environment, etc.; I would like to see a real reinforcement of fundamental rights; I would like to see an end to the prosecution of people for taking part in peaceful demonstrations.


MDT – You are a critic of the current political system. Shouldn’t we have advanced further with political reform?

PC – Yes, clearly. That was the letter and spirit of the Sino-Portuguese Joint Declaration (JD) and the Basic Law: A promise of gradual democratization. It has not happened. Note that under the Macau BL, unless the mini-constitution itself is altered, the Legislative Assembly can never be fully elected. But it could [feasibly] have a single appointed legislator and the rest elected by universal suffrage. The power thus would become more legitimized and fall in line with the intentions, with the original promises made.

MDT – The current model, as far as I remember, was based on positive discrimination. Does that argument still make sense under the current circumstances?

PC – No, not at all. Before the handover, the mixed model of representation of the AL was indeed based on positive discrimination to allow the Chinese community to have a seat at the legislative branch, at a time when the vote was an exclusive right of Portuguese citizens. When participation in direct elections was made universal, during the mandate of Governor Almeida e Costa, the [accommodations made] were to protect the Portuguese/Macanese minority representation at the AL with either appointed or indirectly elected members. Now, this model makes no sense because there is no longer any positive discrimination. Do you see any Portuguese/Macanese or any other representation of the non-Chinese communities?

MDT – Currently, the President of Portugal is visiting Macau. Do you think that Portugal should play a more active role in the protection of fundamental rights and the rule of law in the MSAR in view of the Joint Declaration and its historical responsibilities?

PC – Portugal is a contracting party to the JD. This is a truly international treaty and has been submitted by both parties, Portugal and China, to the United Nations. Therefore, if Portugal intervenes in this regard, it will have complete legitimacy. It will not be an intrusion. It would be vigilant to ensure compliance with this bilateral treaty, which granted this population the right to live in a different system from that of the mainland. Publicly Portugal does not do it, I do not know if it does in other ways, through diplomatic channels, for example. The U.K. does it, publicly, with by-annual reports on Hong Kong.

MDT – In China, however, there are voices, with institutional weight, who believe that the Joint Declaration was extinguished with the enforcement of the Basic Law. Does this make any sense?

PC – It does not make any sense. I know of those statements and attempts. They are perverted and politically motivated and reveal a difficult cohabitation with International Law. And the will to rewrite history: it is inadmissible. Moreover, after one more of these “acts” about a year ago which had implied that the JD is not in force, is merely a “historical relic,”China itself, through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, came out publicly saying that the Joint Declaration was still in force.


MDT – Returning to the beginning of the interview. Your life was naturally affected on several levels. I know that you are finishing a doctorate in Coimbra: from a professional/academic point of view has this been affected? At what stage is the dissertation?

PC- Yes. [My life has been] Deeply altered. And with the bitter taste of injustice. Professionally I do not regret anything, I must say. My conscience is clean regarding the fulfillment of my duties and functions until December 31, 2018. I have dedicated more time to the dissertation but not just that.

MDT – What is the topic of the dissertation?

PC – The topic is Autonomy and Fundamental Rights in Macau.

MDT – Do you think that autonomy and fundamental rights are threatened in Macau?

PC – I think they are being threatened, degraded. Infrequently there is a sort of progressive siege against these values in our system, whether in Macau or in Hong Kong. Without fundamental rights, without the rule of law, there will truly be no “second system.” Hence, we must be resilient.

MDT – Do you want to continue in Macau? Despite having seen many doors close, will you continue in Macau?

PC – Yes. For various reasons, like family reasons, which I shall not elaborate here. But not only these. I was wronged. I was [politically] sacked. Doors didn’t open to me on January 1, 2019. It was said that, modesty aside, with my CV, I would not be short of offers. January went by as did February and March. But I’m resilient. I have no weight on my conscience, and I am not a piece of chewing gum to be used, chewed and thrown away. I will continue here, where I have lived for more than a quarter of a century, where I was married, where my son was born, while I can and want to.

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