Accountability. This one word sums up the Aquino administration’s goal in barring former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from leaving the country. The administration wants to hold Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo accountable for electoral sabotage — a case of which has been filed by the Commission on Elections in the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Pasay — and for corruption, plunder and several other serious indictments pending in the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) and in the Department of Justice.
Out of reach. If allowed to leave, the former president — so the administration fears — will not come back and thus frustrate our people’s quest for justice. At the very least, she would be able to delay the cases until the term of President Aquino ends in 2016 and a more sympathetic president takes over.
Once abroad, she would be beyond the reach of our courts. And if she manages to fly prior to her arraignment, the criminal proceedings would be halted indefinitely until she personally appears (or is somehow brought back here) and pleads “guilty” or “not guilty” during her arraignment. Without such arraignment, trial cannot proceed and justice cannot be served, so the administration ratiocinates.
On the other hand, Arroyo, via her battery of lawyers, argues that her constitutional and statutory rights, especially her rights to travel and to seek medical attention, are being emaciated. At the Manila airport, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima stopped her from leaving, even though the Supreme Court had issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), thereby nearly precipitating a constitutional crisis.
Arroyo’s remedies. The focus now is on the electoral sabotage case filed by the Comelec in the Pasay RTC, presided over by Judge Jesus Mupas, who issued a warrant for Arroyo’s arrest. Under our laws, the accused in capital offenses, like electoral sabotage, are not entitled to bail and are detained during their trial.
What are Arroyo’s remedies to invalidate her arrest, to be freed of detention and to be able to go abroad? And what are government’s options to thwart her and to keep her in jail?
First, Arroyo is now challenging the authority of the joint DoJ-Comelec panel that conducted the preliminary investigation (PI) for electoral sabotage. She claims that by partnering with the DoJ (a partisan political agency), the Comelec’s constitutional independence had been severely compromised.
Thus, the PI undertaken by the joint panel, including its recommendation to the Comelec for Arroyo’s prosecution, reeks with partisan bias. Lacking in objectivity, the electoral sabotage charge later filed by the Comelec en banc with the RTC is void and the warrant of arrest issued on the basis of these proceedings is also invalid, so Arroyo claims.
The government counters that the DoJ was just assisting, not interfering, with the Comelec. After all, under Republic Act 9369, the authority of the Commission “to conduct preliminary investigation of all election offenses” is “concurrent with the other prosecuting arms of the government,” like the DoJ. Instead of conducting a separate and repetitive PI, the DoJ was well within its powers to conduct the said PI jointly with the Comelec.
Second, Arroyo’s lawyers are also questioning the RTC’s jurisdiction over the sabotage suit, saying that cases against high public officials exclusively fall on the Sandiganbayan. Hence, the RTC’s warrant of arrest is void since it was issued sans authority. Au contraire, the government posits that the Omnibus Election Code gives the RTC exclusive jurisdiction over election offenses.
Third, Arroyo’s legal eagles argue that Judge Mupas gravely abused his authority because he could not have determined “personally,” as required by law, the existence of “probable cause” before issuing the warrant of arrest. It is inconceivable, they say, that Judge Mupas could intelligently pass upon the voluminous records of the DoJ-Comelec PI in just four hours.
Judged by our people. However, the government counters that precisely the determination of probable cause was prioritized because Arroyo was all set to fly and would have frustrated the quest for justice, if the RTC dilly-dallied. So, instead of being vilified, Judge Mupas should be praised for speeding up the case.
In addition to showing the legality of Arroyo’s detention in the electoral sabotage case, the government is probably speeding up also the PI of Arroyo’s other cases in the OMB and DoJ. After all, even if the Supreme Court quashes the electoral sabotage case, the filing of another information for another capital offense would effectively bar Arroyo’s travel. Also, precedents repeatedly held that all the above three issues should be addressed first to the RTC before being elevated to the Supreme Court.
Many skirmishes, maneuverings and howling there will be but in the end, the Supreme Court — not Malacañang — will rule on Arroyo’s fate. The Palace can investigate, prosecute, cite precedents, wail and huff, but the Supreme Court can alter jurisprudence or create exceptions thereto.
If, after the oral argument this Tuesday, the Court should issue an order or TRO allowing GMA to fly immediately, will the Palace dutifully follow? Or will it do another Leila and precipitate another crisis? How will our people respond?
As I have always said, the might of the Supreme Court rests on its being right. By its rulings on Arroyo, the high court’s being right would be judged by our people and by history. That judgment could also come immediately via impeachment by their elected alter egos.
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