Politics and Arroyo’s detention
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has rendered an opinion that former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s continued detention violates international laws on human rights. According to international human rights lawyer, Amal Alamuddin-Clooney, the UN body viewed Arroyo’s detention as politically motivated. On the other hand, the Office of the President has maintained that former President Arroyo has been accorded due process under the law and has availed herself of all legal remedies. He said that neither the Philippine government nor any international body can interfere with the ongoing judicial process in the Sandiganbayan.
Who will prevail in this apparent clash between a Philippine court that handles Arroyo’s case and the United Nations of which the Philippines is a member? Legally, there is no real clash because the UN body can only give an opinion which it, in fact, gave. It cannot order a Philippine court to rule one way or the other. An opinion, technically, has no binding effect on a local court because even the Philippine government cannot order the Sandiganbayan how it should rule. The Philippine Constitution guarantees the independence of one branch of government from the two others.
However, the former President has reason to question her continued detention. For one, as explained by lawyer and former law dean, Antonio Abad, Arroyo was denied her right to equal protection under the law. The equal protection clause in the Philippine Constitution guarantees equality of rights among persons similarly classified. It will be recalled that Arroyo, along with former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office directors, Manuel Morato, Rey Roquero and Jose Taruc V, and former Commission on Audit Chairman Reynaldo Villar, were charged with conspiracy in committing plunder involving P366-million intelligence funds of the sweepstakes office. Conspiracy means the act of one is the act of all. Yet, while all her co-accused in the case for plunder were granted bail and later, their motions to dismiss the charges against them by way of a demurrer to evidence were likewise granted, Arroyo’s petition for bail and her Motion to dismiss were both denied by the Sandiganbayan. Thus, all of Arroyo’s alleged co-conspirators have been freed while she alone remains in detention. Dean Abad was correct in saying that Arroyo’s right to the equal protection of laws guaranteed by the Constitution to the citizens have been violated.
Moreover, it will be recalled that Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, formerly detained for the crime of plunder as well, was granted bail several months ago for humanitarian reasons. Arroyo, for her part, has been reportedly suffering from cervical spondylosis, a degenerative disease of the bones and cartilage of the neck. Her doctors at the Veterans Memorial Hospital have said too that she has been complaining of weakness, pain in her left shoulder, numbness of both hands and frequent choking. If Enrile was granted bail on humanitarian grounds, this should strengthen Arroyo’s petition for bail on top of the legal argument that she is entitled to equal protection of laws guaranteed by the Constitution. Although the UN body’s opinion that Arroyo’s detention violates human rights does not carry a binding effect on our courts, at the very least, it causes embarrassment to the Philippine government. It has just been given the burden of proving that politics has nothing to do with Arroyo’s continued detention.