By: Amando Doronila
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Immediately after setting foot on Philippine soil on Saturday from the Asean summit forum in Indonesia, President Aquino plunged into a blistering action to deliver the coup de grace on his arrested adversary, former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
On his arrival statement at Villamor Air Base, the impatient President didn’t allow the grass to grow under the feet.
Immediately following the filing of criminal charges against Arroyo for alleged electoral sabotage, Mr. Aquino said the arrest “is just the start of the process” of prosecuting the former President.
Arroyo became the second Philippine leader to be jailed after Joseph Estrada who was arrested on charges of plunder in April 2001. This warning is ominous.
In an effort to rally public support for the swift incarceration of Arroyo—after a day in which the process of filing charges and serving of the arrest warrant on her was completed from dawn to dusk, a speed unprecedented in the annals of the Philippine judicial system—Mr. Aquino promised to accord her due process.
“She will have an equal opportunity to defend herself in court because that is the right of every Filipino,” he said. “That is the process that a vendor or driver, teacher or garbage collector, cop or clerk, from the highest position down to the ordinary person, should all go through, taking no sides, simply focused on the search for truth and making the guilty accountable.”
The President expressed confidence that the Filipino people were behind his effort to prosecute those behind alleged election fraud in the past.
“And it is very good to know that even from the start, even while I was outside the country, you are all behind me, especially on this issue,” he said. “I know that I am not alone. As I think about your welfare, you continue to give me strength.”
He added that the prosecution was the result of the “reform I have laid out to combat corruption.”
The core principle of this program is this, he said, “the guilty should be made accountable because if not, it would be like we have kept the door open to anyone who would want to abuse our people.”
The impromptu speech served notice that the President, in kick-starting the prosecution, has opened a new round of public lynching of Arroyo, aimed at winning public opinion behind his actions intended to send her to jail indefinitely by Christmas.
Following her arrest, Arroyo is languishing at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Taguig City, being treated for a bone disease, and awaiting to stand trial in the Pasay City Regional Trial Court.
In a day, Friday’s breathtaking developments unfolded, including:
(1) The government slammed the door shut on an attempt by Arroyo to fly out to Hong Kong last Tuesday to seek medical treatment abroad in defiance of the Supreme Court, which issued a TRO (temporary restraining order) which sought to stop the justice department from implementing its directive that banned the departure of Arroyo who was put on its watch-list order (WLO).
(2) In blocking the departure, the justice department, by disobeying the execution of the TRO, put the administration on a head-on confrontation with the high court.
(3) While the high court rejected the government’s petition for reconsideration of its TRO, the administration undercut the high tribunal by rushing the criminal complaint against Arroyo within a day, to enable it to file the case with the Pasay City RTC on Friday and consequently gave it an excuse to stop her departure. The complaint handed the administration the key to arrest Arroyo and hold her indefinitely on the grounds that electoral sabotage is a crime that is nonbailable—with the effect that she would be under custody as a government captive indefinitely.
De Lima’s rule
While the justice department refused to implement the high court’s TRO, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima arbitrarily called the shots by interpreting the court’s order as a super-high court without a constitutional mandate, with its own version of the rule of law and due process.
De Lima said the warrant for Arroyo’s arrest had rendered “moot” the issues arising from the high court’s TRO. She claimed that with the warrant of arrest, Arroyo “is compelled to stay in the country and face the charges of electoral sabotage, bringing us closer to uncovering the truth behind the controversies surrounding the 2007 elections.”
De Lima gave assurance the government would uphold “every right that Arroyo is entitled under the Constitution.” This remains to be seen.
The arbitrary and summary manner in which the government rushed and abridged legal procedures did not inspire confidence in the government’s assurances of a fair trial.
True, the issuance of the arrest order averted a damaging showdown between the administration and the high court.
While the issue raged over the immediate compliance of the TRO, the government was on a mode to disobey the court and the airport was barricaded with the immigration and airport authorities acting like human Sherman tanks that would have made it extremely impossible to crash through in Arroyo’s state of health. Authorities were taking orders from the justice department that was fanning the flames of disobedience.
The police and the state’s forces of coercion were arrayed to follow the standing policy determined to prevent Arroyo from leaving at all cost so she could face trial.
Mr. Aquino laid down the rule, saying, “We need her here for her arraignment if this will be needed. If she won’t return, how can she be made answerable?”
On Friday, De Lima said Mr. Aquino wanted Arroyo to be treated with “utmost respect.”
The hypocrisy of this statement stood out in bold relief against the deployment of awesome state resources to deliver results on a government’s obsessive policy of accountability and transparency.
The rush to judgment in the preparation of the electoral sabotage complaint is not a shining demonstration of the government’s devotion to due process. It’s full of short-cuts.
Prior to the filing of the case, the target of the all-out offensive to bring Arroyo to court had been subject to an intense trial by publicity.
The immediate consequence of the showdown between the President and the Supreme Court is that it diminished the credibility of the high tribunal as an independent institution.
The disobedience to the TRO reduced the court into a toothless arbiter of justice.
The test of will between the court and Mr. Aquino highlights the President’s no-holds-barred approach in conflicts with other constitutional institutions.
It threw into bold relief a presidential tendency to follow a winner-take-all course of action.
The winner determines all rules of justice and combat.
Mafiosi’s final solution
This is why the new round of public campaign to get the people behind the decision to arrest Arroyo and hold her indefinitely is sending chills down the spine of the public.
It follows the pattern of ruthless retribution in the gangster underworld when dealing with mobsters who betray their illegal operations to lawmen.
In the Mafia, the squealers are first battered to death with baseball bat at dinner—and given the finishing touches. They are shot by the Mafiosi to make sure they are dead.
The issues and context of the Mafia final solution are different from those surrounding the campaign to bring the targets of the government’s daang matuwid crusade.
The President and his minions are not Mafiosi, but it’s the “final solution” method that leaves many Filipinos full of fears.
I am uncertain about how Arroyo would survive this new round of trial by publicity—in captivity.