‘Just an opinion’
WITH typical disregard for what is just and right, a spokesman for President Aquino last week dismissed a finding by a United Nations panel that the government violated international law and the human rights of former President Gloria Arroyo through its arbitrary, illegal and politically motivated detention of her since 2012.
The panel that the spokesman was so quick to dismiss as “just a group expressing an opinion” was the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, composed of five recognized experts on international law and human rights. Working under the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the panel is mandated to examine individual complaints regarding alleged cases of arbitrary detention, render its opinion and make its recommendations to the government involved.
In the course of its investigation, if the group considers that further information is required from the government or the complainant, then it may keep the case pending until that information is received.
In this instance, international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney filed a case on behalf of Mrs. Arroyo in February, questioning the government’s continued detention of the former president and its refusal to allow her to post bail, given that all her other co-accused in the same case had already been able to do so.
On June 15, the government filed its reply to Arroyo’s complaint through the Philippines Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva, arguing that the former President’s detention was legal and the UN working group should dismiss the case.
The government’s participation in the proceedings before the working group was significant, because it was a tacit acknowledgment of its authority and expertise to render a legal opinion.
How that acknowledgment turned into a dismissal of the UN panel as “just a group” can be explained by this administration’s penchant to only follow the rules when they prove favorable, and to simply disregard them when they are not.
The UN Working Group itself observed this tendency when it 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.
It is the height of hypocrisy for this government to wave away the findings of the Working Group, yet take the country’s territorial complaint against China to a UN tribunal.
Should the judgment go against the Philippines, will the President’s mouthpiece once again dismiss a UN body as “just a group expressing an opinion?”
Regardless of the administration’s denials, the UN Working Group’s opinion on the Arroyo case marked the Philippines as a violator of human rights. This was a black mark on the country’s reputation—and it was the self-righteous President Aquino and his minions who put it there.