Lawyer: UN group rules Arroyo's detention violates int'l law

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 08 2015 11:00 AM | Updated as of Oct 11 2015 01:46 AM

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo appears to have won the complaint filed by her lawyer, Amal Alamuddin-Clooney, before the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the United Nations Office of the High Commission on Human Rights.

The panel, however, has yet to publicly comment on the case.

In an email to ABS-CBN News, the Secretariat of the Working Group on Arbitrary detention said, "At this stage the secretariat of the working group only liaises with concerned parties regarding this opinion - i.e the Government and the source."

One of Arroyo's Philippine lawyers, Lorenzo Gadon, however, shared with media in a briefing Clooney's e-mailed update regarding the case.

The e-mail reads: "In its opinion released on 2 October 2015, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention confirmed that the detention of former president of the Philippines Gloria Macapagal Arroyo violates international law and is arbitrary on a number of grounds."

The former president is facing plunder charges in connection with the alleged misuse of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds.

The anti-graft court has repeatedly denied Arroyo's bail petition, prompting the former president to seek the help of the Hollywood actor's lawyer-wife earlier this year.

READ: Clooney's wife elevates Arroyo plight to UN

Even as Arroyo continues to be under hospital arrest, the bail petitions of the other respondents in the case have been granted.

According to Clooney, the government filed on June 15 its reply through the Philippines Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva.

She said the government argued that Arroyo's detention was legal and the UN Working Group should dismiss the case.

''Mrs. 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 Mrs. Arroyo's counsel and from the government's legal advisors,'' Clooney said.

Clooney said the working group, a prominent UN body composed of 5 independent human rights experts, ''endorsed the arguments advanced by Mrs. Arroyo's counsel in full and held that in its reply submitted last June, the government had failed to refute any of her allegations."

ARBITRARY, ILLEGAL

Clooney said the UN found the detention of the former president arbitrary and illegal under international law ''because the Sandiganbayan court 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 Mrs. Arroyo are politically motivated, since she is detained as a result of the exercise of her right to take part in government and conduct of public affairs and because of her political…opinion,'' Clooney said.

''The working group highlighted in particular the government's defiance of court rulings removing travel bans against Mrs. 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 minister prevented Mrs. Arroyo from boarding a plane in November 2011 in violation of a Supreme Court ruling allowing her to seek medical treatment abroad."

READ: Arroyos barred from leaving PH

Clooney said the UN rights body recommended that Arroyo's bail petition should be reconsidered ''in accordance with relevant international human rights standards and to accord Mrs. Arroyo with an enforceable right to compensation for the deprivation of liberty which already occurred."

''In addition, the working group concluded that if the remaining criminal cases proceed against Mrs. Arroyo, the working group requests the government to ensure fair trials which respect all the guarantees enshrined in international human rights law. In particular, the trials must take place without undue delay."

SANDIGANBAYAN DEFENDS ACTIONS

At the sidelines of their pitch for Sandiganbayan's 2016 budget before the House of Representatives, Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje Tang defended the actions of the court.

Tang told reporters, "We have our own judicial process. That has to be observed and the 1st division of the court has precisely observed this process in place. I don't think the court has violated any international law."

"The court has always observed all the processes that are in place in the country. She filed a petition for bail that was heard. Evidence was presented. After due evaluation, the court came up with its resolution. The first division of the Sandiganbayan is handling this case."

Tang said the decision will stay unless there is a radical change that can serve as a ground for change in the resolution.

The lower house last year passed a resolution urging the court to grant Arroyo house arrest on humanitarian grounds.

Justice Efren dela Cruz, who chairs the first division that has Arroyo detained on a plunder charge, said, "We followed existing jurisprudence on the matter. We based resolution on existing laws and jurisprudence. Our mandate is not to be influenced by any public opinion whatever we should base our resolution on facts and evidence in the case.''

'RULING IS PERSUASIVE'

Arroyo's lawyer, Lorenzo Gadon, urged the government to respect the opinion of the UN panel.

"Sana igalang ng Philippine government at Ombudsman itong resolution ng UN sa human rights. Sana mabigyan na ng hustisya. Sana ma-grant ang demurrer o kaya bail man lang ma-grant na dahil 3 taon nang namamalagi sa Veterans [si Arroyo. Hindi na makatarungan," he said.

He, however, admitted the UN panel's ruling is only persuasive.

"Ito persuasive sana nga ito pakinggan at kilalanin ng Sandiganbayan at gubyerno," Gadon said.

The lawyer added that the charge against Arroyo is weak, pointing out that her co-respondents have been allowed to post bail.

"Amal also told me by this time the Philippine government has already received it. Of course they will not publicize it, that's why we're giving you this chance to inform the public that we won the case.''

Gadon said Arroyo's lawyers have yet to decide its next move following the release of the UN body's findings.

"Hindi pa kami nagkakaharap ng buong legal team kung ano next step. Para sa amin, ito ay napakagandang development. Isang international body nire-recognize ang karapatan ni GMA na dapat siya ay entitled to bail."

Gadon also urged the Philippine government to recognize the UN body's ruling.

"Under internationally accepted principles, dapat igalang ito dahil kung hindi lalabas kahiya hiya tayo.''

Gadon said Arroyo herself is happy with the development.

"Nung makausap ko si GMA kahapon, binista ko siya tuwang tuwa siya sapagkat finally na-recognize ang kaniyang karapatan lalo pa ito UN, natutuwa at nagpapasalamat siya sa desisyon."

ARROYO'S HEALTH PROBLEMS

Gadon revealed Arroyo now suffers from inability to properly move her left arm.

"Totoo yan. In fact, pagka nagkakaharap kami ni dating GMA kino-complain niya ang kaliwanag kamay hindi maigalaw ng maayos. Buong araw sumasakit. In fact, pinakita niya nga sa akin nahihirapan i-lift ang tasa ng tea na kaniyang iinumin."

Gadon said this is why Arroyo's lawyers have asked the Sandiganbayan to allow her to have a medical check up at St. Luke's Medical Center.

"Bagong sakit ito na nararamdaman ni GMA aside from previous ailments she was already suffering. Sinasabi ng isang espesyalista na ang pagkakaroon ng bagong sakit ay bunga ng matagal na pagakaka-detain sa Veterans," Gadon said.

DE LIMA 'BAFFLED'

Malacañang, meanwhile, said it takes note of the opinion of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) and will prepare an appropriate response.

"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," Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma said.

"Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo 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 on-going judicial process in the Philippine courts, which has sole jurisdiction to decide on such matters. The Philippine Government or any international body for that matter, cannot interfere nor influence the course of an independent judicial proceeding," he added.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said she is baffled by the reports.

"Based on the news reports I saw earlier, they're saying there is arbitrary detention. I'm wondering why there is such an opinion she is being arbitrarily detained. She's going through the process. We have our Constitution, sinasabi doon pag evidence of guilt is strong, if her detention is sanctioned by law, how can that be arbitrary detention?"