I owe Ms. Amal Alamuddin Clooney a huge apology.
While I was writing the “give her liberty” column on President Arroyo (“ Gloria Arroyo: Give her liberty, or give her, God forbid”, Manila Times, Oct. 6), Ms. Clooney was coincidentally writing online to GMA’s lawyers to give them the happy news that the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has ruled that the continued detention of President Arroyo is arbitrary and illegal under international law.
I had inserted in the conclusion to my column the following lines: “We cannot wait for George Clooney’s glamorous wife to do her thing to set GMA free. The world must know the horror of her situation now.”
Alas, I could not have been more mistaken. Amal has been doing her thing and more. And the world knows now about Arroyo’s ordeal.
The serendipitous meeting of my column and the UN decision is one of those things that make you believe there’s a force out there who can make the stars align and right the course of events.
Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney captured the phenomenon in one deathless poem:
History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.
The Cure at Troy
Hope and history are inexorably rhyming for President Arroyo.
GMA, I dare say, will be home for Christmas, and there is nothing that BS Aquino can do now against the rising tidal wave of justice.
Aquino’s defeat at UN total
The defeat of President Aquino at the UN was emphatic and total. He sent there government lawyers and deployed our UN mission to argue his case. And they lost on every point of law and fact.
In its opinion, which was released on October 2, the five-member UN body urged the Philippine government to reconsider Arroyo’s bail plea “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.”
The gist of the UN working group’s opinion was relayed to Arroyo’s counsel in the Philippines, Atty. Lorenzo Gadon, via e-mail sent Oct. 7 by international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney. She filed a human rights violation case against the Philippine government on Arroyo’s behalf before the UN.
In her e-mail, Clooney said, the UN body found Arroyo’s detention illegal under international law because the Sandiganbayan “failed to take into account her individual circumstances” when it repeatedly denied her request for bail and fell short in considering alternatives to pre-trial detention.
In siding with Arroyo, Clooney said, the UN working group recognized that the charges against the former President are politically motivated since she was 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.”
She said the UN body highlighted in particular the Philippine government’s “defiance of court rulings removing travel bans” against Arroyo as proof that it is “targeting” the former President and interfering with judicial decisions in her case.
The UN body based its finding on the government’s resistance to lift the travel restrictions on Arroyo as evidenced by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s move to stop her from boarding a Singapore-bound plane in November 2011, in violation of a Supreme Court ruling allowing her to seek medical treatment abroad.
Before deciding on Arroyo’s case, Clooney said, the UN body received “extensive legal submissions” from both the former President’s side and that of the Philippine government.
After extensive deliberation, she said the UN working group backed the arguments presented by Arroyo’s counsel “in full” and held that the Philippine government “failed to refute any of her allegations.”
The reaction of Arroyo and her team to the UN decision was naturally ecstatic. The reaction of the wider public has been uniformly positive and effusive.
Filipino legal experts were mostly in agreement the UN’s decision is timely and that Aquino’s persecution of Arroyo has gone far enough.
Law Professor Harry L. Roque opined: “This administration has once again shown that it is inept both in the field of human rights and criminal prosecution. The decision is an indictment of this administration’s ignorance of human rights law.”
Government reaction stony and stubborn
Malacañang’s reaction was predictably stony and stubborn.
The pasty-faced Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma was dutifully robotic. He declared that that while the Palace “takes note” of the opinion of the UN body on the continued detention of Arroyo, it cannot interfere in an ongoing judicial proceeding.
He said: “It must be noted that there is an ongoing judicial process in the PH courts, which has sole jurisdiction to decide on such matters. The PH government or any international body, for that matter, cannot interfere nor influence the course of an independent judicial proceeding,”
The reaction from the Sandiganbayan, to whom the UN ruling was partly addressed, was equally stony and defiant.
Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Samuel Martirez, hoping to be noticed by Malacañang, declared: “Whatever the United Nations says about Arroyo’s detention, is not legally binding.”
The magistrate added that the issue with Arroyo’s detention has nothing to do with human rights but whether she should be given bail under the non-bailable plunder offense lodged against her.
Sandigan justices are bound to insist on this position, because many of them are holding out for an appointment to a higher or better place on the bench before BS Aquino leaves office on June 30 next year.
Aquino trapped in a contradiction
If Malacañang and Sandidganbayan insist that UN norms and UN thinking are irrelevant and have no persuasive effect on the actions of our government, then they must explain why in the case of our South China Sea dispute with China, our government is totally relying on the UN and its processes in its efforts to prevail in the dispute.
If the UN is irrelevant to us, why are we running to the world body and UN members for support?
If the UN is toothless in the Arroyo case, why do we expect it to develop teeth for the China dispute?
How will Aquino answer when China responds, as it has in fact already responded, that the UN has nothing to do with the dispute?
What is his course of action now?
The administration can talk all it likes that Arroyo has been given due process, and that local courts have sole jurisdiction over her, but in the end it all comes to the hard reality that President Arroyo is the victim of arbitrary detention and unjust persecution.
The tidal wave of justice has already formed and is on its way to our shores. BS Aquino could drown.