Government disputes UN on GMA detention
Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - October 8, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang disputed yesterday the opinion of the United Nations Working Group that detained former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was not accorded due process in her plunder case.

“If they have an opinion or view with regard to our system, that is their right. But our position is clear: We do not agree with what they stated,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.

“The Philippine government or any international body, for that matter, cannot interfere nor influence the course of an independent judicial proceeding,” he said.

Afflicted with a degenerative bone disease, the former president has earned sympathy from the UN body, which called her detention arbitrary and in violation of international law.

International human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney, the wife of actor George Clooney, informed Arroyo’s lawyer Lorenzo Gadon through e-mail of the opinion of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

“In its opinion released on 2 October 2015, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention confirmed that the detention of former President of the Philippines Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo violates international law and is arbitrary on a number of grounds,” she said.

Coloma said the Philippines would prepare an appropriate response to the UN opinion through the Department of Foreign Affairs.

“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 said even Sandiganbayan presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang had pointed out that the graft court’s handling of the case was in accordance with the country’s laws.

Tang explained the rulings of the court’s First Division on the petitions for bail filed by the Arroyo camp “are governed by the rules of court duly promulgated by the Supreme Court.”

“The First Division of this court has strictly adhered to these rules. Only the Supreme Court can overturn any ruling of this court,” Tang told The STAR.

Associate Justice Samuel Martires, a senior magistrate of the Sandiganbayan, added that the UN opinion is not binding on the Sandiganbayan.

“It’s just as good as the opinion of an ordinary man on the street. The First Division has denied the bail petition of GMA and no king or president can force the court to change its ruling,” he said.

Martires said the UN’s issuing the opinion “is tantamount to an interference in the functions of the Sandiganbayan.”

Asked about the supposed political motivation in filing cases against Arroyo, Coloma reiterated the legal processes were being followed.

He said even the hospital detention of Arroyo was decided by the anti-graft court, which has full jurisdiction over the cases against the former president.

Coloma said despite the contradicting opinion on the case, the government was abiding by the legal processes.

De Lima also refuted the opinion raised by the UN body.

“They should understand what is provided in our Constitution and Rules of Court,” she told reporters in a press conference.

“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,” she stressed in Filipino.

Seeking re-election

Detained former President Arroyo will seek reelection for a third and last term as representative of the second congressional district of Pampanga, her lawyer said yesterday.

Raul Lambino said Arroyo, currently detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) for alleged plunder of funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, has instructed him to prepare her certificate of candidacy, which she will file through a representative next week. Arroyo has been in detention since December 2011.

Arroyo will run under the Lakas-Christian and Muslim Democrats, said Lambino, who is also deputy secretary of the party.

“The people of Pampanga are fully aware of her contributions to her district. She is one of the few representatives who have filed many important bills, some of them became laws,” he said.

He said in the 2013 congressional elections, Arroyo obtained almost 96 percent of the votes even if she was in detention.

It was not clear whether the ruling Liberal Party would field a candidate against her, Lambino said.

Her lawyers have been filing petitions for bail before the Sandiganbayan citing weak evidence against her.


The five-member UN body, composed of independent international human rights experts, said the Philippine government should actually compensate the former president “for the deprivation of liberty which already occurred,” Clooney said.

Clooney explained that the opinion was issued following an individual complaint filed by the former president’s lawyer last February.

She said the Philippine government was given the chance to answer the complaint.

“Mrs. 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 told Gadon.

“The UN opinion finds that the detention of former President Arroyo was arbitrary and illegal under international law because the Sandiganbayan court 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,” she told Arroyo’s lawyer.

“Further, the Working Group recognized that the charges against Mrs. Arroyo are politically motivated, since she is detained ‘as a result of the exercise of her right to take part in government and the conduct of public affairs’ and ‘because of her political… opinion’,” Clooney pointed out.

She said the UN body particularly took notice of the Philippine government’s supposed “defiance of court rulings removing travel bans against Ms. Arroyo” as an example of the government targeting her and interfering in judicial decisions in her case.

Such finding was based on the November 2011 incident where Justice Secretary Leila de Lima prevented the former president from boarding a plane despite a Supreme Court ruling allowing her to seek medical treatment abroad.

Clooney noted that as a result of the Philippine government’s alleged violations, the Working Group recommended “reconsideration of Mrs Arroyo’s application for bail in accordance with the relevant international human rights standards and to accord Ms. Arroyo with an enforceable right to compensation… for the deprivation of liberty which already occurred.” 

In addition, she said the UN body wrote that “if the remaining criminal cases proceed against Mrs. Arroyo, the Working Group requests the Government to ensure fair trials which respect all the guarantees enshrined in international human rights law.”– With Michael Punongbayan, Edu Punay, Paolo Romero



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