Former first gentleman Jose Miguel ‘Mike’ Arroyo wins TRO from SC
Former first gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo is now free to travel anywhere in the world.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily halted the implementation of a watch list order (WLO) that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima had issued against Arroyo in connection with the Senate inquiry into the alleged anomalous purchase of used helicopters by the Philippine National Police.
Witnesses have named the husband of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as the owner of two secondhand choppers sold as brand-new to the PNP in 2009, an accusation that Mike denies.
Voting unanimously, the tribunal granted Arroyo’s petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO) questioning De Lima’s authority to place an individual on the WLO of the Bureau of Immigration without a court order.
However, the court did not act on Arroyo’s request for oral arguments to allow parties involved to discuss the issue before the tribunal.
Ma. Victoria Gleoresty Guerra, the tribunal’s assistant public information officer, said the justices “took into consideration the lack of a pending case” against Arroyo.
Quoting Chief Justice Renato Corona, Guerra said the high court also considered the fundamental principle that a restriction on rights should at least have the imprimatur of a court of justice.
“Otherwise, an official of the executive department will have the power to determine who will or will not be allowed to exercise one’s constitutional right to travel,” Guerra said at a news briefing.
Despite getting a reprieve from the tribunal, Arroyo may not be able to leave the country in the next few days.
“Procedurally, the TRO becomes effective only after the respondents are formally given a copy of the resolution,” Guerra said.
Elated by ruling
Arroyo said he was elated by the tribunal’s decision.
“The unanimous decision of the Supreme Court to issue the TRO against the justice department’s watch list order is a victory of the Constitution and the rule of law in the Philippines,” he said in a statement.
“We understand that this order is merely temporary and we still hope that our main prayer, which is to have the Department (of Justice) Circular No. 41, which empowers the secretary of justice to arbitrarily issue hold departure and watch-list orders, be declared illegal and unconstitutional,” he said.
De Lima described the high court’s decision a “disappointing development.”
She said the order was “not really surprising” because it was the first time that the authority of the justice secretary to issue a WLO was questioned before the tribunal.
“The DOJ (Department of Justice) will take this opportunity to defend such power of its secretary and to let this matter be settled once and for all,” De Lima said in a text message.
The justice secretary said she considered it a challenge to prepare and articulate before the Supreme Court “solid and convincing arguments in support of our position.”
In her order dated Aug. 4, De Lima put Arroyo on the immigration bureau’s WLO to prevent him from leaving the country while the Senate was conducting its inquiry into the PNP’s purchase of the secondhand helicopters.
The aircraft were part of the five helicopters that Arroyo bought in 2004 for the presidential campaign of his wife, according to Lionair Inc. president Archibald Po. In response, Arroyo filed perjury charges against Po.
Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo came to the defense of his elder brother, claiming that LTA Inc., a company owned by the Arroyos, leased the helicopters from Lionair Inc. for only two months in 2004. Lionair and several senators disputed Ignacio’s claim.
Represented by his lawyers, Mike went to the high court to challenge De Lima’s order.
In his petition, he said the issuance of the WLO violated his constitutional right to travel and accused De Lima of breaking the rules of the justice department in releasing the order.
Inocencio Ferrer Jr. and Poncevic Ceballos, Mike’s lawyers, said the WLO should be nullified because their client had never been charged in any court by the DOJ in connection with the controversial sale of the helicopters.
Claiming the WLO was “biased and ill-motivated” and implemented “with an evil eye and uneven hand,” the lawyers said the order violated Arroyo’s right to equal protection by singling him out from several individuals implicated in the scandal.
For a change, Sen. Panfilo Lacson is on the side of Arroyo.
“I myself am not in favor of the watch list… That’s tantamount to a hold-departure order without saying that it is one,” said Lacson, who until recently was a fugitive from justice when he left the country in connection with the Dacer-Corbito double murder.
Lacson told reporters that putting Arroyo on the watch list showed an “arrogance of power,” noting that Mike had to regularly seek permission from De Lima each time he would leave the country.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile welcomed the TRO, noting that no case was filed against Arroyo to justify his inclusion in the watch list.
“There is a case before the law enforcement people but that is not yet in the courts,” he said.
Guerra said the issuance of the TRO was not an assurance that the Supreme Court would grant Arroyo’s pleading in its entirety.
She said there were previous cases in which the court agreed to release a TRO, but later threw out the main petition.
“A TRO is just a provisional order. If you study the rule on provisional orders, the ground of the issuance of such is that there may be a probable violation of the right of the party seeking such order,” Guerra said.
“But this is not a final ruling on the merits because the court still has to hear the arguments of the respondents,” she added.
Unlike injunction orders issued by lower courts, Guerra said a TRO from the high court “is considered in effect until lifted by the court.”
In his first act as the newest member of the Supreme Court, newly appointed Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes voted to approve Arroyo’s petition along with 12 other justices.
The President’s first appointee, Associate Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, was on official leave and did not take part in the deliberation. With reports from Christian V. Esguerra and Cynthia D. Balana
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