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Shades of Marcos or shades of Herod

Senator Joker Arroyo. INQUIRER file photo

Maybe it all depends on where you sit.

Senator Joker Arroyo on Sunday said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s decision to invoke the state’s police power to justify her decision not to allow former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to go abroad purportedly for medical treatment brought echoes of martial law.

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For his part, President Benigno Aquino III slammed people who had been critical of his campaign to rid the country of corruption, comparing them to the tyrannical Herod—a king who, in biblical accounts, ordered the massacre of innocent children, fearing one of them might be the newborn Jesus Christ.

“Inhuman and degrading punishment is not allowed under the Constitution but why (is the) government doing it to the former President?” Senator Arroyo said in an interview.

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“Secretary De Lima mentioned the conflict between individual rights versus the right of the state to survive.  That was the same issue during the 14 years of martial law, when the right of the state to survive was considered superior to individual rights. That’s why police powers were always invoked that time,” Arroyo, a human rights lawyer, added.

He was referring to the government’s refusal to allow the former President and now Pampanga representative to leave the country for abroad. He said only Congress could determine “what are covered by police powers of the state.”

Arroyo said he was getting the impression that “the full force of the government is being concentrated (against) Gloria. It is already assuming that she is guilty when she is still entitled to the Bill of Rights.”

Arroyo, who served as executive secretary under Mr. Aquino’s mother, the late President Corazon Aquino, said the 1986 Constitution was framed during her term “precisely to save us from martial law.”

Inherent power

De Lima said at a Supreme Court hearing last week that the infringement of an individual’s right to travel “is justified under the general principle of the exercise of the (state’s) police power.”

The hearing was prompted by a Supreme Court order to De Lima to justify her noncompliance with a temporary restraining order (TRO) against former President Arroyo’s inclusion on a Department of Justice watch-list order that prevented her from leaving the country.

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De Lima said her authority to issue watch-list and hold-departure orders against individuals facing criminal investigation was an “inherent power” of the government.

She said placing Arroyo and others on the watch list would ensure their presence at a preliminary hearing of an electoral sabotage case against them involving alleged rigging of the 2007 midterm elections in Mindanao.

Senator Arroyo said invoking police powers was a defense used by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos during martial law.

“Besides, you cannot be selective in the application of justice. That would be a violation of the Bill of Rights. Human rights should be equally applied to the good and the bad, the innocent and the convict, rich or poor, they should be equal especially when there is no judgment by a court yet,” he said.

‘The Herods’

Speaking in Concepcion, Tarlac, on Sunday during the  awards ceremony for the “Belenismo sa Tarlac” yearly Christmas competition, Mr. Aquino said his administration would not only lead but serve.

“We are here to put the interest of the majority before ours, and to relive the teachings of the Lord,” he said.

He added: “As we tread the straight path, we won’t allow ourselves to be tripped by the few Herods who blame us for making them accountable for their crooked ways. We allow the light of change to reign in the hearts and minds of every Filipino.”

The President spoke in Filipino before some 2,000 officials and residents at Col. Jesus Lapus Memorial Sports Complex. He also listened to a 20-minute serenade of the University of the Philippines Concert Chorus.

He clapped to the beat of “Tayo’y Magsayawan,” laughed at “Macho Gwapito,” and nudged a couple of officials to dance as “Annie Batungbakal” was sung.

Mr. Aquino also announced the implementation of the P16-billion Balog-Balog Dam project in Tarlac. He said the project would start soon along with other major infrastructure projects, including the completion of the road connecting Luzon’s major expressways and airports.

In his speech, Mr. Aquino said the belen (Nativity diorama) was “more than a decor.”

“We recognize the spirit of the belen: from the simple to the extravagant, from the smallest figures to the biggest—it tells the story of Jesus Christ’s birth in the manger, the coming of the Savior, who is humble and of pure intention,” he said.

Land for free

Mr. Aquino kept silent about the Supreme Court’s decision to distribute to farmers the Hacienda Luisita sugar plantation owned by his relatives.

Lito Bais, acting chairman of the United Luisita Workers Union, said: “We know he will not talk about it … because once he says anything about Luisita, people will start asking questions. What will he say to them?”

“If he is truly for God and people, he should implement land distribution now and give the land to farmers for free,” Bais said.

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TAGS: Arroyo health, Arroyo travel, Benigno Aquino III, DoJ, Ferdinand Marcos, Herod, Joker Arroyo, Leila de Lima, Martial law, Politics, Supreme Court
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