UN working group recommends bail for Arroyo, but will Sandiganbayan listen?

amal clooney and gloria arroyo
International human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin-Clooney filed an arbitrary detention case at the United Nations in behalf of former President Gloria Arroyo (Credits: The Philippine Star)

Former president and current Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo scored a major victory after the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion rebuffing the Philippine government for keeping her detained and for continuously denying petitions for bail over the years.

Citing an email update from international human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin-Clooney, Arroyo’s lawyer Larry Gadon told the media during a press conference Thursday morning that as per the findings of UN Working Group, Arroyo’s detention violates international law and is arbitrary on a number of grounds.

Created in 1991, the UN WGAD is currently composed of eight international human rights experts with the purpose of investigating cases of arbitrary arrest and detention all over the world. It is under the supervision of the UN Human Rights Council.

It can be recalled that Alamuddin-Clooney, the wife of Hollywood superstar George Clooney, brought the case to UN last February. Over the past months, Arroyo’s legal team and lawyers for the Aquino administration (through the Philippines’ Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva) argued their respective positions through official submissions.

amal clooney and gloria arroyo
International human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin-Clooney filed an arbitrary detention case at the United Nations in behalf of former President Gloria Arroyo (Credits: The Philippine Star)

Arroyo, 68, has been under hospital arrest since November 2011 first because of an electoral sabotage case (she was eventually granted bail) and then as a result of plunder charges in connection to the alleged misuse of PCSO funds amounting to P366-million. Keep in mind that in the latter case, most of Arroyo’s co-accused had already been granted bail while an official from the Commission on Audit has already cleared the former president of any wrongdoing.

In her email, Alamuddin-Clooney pointed out that the United Nations scored the government’s failure “to consider measures alternative to pre-trial detention and because of the undue delays in proceedings against (Arroyo).”

“The Working Group highlighted in particular the Government’s ‘defiance of court rulings removing travel bans against Ms. 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,” the international barrister explained.

In its conclusion, the UN Working Group urged the “reconsideration of Mrs Arroyo’s application for bail in accordance with the relevant international human rights standards and to accord Ms Arroyo with an enforceable right to compensation… for the deprivation of liberty which already occurred.”

 

Based on media reports (a copy of the UN decision is yet to be released), it appears that Arroyo’s lawyers focused on two articles under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:

Article 9:

1. Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.

 

4. Anyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court, in order that that court may decide without delay on the lawfulness of his detention and order his release if the detention is not lawful.

5. Anyone who has been the victim of unlawful arrest or detention shall have an enforceable right to compensation.

Article 12:

2. Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own.

As noted by The Filipino Scribe early this year, Arroyo has enjoyed a long winning streak as far as her cases are concerned. Over the years, the following cases against her had already been thrown out:

1) Plunder case re the sale of the old Iloilo airport in 2007 (dismissed last February 2012)

2) Graft case re the transfer of P530 million from OWWA funds to PhilHealth (dismissed February 2013)

3) Graft case re the construction of Libmanan-Cabusao Dam and Skybridge 1 and 2 projects in Camarines Sur (dismissed April 2014)

4) P728 million fertilizer fund scam (dismissed May 2014)

COMMENTARY:

It must be emphasized that the UN Working Group’s opinion regarding the case of Arroyo’s continued detention (it didn’t dwell on the merits or lack thereof of the cases against her) is merely recommendatory in nature. Meaning, it has no direct effect on how the Sandiganbayan or the Supreme Court will weigh on her current bail petitions.

Nevertheless, her victory before the UN comes shortly after the Court of Appeals affirmed the 2012 decision by Judge Jesus Mupas of the Pasay City Regional Trial Court Judge granting her bail in connection to the electoral sabotage case. Another development that bolstered Arroyo’s recent attempts for a provisional release is the success of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile’s bail petition before the Supreme Court.

Alamuddin-Clooney’s decision to defend Arroyo has gained her lots of Filipino critics, especially given the lingering negative views regarding the former President. Nevertheless, it will be wrong to ignore the obvious fact that the reasons for keeping Arroyo detained keeps on getting weaker by the day.

 

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About Mark Madrona 1191 Articles
Mark Madrona is a prize-winning blogger, online journalist, and educator from the Philippines. Previously a book editor, he is now teaching communication subjects for two public universities in Manila. His blog The Filipino Scribe won 3rd place in a blog competition organized by the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific (ANSA-EAP). In 2015, it was one of the finalists in the 2015 Lasallian Scholarum Awards for Best Online Feature Article in Youth and Education. He also won the Best Blog Award during the 2011 Population and Development Media Awards, the youngest recipient of that recognition. Know more about him here: http://www.filipinoscribe.com/about/.

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