MANILA (Mabuhay) – The Department of Justice (DOJ) insists that the continued detention of former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo does not violate her human, civil, and political rights, even as the Aquino government has yet to officially receive official notice on the case lodged by international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney before the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) on behalf of Arroyo.
In a 42-page complaint, Clooney, wife of Holywood A-lister George Clooney, argued that the Philippine government violated several provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on its treatment of Arroyo, who is being tried for the non-bailable offense of plunder for the alleged diversion of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds during her stint as president.
Clooney said Arroyo’s health has deteriorated because of her continued detention, and her full recovery hindered. She urged the UNHCHR to ask for Arroyo’s release from detention to allow her to seek treatment abroad mainly for her lingering cervical spine problem.
While Justice Secretary Leila de Lima pointed out that “any specific comment on the merits of the case would be highly speculative” at this point, she stressed that Arroyo’s detention is a matter carefully decided by the Philippine’s anti-graft court, the Sandiganbayan, after going through the regular judicial process.
De Lima barred Arroyo from leaving the Philippines in November 2011 for a scheduled medical check-up abroad in spite of a Supreme Court (SC) temporary restraining order (TRO) on the DOJ’s travel ban.
“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,” De Lima said, in a press statement.
De Lima stressed that Arroyo had the opportunity to plea before the Sandiganbayan to be allowed to post bail, but failed to have her motion granted “on the ground that Rep. Arroyo has failed to prove that the evidence against her is not strong.”
Arroyo should exhaust all domestic remedies
De Lima said it is up to the Sandiganbayan, which is under the Judiciary, to rule on Arroyo’s pleadings and her case. The Executive branch has nothing to do with the case, according to De Lima, which is why Clooney “must direct her petition to the Judiciary.”
“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.
“If [Clooney] is charging the government of arbitrarily depriving Rep. Arroyo of her liberty, she must direct her petiton 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,” De Lima said.
The justice chief further stressed that the courts decide cases “not on the basis of politics but on the legal merits of each case.”
Arroyo should exhaust all domestic legal remedies before her complaint before the UN may be entertained, De Lima added.
“[Clooney] 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,” De Lima said.
Arroyo is without any recourse for her medical condition, De Lima said, adding that Arroyo may move for the Sandiganbayan to allow her to seek medical treatment abroad, or question the denial of her motion for bail before the Supreme Court.
“Such 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,” De Lima said.(MNS)