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UN: GMA jailing flouts int’l law

A UNITED Nations panel has ruled that the Philippine government violated international law and deprived former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of her human rights by her continued detention, which it described as arbitrary, illegal and politically motivated.

The UN Working Committee on Arbitrary Detention recommended that Arroyo’s petition for bail be granted, and that she be accorded “an enforceable right” to compensation for the deprivation of liberty, which already occurred.

The UN working group’s opinion was relayed to Arroyo’s lawyer, Lorenzo Gadon,  Thursday, through an e-mail sent by international human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney, who had filed a human rights violation case against the Philippine government on Mrs. Arroyo’s behalf before the UN in February.

Winning advocate. International human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney, seen here in a file photo, brought Arroyo’s case before the United Nations. 

The Sandiganbayan, which is hearing Arroyo’s plunder case, stood its ground, however, and said its denial of bail for the former President will stay.

The Palace and the Justice Department also disagreed with the UN finding, and said neither the government nor the UN can interfere in “the course of an independent judicial hearing.”

Asked about the UN findings, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said: “We disagree. Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has been accorded... due process and has availed herself of various legal remedies under Philippine laws.”

Coloma played down the UN panel of human rights experts as “just a group expressing their own opinion.”

“This is not the General Assembly of the UN,” he said.

Reporting to Arroyo, Clooney said the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued its opinion on Oct. 2, stating that the former President’s detention violates international law and is arbitrary on a number of grounds.

“In its opinion, the working group, a prominent UN body composed of five independent human rights experts, endorsed the arguments advanced by Mrs. Arroyo’s counsel in full and held that in its reply submitted last June, the government had failed to refute any of her allegations,” she added.

The UN opinion, Clooney said, finds that the detention of Arroyo was arbitrary and illegal under international law because the Sandiganbayan failed to take into account her individual circumstances when it repeatedly denied bail, failed to consider measures alternative to pre-trial detention and because of the undue delays in proceedings against her.

Further, she said, the working group recognized that the charges against Arroyo were politically motivated, since she is detained as a result of the exercise of her right to take part in government and conduct of public affairs and because of her political opinion.

Clooney said the working group highlighted Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s defiance of the Supreme Court in November 2011, when she ordered a travel ban on Arroyo and prevented her from boarding a plane to seek medical treatment abroad.

On  June 15, the government filed its reply to Arroyo’s complaint through the Philippines Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva, arguing that Arroyo’s detention was legal and the UN working group should dismiss the case.

Arroyo then filed a written response to the government’s arguments through her counsel.

“The working group therefore had before it extensive legal submissions both from Mrs. Arroyo’s counsel and from the government’s legal advisors,” Clooney said.

“As a result of the government’s violations, the working group recommended reconsideration of Mrs. Arroyo’s application for bail in accordance with relevant international human rights standards and to accord Mrs. Arroyo with an enforceable right to compensation for the deprivation of liberty, which already occurred,” she said.

In addition, the working group concluded that if the remaining criminal cases proceed against Mrs. Arroyo, the government should ensure fair trials that respect all the guarantees enshrined in international human rights law.

“In particular, the trials must take place without undue delay,” Clooney said.

Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje Tang defended the actions of the court.

“We have our own judicial process that has to be observed and the first division of the court has precisely observed this process in place. I don’t think the court has violated any international law. The court has always observed all the processes that are in place in the country,” Tang told House reporters on the sidelines of the plenary deliberations on the judiciary’s budget for 2016.

The Sandiganbayan rejected Arroyo’s petition for bail despite the unanimous passage of a resolution in the House that she be granted house arrest on humanitarian grounds.

Tang said Arroyo was given due process as her petition for bail was heard, and that evidence was presented and evaluated before the court came out with its resolution.

“The first division of the Sandiganbayan is handling this case. If there’s no significant material change in the circumstances, I would believe the decision will stay,” Tang said.

“We followed existing jurisprudence on the matter. We based our resolution on existing laws and jurisprudence. Our mandate is not to be influenced by any public opinion. We base our resolution on facts and evidence in the case,” said Sandiganbayan Justice Efren dela Cruz, chairman of the first division that has Arroyo detained on a plunder charge.

Arroyo’s counsel, Gadon, said the former President welcomed the UN findings.

“She was elated that finally, even the UN recognized her basic human rights,” Gadon said.

Gadon said Arroyo wanted to be released from detention because she has acquired a new ailment.

“She cannot move her left arm. It’s like she’s paralyzed. Experts say this is so because of her long detention that limited her movement. She cannot even hold a teacup up to drink. To do so, she needs to transfer the teacup and make use of her right arm,” Gadon said.

For this reason, Gadon said the Arroyo camp has asked the Sandiganbayan to allow her to have a medical checkup at St. Luke’s Medical Center.

Arroyo has been detained at the Veterans Medical Memorial Center for three years now.

Gadon urged the government to respect the opinion of the UN panel.

Mrs. Clooney stepped into the case after the Sandiganbayan repeatedly denied Mrs. Arroyo’s petition for bail.

Gadon and Modesto Ticman Jr. sought the help of Mrs. Clooney to bring Arroyo’s case to the United Nations Human Rights Council so she could be freed from hospital arrest.

On Thursday, Arroyo filed a motion for medical leave for a series of tests at the St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City.

In the Palace, Coloma said the Philippines takes note of the UN opinion and would prepare “an appropriate response.”

“The Philippines, as a signatory to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, abides by its international obligations and ensures that all individuals are accorded due process under its laws…,” Coloma said.

He also denied that Arroyo’s detention was politically motivated, and played down the UN working group as “just a group expressing their own opinion.”

De Lima also contested the UN panel’s findings and said Arroyo’s detention had basis under Philippine laws.

“They seem to be taking issue on the denial of bail, but that is provided in the Constitution. While international law forms part of the law of the land under the doctrine of incorporation, the Constitution prevails,” De Lima said.

In the House, the leader of the independent minority bloc, Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, echoed the position of the UN panel, saying Mrs. Arroyo’s continued detention was arbitrary and illegal.

Romualdez said he is hopeful the national government will be more compassionate to the former leader following the UN opinion on the plight of Arroyo.

“We agree and support the position of the UN,” Romualdez said in a text message.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. reiterated his support for Mrs. Arroyo to be placed under house arrest, but disputed the UN finding that her detention was illegal.

“I am not aware that is illegal but I am in favor of her house arrest,” Belmonte said. “If it is [illegal], I am sure her battery of lawyers would have gotten her freed by now.”

House deputy minority leader and 1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III also agreed with the UN finding, noting that Arroyo has been denied bail even though her co-accused have all been granted bail.

Also on Thursday, Raul Lambino, a lawyer for Arroyo, said the detained former President would seek reelection as the representative for the second district of Pampanga.

Lambino said the former President asked him to prepare her certificate of candidacy, which she will file through a representative next week.

Arroyo is currently on her second term as representative of Pampanga’s second district. With , Rio N. Araja, Vito Barcelo and Rey E. Requejo

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