Palace hits Duterte plan to free Arroyo
Stressing “respect for the rule of law,” Malacañang Sunday told presidential aspirant Rodrigo Duterte that if elected, he could not just order the release of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who had been placed under hospital arrest since 2011 for alleged electoral fraud and plunder.
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said that “under existing laws, only the courts have the jurisdiction and the authority to rule on the status of an accused, including petitions for bail.”
“On account of the constitutional principle of separation of powers, the President, who is Chief Executive, may not get involved in such matters,” Coloma told the Inquirer.
Duterte was reportedly cheered on Friday in San Fernando City when the Davao mayor promised that if elected, he would release Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative.
Arroyo was arrested in 2011 for electoral sabotage in the 2007 elections, but was allowed bail in 2012.
But before she could be freed, the Sandiganbayan ordered her arrest for plunder, in connection with the alleged misuse of over P365 million in intelligence funds of the state-run Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO). She has won an order from the Supreme Court temporarily stopping her trial for plunder.
Arroyo has claimed the evidence against her was insufficient and that detention has worsened her many ailments.
Duterte, who had served as Arroyo’s consultant on public order, said that just like ordinary citizens, Arroyo was entitled to a speedy trial.
He said that “if the prosecution is not ready, every time the case is called for hearing, the court should dismiss the charges because they also delay justice.”
British lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney has obtained an opinion from the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that the incarceration of Arroyo is “arbitrary and illegal under international law … with an enforceable right to compensation.”
The Supreme Court in November last year granted Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile bail on humanitarian grounds in his plunder case, a move that, according to lawyers, could pave the way for a similar plea under the equal protection law by Arroyo if she could show that she was not a flight risk because of her fragile health and advanced age.
The Aquino administration has touted the detention of Arroyo, along those of Enrile and Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr., as its main achievements in its “daang matuwid,” or righteous path, program to rid the country of corrupt elements.
It has also been slammed for not moving against its allies who have been tagged as corrupt.
Enrile, Estrada and Revilla have been charged plunder for diverting their congressional Priority Development Assistance Fund to ghost projects.
The administration Liberal Party, whose standard-bearer in the May elections is former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Sunday joined Malacañang in blasting Duterte for his “ignorance of or total disregard for the law.”
“I think Mayor Duterte has a flawed understanding of how the legal system works,” said the LP spokesperson, Akbayan Rep. Barry Gutierrez.
“GMA’s case is already [in] the courts, and they are the ones who have a say on whether to grant her provisional liberty—through bail or outright release—through an acquittal,” he said.
Gutierrez said Roxas, if elected President, would take his cue from the judicial authorities.
“Secretary Mar is of the position that all the corruption cases filed by the Ombudsman against public officials should continue to be heard in accordance with the law and the Constitution,” he said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.