FREE GMA!

Former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo arrives on a wheelchair for a flight to Hong Kong at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, in this November 15, 2011 file photo. Photo by Reuters

ILLEGAL and arbitrary.

This is how some groups including the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) have described the continued detention of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo based on what they claim as flimsy and trumped-up charges.

This developed as efforts to release former Arroyo from detention gathered momentum following the acquittal of former Comelec Commissioner Benjamin Abalos from graft charges in connection with the much-maligned NBN- ZTE deal.

International human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin-Clooney who has been at the forefront of continuing initiatives to free the former president noted that her continued arrest is illegal and arbitrary.


LEGAL SETBACK

The Aquino government suffered a huge legal setback after Sandiganbayan cleared Abalos from graft charges over the aborted $329-million national broadband network (NBN) project with China’s ZTE Corp. during the Arroyo administration.

In ordering the dismissal of the case, the anti graft court’s Fourth Division said government prosecutors after nine years have failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Abalos had indeed acted as agent in behalf of ZTE to secure the lucrative contract.

Lawyers for former President Arroyo who was also implicated in the controversial case claim that the anti-graft court’s decision to absolve Abalos should pave the way for her release at soonest possible time.


NBN-ZTE DEAL

Abalos was accused of using his position as Comelec chairman when he brokered for ZTE to get the contract for the national government’s National Broadband Network project between September 2006 and April 2007.

He allegedly received $130 million in commission from ZTE, thereby bloating the original contract cost to $329 million.

He reportedly also offered a P200-million bribe to then Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri for the approval of the project, and $10 million to businessman Joey de Venecia for his Amsterdam Holdings Incorporated (AHI), a competing contractor, to drop its bid for the project.


VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS

Arroyo, who is suffering from a rare bone disease, is under hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center on a separate plunder charge for allegedly misusing the P366-million Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office intelligence fund.

Her lawyers including Clooney, wife of Hollywood actor George Clooney however argued that many if not all of the co-accused of GMA in the PCSO case were already granted bail or have been acquitted but the anti-graft court has continued to deny her the right to post bail for no apparent legal reason.

Clooney was quoted as saying that Arroyo’s detention at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City on plunder charges was a violation of human rights and asked the Aquino government to issue a public apology to the former president.

For his part, Max de Mesa, chair of the Philippine Alliance of Humans Rights Advocates said it is the right of everybody including GMA to be able to appeal to the UN body, and any venue for redress.


UNSEEN HANDS

Legal counsels of GMA however are inclined to believe that there is no way that she will be given the chance to post bail in the current regime despite their strong legal arguments “because the unseen hands of Aquino government are at play in her case”.

They are however pinning their hopes that GMA might finally be granted bail on the coming Duterte administration after he was earlier quoted as saying that he would order her release should he win the presidency.

Duterte said in a campaign sortie in San Fernando City recently that he would order the release Arroyo “because just like everyone else she was entitled to a speedy trial”.

Arroyo was arrested in 2011 for electoral sabotage in the 2007 elections, but was allowed bail in 2012.

But before she could be freed, the Sandiganbayan ordered her arrest for plunder, in connection with the alleged misuse of over P365 million in intelligence funds of the state-run PCSO.


SC ORDER

Her lawyers led by former Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza however managed to secure an order from the Supreme Court temporarily stopping her trial for plunder.

Arroyo has claimed the evidence against her was insufficient and that detention has worsened her many ailments.

In justifying his plan to release Arroyo, Duterte said the prosecution appears not ready every time the case is called for hearing, therefore the court should dismiss the charges because “justice delayed is justice denied”.

 

MALACANANG BLOCKS GMA’S RELEASE

The palace however maintained that Duterte could not just order the release of Arroyo.

Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma was quoted as saying in a prior interview that “under existing laws, only the courts have the jurisdiction and the authority to rule on the status of an accused, including petitions for bail.”

He added that under the constitutional principle of separation of powers, the President, who is Chief Executive, may not get involved in such matters.


UN OPINION

Clooney for her part has obtained an opinion from the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that the incarceration of Arroyo is “arbitrary and illegal under international law … with an enforceable right to compensation.”

The Supreme Court in November last year granted Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile bail on humanitarian grounds in his plunder case, a move that, according to lawyers, could pave the way for a similar plea under the equal protection law by Arroyo.

The United Nations confirmed it has already received the petition filed by Clooney protesting the detention of Arroyo and seeking her release.

 

SELECTIVE JUSTICE

The Aquino administration has always touted its campaign against graft and corruption as one of its achievements and is using the detention of Arroyo, along those of Enrile and Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr., as its crowning glory.

But the administration’s battle against graft has been tainted with allegations that it is engaged in selective justice because it has succeeded only in sending behind bars known opposition figures but has failed to punish its allies.

Enrile, Estrada and Revilla are charged with plunder for diverting their congressional Priority Development Assistance Fund to ghost projects.


INTERNATIONAL SCRUTINY

Objective political analysts and legal luminaries agree that the Aquino administration and the country’s judicial system have been put under intense international scrutiny because of the continued detention of former President Arroyo.

It is also worth noting that it is only Arroyo who has been denied bail by the Sandiganbayan at every turn even if all of her co-accused had, however, been granted bail by the same court.

Indeed, a vindictive character knows no reason and as Ralph Steadman once said, ‘evil is always devising more corrosive misery through man's restless need to exact revenge out of his hate’.

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