By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Two progressive lawmakers and leaders of various peoples organizations said the blame over the attempts of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to leave the country should be laid at the doors of two institutions: Malacañang and the Supreme Court.
Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño’s said the High Court’s decision to grant Macapagal-Arroyo a temporary restraining order against the hold departure order of the Department of Justice (DOJ) does not serve the interest of justice for three reasons.
“First, it ignores the fact that Macapagal-Arroyo is facing several investigations for serious crimes and it is in her interest not to return to face these charges. In other words, it ignores the reality that she is a serious flight risk. Second, it ignores the fact that there is no urgency for the ex-president to go abroad for medical reasons as attested to by her doctors. If there is any urgency, it is to flee the very serious charges against her. Third, the decision renders moot and academic the deliberations on the case set for next week, as she would have already left the country as she is desperately trying to do now. In other words, even if the Court eventually rules that the government is within its right to restrict Macapagal-Arroyo’s travel, it can’t be implemented anymore,” he said.
Casiño said the government should exhaust all legal and administrative remedies to prevent Macapagal-Arroyo from leaving provided that it is within the bounds of due process and human rights.
“The most important thing at this point is for government to do everything it can to make the former executive accountable for her crimes,” he said.
Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Luz Ilagan for her part said it is not enough for DOJ Secretary Leila De Lima to file a motion for reconsideration on the Supreme Court decision.
“It is high time for President Benigno Aquino III to show political will and immediately direct the DOJ to initiate the filing of charges against the Arroyos. Otherwise, this legal fiasco provides an opportunity for one of Philippine history’s biggest plunderer to escape accountability, and no less than the Aquino administration will be held liable for this injustice,” she said.
Ilagan also expressed her doubts on the Arroyos’ intent to return and face charges once they have been allowed to leave the country.
“They can always say they will return, but we all know they have lied so many times,” she said.
The rhetoric and blame game
A human rights lawyer also criticized the president for “twiddling his fingers” over Macapagal-Arroyo’s attempts to leave the country. Edre Olalia, secretary-general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said Macapagal-Arroyo was attempting to escape justice and frustrate efforts to prosecute her.
“This is in plain view that nobody could have missed it. The minute she steps out of the country, the quest for justice will almost certainly fall apart. She will most probably wait it out till the political atmosphere and conditions are more conducive or accommodating to her political rehabilitation while she is ‘recuperating’ or dodging imagined ‘political persecution,’” he said.
Olalia said amid the competing views and the complex legal and political implications surrounding the issue, prudence apparently took the back seat.
“The TRO was seen by not a few as having been issued with rather undue and unusual haste even as there is no compelling urgency. Oral arguments and studied contemplation should have been done first. Arroyo’s health condition is, fortunately, not life threatening,”he said.
According to Olalia, the SC’s speedy issuance of the TRO was questionable.
“It does not help any that there are pervasive perceptions that the results appear to hew to clear partisan lines. It could be seen as giving a relief that is precisely the meat of the petition and may in fact result in irreparable justice that can not be undone, to the utter disadvantage of the Filipino people and their interest in making high public officials really accountable and that impunity must stop, once and for all. There also is an apparent double standard with which the cases of privileged litigants with power and influence, like the Arroyos, are being treated,” he opined.
The human rights lawyer concluded by saying that President Aquino should have accompanied “the rhetoric and blame game” with prompt and concrete legal actions in prosecuting the Arroyos as part of his declared campaign against corruption.
“While the Arroyos are rushing to leave the country, President Aquino was twiddling his fingers in decisively filing cases in court against them not only for big time corruption and unmitigated plunder but also for the most heinous violations of basic human rights,” he said.
Make GMA accountable for her crimes
Government employees are also outraged over Macapagal-Arroyo’s attempts to leave on what they said was a the dubious pretext of seeking medical treatment abroad.
Ferdinand Gaite, president of the Confederation for the Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) said the issue goes beyond simply restricting the ex-president’s right to travel.
“She’s not an ordinary citizen, her regime was marked with gross human rights violations, rampant graft and corruption and a culture of impunity that permeated many aspects of our society. We will not be swayed by her attempts to solicit sympathy—we demand that she and her cronies be made accountable for their crimes against the Filipino people,” he said.
Gaite also decried the Aquino administration’s “incompetence and insincerity” in prosecuting Arroyo and her cronies.
“The Aquino administration is more concerned about scoring “pogi points” and good publicity through empty gestures and rhetoric rather than genuinely granting justice to the victims of the Arroyo regime. Aquino won the presidency on the premise that he was different from his predecessor, that he would go after corrupt bureaucrats and hold them accountable for their crimes. More than a year after he was sworn into office and despite his constant verbal attacks on his predecessor, Aquino has done absolutely nothing to prosecute Macapagal-Arroyo for the nine years of impunity that plunged the country into unparalleled crisis,”he said. and international human rights bodies.