This thing is beginning to look like the “Marcos burial” issue. P-Noy is going to supersede whatever De Lima would decide and let Gloria go, which would eventually lead to a life in exile! It’s becoming evident that the rumored “Aquinorroyo” agreement is turning out to be true. P-Noy’s much ballyhooed crusade against corruption would end in the same manner the Crusades ended — in defeat! Enough of this moro-moro and let’s move on to better things. — PERRY DIAZ
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – Justice Secretary Leila de Lima is taking the advice of Sen. Panfilo Lacson in making the much-anticipated decision on whether to allow former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to leave the country to seek medical treatment amid the charges filed against her.
De Lima said she is considering making a “Solomonic” decision – allowing Arroyo to leave the country, but only after the former president has formally answered charges of involvement in rigging the vote in Mindanao during the 2007 mid-term polls. The case is under preliminary investigation by a joint panel of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Commission on Elections (Comelec).
“That’s one of at least three options I am considering,” De Lima said over the weekend.
She did not reveal the two other options, but suggested that the “Solomonic” one would be a good compromise on an issue that is seen as a clash between national interest in the dispensation of justice and humanitarian considerations.
Lacson, an outspoken critic of Arroyo, earlier said the administration could show compassion but at the same time could not delay the filing of information in court and the subsequent issuance of a warrant for Arroyo’s arrest in case probable cause is established.
De Lima has been at odds with Lacson over his alleged involvement in the murders of publicist Salvador Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito in November 2000.
The DOJ chief has deferred acting on Arroyo’s request to leave for treatment abroad, citing findings of Health Secretary Enrique Ona that the former president does not need urgent treatment abroad.
De Lima is expected to announce her decision on Arroyo’s request tomorrow when she arrives from Cambodia where she is attending the ASEAN Law Ministers’ Meeting.
“We are balancing those contrasting interests – the individual rights as against the higher interest of the country,” De Lima said.
De Lima said she was just being careful in deciding on this issue so as to ensure that the criminal proceedings on cases against Arroyo would not be frustrated by her absence.
She believes the former president is a “possible flight risk.”
“There’s always that possibility (that she would not return). There is that risk. Can we afford that all of these proceedings are suspended because of her absence? Remember, you can’t have a trial in absentia if the accused would not be arraigned should probable cause be established in the PI (preliminary investigation),” De Lima said.
De Lima said it would be crucial to make sure that Arroyo will return to the country – especially after reports on the alleged plan of the former leader to seek asylum in a country that does not have extradition treaty with the Philippines.
“That’s one of the important considerations,” De Lima said, referring to the lack of extradition treaty with the planned countries of destination of Arroyo.
De Lima also denied allegations from Arroyo’s camp that she was playing politics in deciding on the issue over her reported plan to run in the 2013 senatorial polls.
“It’s not political, it’s really the criminal justice system. It’s a matter of justice and accountability,” she said.
‘A life is at stake’
Rep. Arroyo’s spokesperson, Ma. Elena Bautista-Horn, expressed dismay that De Lima seems to be using the medical travel request of the former president to gain political mileage for herself, citing the DOJ secretary’s previous admission of her plan to run for the Senate in 2013.
Horn, in an interview with radio dzMM yesterday, said a person’s life is at stake.
“A person’s life is at stake here and all we are just asking is a little consideration. Why should we have to explain everything and justify the need to travel for medical reasons? They (DOJ) have been asking so many documents and we have been complying even beyond what was required of the DOJ watchlist order. We are not complaining about that,” Horn said.
Horn said they decided to speak out on the issue to prod the DOJ into deciding whether to allow Arroyo to seek medical treatment abroad.
“It would be better if they decide sooner considering the long weekend. As I see it, this issue is not a priority since they have a deadline to meet to file the case against Mrs. Arroyo,” she said.
The former president’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, also lashed out at Malacañang and De Lima, saying they are violating his wife’s constitutional rights in their continued refusal to allow her to travel.
“What happened to the right to travel and the right to choose your own doctors?” Mr. Arroyo said.
“Wasn’t De Lima once the (Commission on) Human Rights chairman? Now she’s violating human rights of no less (than) the former president,” he said.
This is different
Malacañang, however, thumbed down suggestions from the Arroyo camp to allow the former president to seek medical treatment abroad on humanitarian grounds.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte advised the Arroyos to instead wait for De Lima to decide on the issue.
