Secretary De Lima: Arroyo's fate is a judicial matter

11 March 2015

Since the Philippine government has yet to officially receive notice of the case purportedly filed by lawyer Amal Alamuddin-Clooney with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) in behalf of her client former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, any specific comment on the merits of the case would be highly speculative. If, indeed, such a case has been filed, the government would like to know the basis for such legal action, as well as the specific public officials against whom it was filed. If it was filed against the Philippine government, it must specify the officials who are accused of violating Arroyo's human rights and the specific acts which gave rise to such alleged violation.

As far as the Executive branch is concerned, Rep. Arroyo is being detained at the Veterans Memorial Hospital in Quezon City by virtue of a judicial process issued by the First Division of the Sandiganbayan last November 2013. The Sandiganbayan has denied Arroyo's motion for bail in the PCSO plunder case filed against her by the Ombudsman, on the ground that Rep. Arroyo has failed to prove that the evidence against her is not strong.

Whether or not the evidence against Rep. Arroyo in the PCSO plunder case is sufficient for the denial of her motion for bail is not for the Executive branch to determine. The Executive is not involved in either the prosecution or judicial determination of Arroyo's plunder case. The prosecutor in said case is the Ombudsman, an independent, constitutional office. On the other hand, the Sandiganbayan, as part of the Judiciary, is under the Supreme Court.

We are presuming that Ms. Alamuddin is knowledgeable of the workings of the Philippine criminal justice system because it is patterned after the American system, which must be familiar to her. She must also therefore know that in such a system, the Executive is not the branch of government that issues commitment or detention orders of those accused of committing a crime. Under international human rights standards, a commitment or detention order issued against an accused in accordance with a State's independent judicial processes is recognized as a valid cause for restraining one's liberty. There is no question that under no circumstances is Rep. Arroyo's detention for the non-bailable crime of plunder violative of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

If Ms. Alamuddin is charging the government of arbitrarily depriving Rep. Arroyo of her liberty, she must direct her petition to the judiciary, since the Aquino administration is not responsible for the fact that the judiciary does not subscribe to her claim that her continued detention is a result of political persecution. The judiciary remains independent of the Executive, and it continues to decide cases not on the basis of politics, from which it is insulated, but on the legal merits of each case. In any case, Ms. Alamuddin should know that her client must first exhaust domestic remedies before she can file a complaint before the UNHCHR or the Human Rights Council, in accordance with the criteria for the acceptance of communications filed with the Working Group on Communications. This includes defending herself before the duly-constituted courts of the Philippines and, in the event of conviction, appealing the judgment to the Supreme Court.

In the end, we believe that the denial of Rep. Arroyo's motion for bail was decided on the merits, and that she will eventually be convicted or acquitted on the merits. In the meantime, she is not without recourse to pursue whatever relief she feels she is entitled to, whether to move for medical treatment abroad before the Sandiganbayan, or to continue questioning before the Supreme Court the denial of her motion for bail. Such simple  questions of fact or law on Rep. Arroyo's predicament are neither made grander nor more dramatic merely because they are raised by a celebrity lawyer before an international forum, The, flamboyant gesture only reflects the paucity of her cries of political persecution.

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