POSTSCRIPT / October 20, 2015 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Aquino’s stand on UN rulings is inconsistent

MALACAÑANG is in the habit of respecting the law when construed in its favor, but dismissing it when its interpretation does not serve the Palace’s ulterior agenda.

The administration’s inconsistent attitude toward the rule of law in international relations does not speak well of President Noynoy Aquino as the country’s spokesman in foreign affairs.

The Philippines insists that China stand before the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague to thresh out bilateral territorial disputes in the South China Sea. But it dismisses the UN Working Group on Human Rights ruling that the detention of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is arbitrary and incompatible with international law.

If the administration cannot be fair, it should at least be consistent. The President should make up his mind about honoring rulings of agencies of the UN, of which the Philippines was one of the 51 founding members when its charter was ratified Oct. 24, 1945.

Speaking last July 7 before the UN arbitral court on the Philippines-China dispute, the President’s alter ego Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario declared:

“The Philippines has long placed its faith in the rules and institutions that the international community has created to regulate relations among States… Its (the UN’s) organs, coupled with the power of international law, serve as the great equalizer among States… The Philippines has respected and implemented its rights and obligations under the (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) in good faith.”

Three months later, however, Malacañang rejected as merely the opinion of an outsider the UN working group’s ruling that Ms Arroyo’s continued detention violated international law.

Palace says UN meddling in GMA case

COMMUNICATIONS Secretary Sonny Coloma said last Oct. 8 that Ms Arroyo has been accorded due process, that there is an on-going judicial process, and that any international body cannot interfere nor influence the course of an independent judicial proceeding.

He said that 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.”

Unlike China that refused to join the arbitral proceedings at The Hague, the Philippines participated in the UN working group’s hearings on the Arroyo case – but rejected the ruling when it did not conform to what it wanted.

To resolve the case once and for all, and in the interest of speedy justice, the Sandiganbayan should not allow the trial to drag. After all, the prosecution claims to have solid evidence to pin down Ms Arroyo.

The administration should now cut the slow drag, go for the jugular and get it over with – unless the real intent is to persecute, not just to prosecute, and inflict as cruel a punishment as is possible.

We are not saying that Ms Arroyo is innocent. We are just saying that like other accused, she is entitled to fair treatment and a speedy trial — plus a presumption of being innocent until convicted. The Sandiganbayan should open a reasonable recourse to bail.

It is anomalous that many of Ms Arroyo’s co-accused – who, under the theory of conspiracy, are equally guilty or innocent – are out on bail while she is not. Some of them have even been cleared after the court upheld their motions for the demurrer to evidence.

It is childish, at the same time unchristian, for the most powerful man in the country to keep hounding Ms Aquino already suffering from a life-threatening medical condition.

Clooney reports on UN ruling on GMA

INTERNATIONAL lawyer Amal Clooney who brought the case before the UN reported in an e-mail to a counsel of Ms Arroyo:

“In its opinion released on Oct. 2, 2015, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention confirmed that the detention of (Arroyo) violates international law and is arbitrary on a number of grounds. The opinion was issued following an individual complaint filed by counsel for Ms Arroyo last February. On June 15, the Government filed its reply through the Philippines’ Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva, arguing that Ms Arroyo’s detention was legal, and that the UN Working Group should dismiss the case. Ms 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 Ms Arroyo’s counsel and from the Government’s legal advisors.

“In its Opinion, the Working Group — a prominent UN body composed of five independent human rights experts — endorsed the arguments advanced by Ms Arroyo’s counsel in full and held that, in its reply submitted last June, the Government had failed to refute any of her allegations. The UN opinion finds that the detention of former President Arroyo was arbitrary and illegal under international law because the Sandiganbayan 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. Further, the Working Group recognized that the charges against Ms 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.’

“The Working Group highlighted the Government’s ‘defiance of court rulings removing travel bans against Ms Arroyo’ as an example of the Government targeting her and interfering with judicial decisions in her case. This finding related to an incident in which the Justice Secretary prevented Ms Arroyo from boarding a plane in November 2011 in violation of a Supreme Court ruling allowing her to seek medical treatment abroad.

“As a result of the Government’s violations, the Working Group recommended reconsideration of Ms 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.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 20, 2015)

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