Battle for justice

By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Streetwise | BusinessWorld

Forces in the Philippine political landscape are gearing up for a major legal and political battle. Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband’s attempts to leave the country and escape the proverbial long arm of the law, ironically by utilizing a favorable Supreme Court order, were foiled by Justice Secretary de Lima and Comelec Commissioner Brilliantes by means of an arrest warrant for Mrs. Arroyo speedily issued by a Pasay court on the charge of election sabotage.

This has led to the current situation with Mrs. Arroyo under “hospital arrest” while a clutch of related legal issues are pending in the Supreme Court and more criminal and civil cases are being filed by various citizen’s groups against the Arroyos.

Indeed, a big battle is looming to bring the Arroyos to justice. Or, as many, including one of the Arroyos’ lawyers would put it, the battle has begun and Secretary De Lima has won the first round.

At first glance, the two major protagonists are the Arroyos on one hand and Malacañang on the other. In truth, the real protagonists are the people wanting to bring the Arroyos to justice for their crimes, and the Arroyos who wish to escape prosecution and punishment.

Thus, the arena of contention is not just the courts of justice, but more so the bar of public opinion.

Public opinion is vehemently and overwhelmingly against the attempted flight of the Arroyos by virtue of the Supreme Court TRO, while strongly in favor of Secretary De Lima’s thwarting such attempt by firmly and courageously refusing to implement the TRO outright at the risk of being charged and cited for contempt.

Nobody is buying the Arroyos’ storyline: that the former president only intends to get special medical treatment abroad, since they claim this is locally unavailable, and will return to face the charges against her and her husband.

Various groups and personages who have filed cases against the Arroyos with the Justice Department and Ombudsman are pushing for prompt action on these. Malacañang has announced additional charges will be filed against the Arroyos and others involved in anomalies in the Arroyo administration.

It must be pointed out that the Aquino administration’s credibility and following rests to a large extent on its repeated pledges to hold the Arroyos accountable and eradicate corruption in government. Thus it is compelled to show concrete results beyond promises and rhetoric.

In terms of mandate, power and resources, it is in the best position to bring the Arroyos to justice. But its performance thus far has been found wanting and reveals an inability to act effectively on its own.

The people need to be vigilant and push the Executive to promptly take the proper and necessary measures to ensure that the Arroyos are prosecuted and eventually convicted of their high crimes against the people.

They must be vigilant against all sorts of mutual accommodations or compromises that may take place between Malacañang and the Arroyos.

As had happened too often in the past ruling regimes have done little to investigate and prosecute the alleged anomalies of their predecessors in accordance with the unwritten rule among the ruling classes that these may used for purposes of election mudslinging or even to oust a sitting government but not for serious criminal prosecution.

The Supreme Court has once again put its integrity and independence under a cloud of doubt with majority of the magistrates voting in favor of the Arroyos on the TRO last Nov 15.

While many still blindly accept the Supreme Court’s impartiality and hold its mandate and decisions unassailable, the vote is reminiscent of previous highly questionable decisions, such as when it flip-flops on its issuances or goes against its own jurisprudence.

The Court’s 2010 decision upholding the constitutionality of the midnight appointment of the current Chief Justice is one of the most notorious and glaring examples.

In his searing critique of this decision, Fr. Joaquin Bernas wrote, “It will not take much imagination to guess whom the President will not appoint…(and) whom she will appoint…What the fallout will be from all this remains to be seen. One thing is sure today: popular confidence in the integrity and independence of the Court has been severely sapped.”

The way the SC voted last Nov 15, the majority of the honorable magistrates seemed totally mindless of how the credibility of the Supreme Court would be affected or how the people would regard the institution’s independence and integrity. Perhaps they had thought the people too naive or ignorant or both to see through their highly controversial if not dubious decisions and actuations.

On the other hand, the subsequent SC vote not to issue a TRO on the question of the legality of the Joint DOJ-COMELEC Committee that recommended charges of electoral sabotage was cause for a collective sigh of relief. A contrary vote would have again given the Arroyos the freedom to fly away from prosecution.

If anything, it was a sign that the people have made their voices heard and that it would have been foolhardy, even for the Supreme Court, to blatantly disregard them.

The Arroyos will certainly take full advantage of the numerical superiority of Mrs. Arroyo’s Supreme Court appointees to sabotage and defeat efforts to prosecute them in any court of justice.

But this advantage has its own limits. The people’s vigilance and active intervention on issues within and outside the courts can counter the Arroyos’ maneuvers and counter-maneuvers.

Nonetheless, it remains to be seen whether justice will prevail. The odds are clearly stacked against it, with Malacañang having still to prove its mettle and its resolve to prosecute the Arroyos fully.

Indeed, the people’s fight for justice rests on their shoulders more than anything. They must continue to be vigilant, unshakeable and make their voices heard unequivocally and strong so that in the end, their will would be undeniable and in fact become truly sovereign. #

Published in Business World
25-26 Novemeber 2011

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