MANILA, Philippines - Justice Secretary Leila De Lima hopes the Supreme Court will not nullify the creation of the joint Department of Justice-Commission on Elections panel investigating the alleged fraud in the 2004 and 2007 elections.
De Lima said a contrary ruling would render the subsequent electoral sabotage charge against Arroyo and the warrant of arrest issued by the Pasay City Regional Trail Court moot and academic.
These would set back the Aquino administration's anti-corruption campaign, she said on ANC’s Headstart. "God forbid that's not the ruling of the SC.”
"This administration is grounded on its promise of exacting justice and accountability from the wrongdoers who made a mockery of our processes especially the justice system,” she said.
De Lima said cases would have been filed against Arroyo much earlier, had the high court not declared the Truth Commission unconstitutional.
She noted President Aquino had enough reason to take a swipe at the Supreme Court. "In a way there was some discomfort."
"The President only voiced a valid concern that is obvious to many. "Why is it that the Supreme Court, when it comes to Arroyo, goes out of its way in granting relief not otherwise available to the ordinary Filipino?” she said.
"The SC may pretend that their actions of decisions are regular... but the people see the naked truth,” she said. "The impartiality of the SC to its members leaves much to be desired and is questionable when it comes to deciding cases against the former President."
De Lima admitted they struggled with the Arroyo camp's request for an Allow Departure Order (ADO).
"I needed time to reflect on it closely, had to consult Health Secretary Enrique Ona and dig deeper on the circumstances, the number of her entourage…,” she remembers.
De Lima would later announce on nationwide television the government would still not allow Arroyo to leave despite a halt order from the SC.
She said it was a tough call to make but one deemed necessary amid pending investigations and cases against Arroyo.
"It was a risk to make. We thought long and hard about the options that day, November 18th, whether to follow the SC or not to follow... I knew the position of the President... and I felt it was my duty to support the President. Foremost on my mind was what would the people think or say if we allow the departure of the former President when we had serious doubts on her real reason (for leaving)."
"If after the preliminary probe we just allow respondents to flee... what happens to our criminal justice system,” she said. "Under the law and the rules (the SC's announcement on the temporary restraining order) that's not official service yet. It's different if that's an administrative or executive action... and that would be binding on everyone, but this is a court case, and a court order."
She noted the TRO had to be either served personally or via registered mail and no copy was served to the DOJ or even the Solicitor General by November 18, prompting them to announce that the watch list order remained in effect.
As a result, de Lima was later ordered to show cause why she should not be held in contempt.
‘SC should see reason’
She insisted they will continue to honor the travel ban. She added the high court should also see reason to enforce it.
"The law has to adjust to the exigencies of the times and this is one such occasion,” she said.
Today, de Lima said the Aquino government is keen on meeting its sworn obligation to serve the public interest. Beyond the travel ban - which has put the DOJ at loggerheads with the high court - de Lima said there is nothing more to its exercise of duty than fulfilling its mandate.
"I'm quite dismayed that it's become a bitter seed, that a particular justice would perceive this as simply a petty battle on who is more powerful. To me, it's never been a question of power, it's always a question of mandate. That may be a prerogative but there are enough standards in Circular 41 for the issuance of WLO...It’s always on a case to case basis depending on the type of case and this is electoral sabotage and the WLO was requested by the joint panel,” she explained.
“There may be a possibility of abuse, but stripping us of the authority to issue HDOs and WLOs on a case to case basis would have very dire consequences. At this time I'm still worried we have several high profile cases," she said citing a complaint by former AFP Budget Officer and Retired Colonel George Rabusa, who accused former generals of misusing the AFP funds.
The SC will continue on Thursday the oral arguments on the constitutionality of the joint panel.