WE are disappointed, but not surprised, at the findings of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in the case of former president and now Pampanga representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Disappointed, because formal criticism by the world body is a stain on the reputation of the Philippines that could have easily been avoided. Not surprised, because for more than four years the cruel and unreasonable treatment of Rep. Arroyo by the vindictive Aquino regime has been clear to all.
According to the UN working group, the detention of former President Arroyo is “arbitrary and illegal under international law.” The working group also found that the charges – none of which have prospered or even been vigorously pursued in the courts – lodged against Arroyo were “politically motivated,” and that 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.”
In view of all that, the UN working group recommended that the Sandiganbayan reconsider Arroyo’s request for bail, and further “to accord Ms Arroyo with an enforceable right to compensation … for the deprivation of liberty which already occurred,” as well as to conduct a fair trial “without delay and consistent with international human rights law.”
Furthermore, the UN body criticized the Aquino government for its habit of defying court rulings, noting that Arroyo was prevented from leaving the country in 2011 to seek medical treatment abroad, despite the Supreme Court having ruled invalid a travel ban against her.
Predictably, the current regime responded with callous dismissal of the findings, suggesting in impolite terms that the UN keep its opinions of “an internal matter” to itself, and offering the bald rebuttal that the former president’s treatment is neither illegal nor unfair.
The UN body’s findings on the case of Mrs. Arroyo were correct, and the reason why they were correct was because they were based on well-established, consistent global standards on protection of human rights. It is not the first time a UN body has been critical of the Aquino government in that respect – most recently, the world body expressed concerns over the plight of the Lumads in Mindanao – but the government continues to assert that its view of what is right and proper should be respected, stressing the point that the UN has no authority to dictate how the Philippines runs its own affairs.
Yet when the Aquino government needs the UN’s help, such as in the dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea, it is quick to seek it and to proclaim loudly to everyone who will listen that whatever the UN decides should be followed unquestioningly.
To be sure, we support the government in seeking arbitration on the West Philippine Sea issue, but we must nevertheless point out that the Aquino administration cannot have it both ways – it cannot be an abiding member of the United Nations only when it suits its needs, but be exempt from the standards that membership requires when doing so would impact its narrow political agenda. Being a member state of the UN is a matter of commitment, not convenience, and it is regrettable that it takes being the subject of unfavorable international headlines to drive that message home to the country’s leadership.