The presiding justice of the Sandiganbayan maintained that the anti-graft court observed all the legal processes that justifies the continued detention of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“We have our own judicial process here that has to be observed and the First Division has precisely observed this process that is in place,” Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang told reporters on Thursday.
Tang was commenting on a statement released last week by the five-member United
Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which urged the Philippine government to reconsider Arroyo’s bail petition.
The working group said the former president’s detention is arbitrary and illegal under international law.
The UN panel claimed that the Sandiganbayan allegedly failed to consider Arroyo’s circumstances and flagged the anti-graft court for “undue delays” in proceedings.
First Division Associate Justice Efren dela Cruz, chairman of the First Division, said they resolve matters without delay.
“On the part of the court, there is no delay. We expeditiously resolve whatever should be resolved. There is no delay on the part of the court, I can assure you about it,” dela Cruz pointed out.
“We follow existing jurisprudence on the matter. We based our resolutions on existing laws and jurisprudence,” he said.
Arroyo, 68 and now Pampanga representative, is facing a P366-million plunder case before the court’s First Division in connection with alleged misuse of state charity funds during her presidency and is under hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City.
Being an offense punishable by life imprisonment, plunder is not bailable as a matter of right but bailable on the court’s discretion when evidence of guilt is not strong.
The court has consistently denied Arroyo’s bail petition, citing strong evidence.
“I don’t think [the]court violated any international law. The court has always observed all the processes that are in place in the country,” Tang said, adding that the court came up with its resolution after hearing evidence and due evaluation.
After exhausting all remedies before the Sandiganbayan, Arroyo’s camp elevated her bail petition to the Supreme Court (SC) last April.
When asked on influence from the Palace, dela Cruz replied, “Our mandate is not to be influenced by any public opinion or whatever. We should base our resolution on the facts
and evidence of the case, that’s all.”
Third Division Associate Justice Samuel Martires said the UN body’s opinion “has some persuasive effect but it’s not legally binding.”
“You cannot be pressured by an opinion from an international organization. The issue here is not about human rights but about legality, whether there is a strong evidence or not in her plunder case,” Martires added.
The UN working group’s opinion stemmed from a human rights violation case filed by human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney before the UN on Arroyo’s behalf against the Philippine government.
Sought for comment, Arroyo’s lawyer said they welcome the development and thanked Clooney for all her efforts.
“Insofar as GMA’s [Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo] bail application is concerned, it is now before the Supreme Court, the final bastion of justice. GMA filed a petition challenging the Sandiganbayan’s denial of bail close to six months ago,” defense lawyer Laurence Arroyo told the Times in a text message.
“While generally accepted principles of international law form part of the law of the land, our petition for bail is anchored on domestic rules and jurisprudence. The opinion of the UN working group may or may not persuade the SC, but our own jurisprudence, including the recent ruling in JPE [Juan Ponce Enrile] case, stands as binding precedent. As I’ve mentioned before, GMA and JPE are similarly situated. GMA is not a flight [risk]and is in frail health, as certified by government doctors,” he said.
Last August, the SC granted on humanitarian grounds a bail petition of Enrile, who is facing a P172-million plunder case in connection with the pork barrel scam.
Malacañang also on Thursday insisted that only Philippine courts have jurisdiction over Arroyo’s case.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said while it “takes note” of the opinion of a UN body, it cannot interfere in an ongoing judicial proceeding.
“Former president GMA has been accorded such due process and has availed herself of various legal remedies under Philippine laws. It must be noted that there is an ongoing judicial process in the Philippine courts, which have sole jurisdiction to decide on such matters,” Coloma added.
“The Philippine government or any international body, for that matter, cannot interfere nor influence the course of an independent judicial proceeding,” he said.