By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
This piece was written before the Supreme Court held a special en banc session yesterday to hear the oral arguments on various pleadings pertaining to the Justice Department order stopping Gloria M. Arroyo from travelling abroad and the Tribunal’s issuance of a temporary restraining order allowing her to leave.
No matter how the Court decides after the hearing, it is important to point out that the “high drama” or “crisis” played up in the media could have been avoided. Yes, it could have been averted had the Executive exercised more diligence and the SC, more prudence.
On the part of the Executive, it should have worked harder and faster (as I wrote in this column last week) on the plunder charge against Arroyo submitted to the DoJ early in the P-Noy presidency, or on any other case it had received or initiated. It should have filed the case in court and secured a hold-departure order against the accused.
Such moves by the Executive could have deprived Arroyo of legal ground to question the hold-departure order.
On the part of the SC, prudence should have impelled the Chief Justice to order a special en banc session to hear the oral arguments of both sides on Arroyo’s petition before issuing the TRO. This was what the five justices who dissented wanted to have been done.
That the Chief Justice ordered the holding of yesterday’s special session appears like a rather belated corrective action.
Regarding the TRO, the National Union of People’s Lawyers has issued a relatively sober, well-argued statement, putting to task both the Supreme Court and President Aquino.
The NUPL is composed of lawyers who provide mostly pro-bono legal services in public-interest and human rights cases. It has backed up the filing of criminal charges, against Arroyo and other officials in her administration, involving plunder, graft and corruption, and human rights violations. One such case, against retired Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. and others, is pending at the DoJ.
In a press statement titled, “Licensed to Flee,” NUPL states:
“Amidst the competing views and the complex legal and political implications surrounding the issue, it is sad that prudence 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 for it. Oral arguments and studied contemplation should have been done first. Arroyo’s health condition is, fortunately, not life threatening.”
Furthermore, NUPL observes:
“While the Arroyos cry that their rights are being violated, the speedy issuance of the TRO has made some sectors of our society squirm in astonishment. 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 injustice that cannot be undone, to the utter disadvantage of the Filipino people and their interest in making high public officials really accountable and seeing impunity stopped, 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.”
The situation must be put into proper perspective, NUPL urges. “The surrounding facts and circumstances,” it points out, “show that Arroyo is abusing the right to travel as a plausible ruse to escape accountability for the grave crimes she allegedly committed, of which there is strong evidence.” It adds:
“But the law should not be taken in abstraction; instead it must be applied in a concrete legal and political situation, with the dispensation of justice as the overriding goal. As has been said before, ‘general propositions do not decide specific cases.’”
Warning that once Arroyo leaves the country “the quest for justice will almost certainly fall apart,” NUPL declares:
“We support all efforts to exhaust all possible remedies to stop attempts of the Arroyos to flee. Too many tyrants, here and abroad, have tried to escape accountability through the hospital door. For history not to repeat itself, we should be vigilant as the events that surely have long-term effects on our nation unfold before our eyes. We can argue how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but at the end of the day the issue all boils down to accountability of our public officials. Can we really get justice?”
A jab on P-Noy – who, in two state-of-the-nation addresses, has vowed to get air-tight cases against corrupt officials filed and prosecuted relentlessly — is left for last:
“Had President Aquino accompanied the rhetoric and blame game with prompt and concrete legal actions in prosecuting the Arroyos as part of his campaign against corruption, it would not have come to this high drama. While the Arroyos were rushing to leave the country, P-Noy was twiddling his thumbs over 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.”
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November 24, 2011