MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's rights are being violated by the Department of Justice's (DOJ) refusal to allow her to travel overseas to seek medical treatment, her legal spokesman said Tuesday.
Lawyer Raul Lambino said neither the DOJ nor the Bureau of Immigration are authorized by law to issue a hold departure order against the Pampanga lawmaker because she is not on trial yet.
"Mayoon ba siyang kapangyarihan sa ilalim ng ating Saligang Batas na mag-issue ng hold departure order? Wala po. Hindi po kasama iyan sa prosecutorial powers ng secretary of justice," Lambino told radio dzMM's "Pasada Sais Trenta."
"Mayroon po bang provision sa immigration law para sa secretary of justice at sa Bureau of Immigration na mag-issue ng hold departure order na wala pang naisampang kaso sa korte? Wala rin po," he added.
Arroyo's spokesman said the former President's rights are being violated.
Lambino accused Justice Secretary Leila de Lima of being "authoritarian and tyrannical" for her decision denying Arroyo's request to travel abroad.
He claimed that the DOJ chief is selectively using hold departure orders "sa kung kanino niya gusto."
He declined to comment on the the question why the list of countries that Arroyo wants to visit has been constantly changing.
Lambino said the issue is already in the hands of another Arroyo lawyer, Atty. Estelito Mendoza, who has filed a Supreme Court petition.
Another spokesperson of the former President, Elena Bautista-Horn, echoed Lambino's statement.
In an interview with ANC's "Top Story" Monday after de Lima announced her decision, Bautista-Horn reiterated that Arroyo has not been charged of any crime and the cases filed against her for plunder and other allegations are still under preliminary investigation.
She said photos of the former President showing her wearing a metal halo vest were part of the Arroyo legal team's presentation to the Supreme Court.
'Rare bone disease'
The 64-year-old Arroyo had asked the government to allow her to head overseas for expert help on what she said was a rare bone disease, after unsuccessful operations on her spine in Manila this year.
But Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Arroyo could be adequately treated in the Philippines and that there were concerns she might not return if she was eventually charged with graft.
"We see no immediate necessity for her to leave and therefore affect the progress of ongoing preliminary (corruption) investigation proceedings," de Lima told reporters.
Arroyo had requested to go to Singapore, Germany and several other countries to seek medical treatment.
De Lima said she was suspicious that many of the countries Arroyo wanted to visit had no extradition treaty with the Philippines.
"I can't avoid being concerned that five of these countries have no existing extradition treaties with us, and there lies the risk, something I can't afford to take," she said.
Arroyo, who was president from 2001 to 2010, has been accused of massive corruption and of rigging the 2004 election to ensure a narrow victory over actor-turned-politician Fernando Poe.
She was required by constitutional term limits to stand down last year, but nevertheless retained political influence by running for, and winning, a seat in the House of Representatives.
Arroyo's successor as president, Benigno Aquino, has launched multiple investigations into her alleged misdeeds and told reporters last month she would soon be charged with corruption.
Before Tuesday's ruling, Arroyo was on a travel "watch list," meaning she had to ask permission before travelling abroad. - with a report from Agence France-Presse