Valte also said the case of Rep. Arroyo is different from former President Joseph Estrada and former first lady now Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Marcos.
Estrada, who was ousted from office in January 2001, had both of his kneecaps replaced with titanium in Hong Kong while his case was undergoing trial at the Sandiganbayan. So was Mrs. Marcos’ glaucoma, an eye disease that could lead to blindness.
To compare, Rep. Arroyo is at this stage a “respondent” in a criminal case pending before a prosecutor’s office while Estrada and Marcos have underwent trial in the anti-graft court as “accused,” and not as respondent, Valte pointed out.
But while Valte had previously acknowledged that every citizen, including Rep. Arroyo, enjoys the constitutional right to travel, the allow departure order (ADO) of De Lima should prevail, as it enjoys the “presumption of regularity.”
Valte nevertheless declared, albeit impliedly, that only the Supreme Court can stop them from preventing Mrs. Arroyo from seeking treatment abroad.
She said that ADO – which is actually a new order – has not been challenged before the judiciary.
“We will comply (with whatever the SC will decide),” Valte said earlier.
Valte, although a lawyer by profession, refused to answer queries, however, on which should prevail – the constitutional right to travel or the watchlist order of the DOJ, insisting that Mrs. Arroyo’s case is distinct.
Valte also said the cancer that struck down the late President Corazon Aquino in 2009 – where the Arroyo government granted the Aquino family’s request for medical equipment – is entirely different from Rep. Arroyo’s hypoparathyroidism.
“We could not compare the medical situation of the former President Cory Aquino and the present condition of Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo,” Valte said over state-run dzRB radio.
Valte explained she was not aware of the story that the Aquino family in 2009 asked the Arroyo administration to release the medical equipment from the Bureau of Customs that would be needed for Mrs. Aquino’s operation at Makati Medical Center.
“I am trying to get more information on that. But while we are in the process of getting the information… of course, it is very personal to the Aquino family and we respect the privacy of the Aquino family,” she said.
No legal basis
Sen. Francis Escudero, however, questioned the DOJ decision to put Rep. Arroyo in the immigration watchlist.
He said the DOJ has no powers to prevent any person from leaving the country through a watchlist.
If De Lima thinks otherwise, Escudero argued that she should have also placed Maria Ramona “Mara” Bautista in the Bureau of Immigration (BI) watchlist, referring to the sister of slain Ramgen Bautista who was allegedly involved in the killing of her eldest brother.
“The question is: Does the Secretary of Justice have the powers to issue a hold departure order?” Escudero asked, noting that placing Mrs. Arroyo in a watchlist and requiring her to get an allow departure order prior to her travel abroad is tantamount to the issuance of the hold departure order (HDO).
Escudero pointed out that only the courts could issue an HDO.
Escudero said Ramona Bautista’s flight to Hong Kong last Friday night highlighted the apparent double standard being practiced by De Lima in the issuance of a watchlist order.
He added Bautista’s escape without any hold departure order even put into question further the DOJ’s motives in keeping Mrs. Arroyo in the watchlist, and the decision not to allow her to leave abroad.
Escudero expressed concern that De Lima’s authority, if indeed legal, can be prone to abuse.
“What if a private individual is involved? It so happened that what we are talking here is GMA (Arroyo), which is why we treat it as if there is an HDO. What if they use this against a private person?” he asked.
Escudero said the DOJ order against Rep. Arroyo had no legal basis.
Other lawmakers, however, maintained Rep. Arroyo was trying to evade prosecution.
“Their (Arroyo camp) insistence on going abroad makes their intention all the more suspect. It is obvious that GMA is using her sickness to evade charges. I suspect they will try to go to Portugal, since that is their original exit plan,” San Juan Rep. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito said.
“Every time scandals and issues hound them, their health is the most convenient escape,” he said.
Alliance of Concerned Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio, Bayan Muna Reps. Teodoro Casiño and Neri Colmenares, and Citizens Battle Against Corruption party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna have expressed fears that Rep. Arroyo may not return once she is allowed to leave.
“GMA is not being transparent about the purpose of her planned trip. Given the implausible nature of her request and the gravity of the charges against her, Malacañang and the DOJ would do well to deny her travel request,” Tinio said. – With Marichu Villanueva, Delon Porcalla, Christina Mendez, Paolo Romero