Arroyo writes letter asking to leave, vows to come back
In a personal letter, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has appealed that she be allowed to seek medical treatment abroad on the promise that she would return.
She has written a personal letter to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima but has yet to receive a reply, her spokesperson, Elena Bautista-Horn, on Thursday told the Philippine Daily Inquirer. According to a source, the letter has been forwarded to President Benigno Aquino III for his personal evaluation.
The Arroyo camp is hoping that her written promise will serve to convince authorities that she will return to face charges of plunder and electoral sabotage, both nonbailable offenses.
“The return date is fixed … on the approved travel authority issued by the House of Representatives,” Horn said in a text message.
Arroyo, now a representative of the second district of Pampanga, obtained on October 19 permission to travel to Singapore, Spain, Germany, Italy and the United States from October 22 to December. The travel authority was signed by Artemio Adasa Jr., deputy secretary general of the House’s legislative operations department.
She plans to seek treatment for “hypoparathyroidism,” a condition caused by lack of calcium production in the body, which has aggravated her neck and spine problems. She is to be accompanied by her husband, Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, her security aide, and a private nurse.
Arroyo is prepared to leave as soon as she obtains her allow-departure order (ADO) from the Department of Justice (DOJ), according to Horn.
But the DOJ on Thursday included her in the watch list order as one of the accused in the electoral sabotage cases being investigated by a joint panel of the DOJ and the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
The order will be in effect for 60 days unless revoked or extended by the DOJ.
Chief State Counsel Ricardo Paras III approved the watch list order against Arroyo, her husband and other respondents following the recommendation of the DOJ-Comelec panel looking into the alleged fraud in the 2007 senatorial elections.
Paras said he found the recommendation “meritorious” after “careful evaluation.”
The joint panel has also taken cognizance of the electoral sabotage case filed by Senator Aquilino Pimentel III against a second group of respondents, including Arroyo and her husband and 10 others in the first group.
Among the others on the watch list order are former Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr., former Comelec Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer, former Justice Secretary Alberto Agra, former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., former Maguindanao Administrator Norie Unas, and Provincial Election Supervisors Lilian Suan-Radam, Yogie Martirizar and Lintang Bedol.
In an interview, Justice Secretary De Lima said that the respondents were assured of due process and that anyone with a complaint could elevate this to the courts.
She said that she was still studying Arroyo’s request for an ADO and that she would make her decision public this week.
Pros and cons
De Lima said the justice secretary “may, for exceptional reasons, issue an ADO upon the submission of several requirements.”
“What I’m doing now is weighing the pros and cons. It’s not an easy decision to make,” she said.
She added that the DOJ was “the primary implementer of the country’s criminal justice system” with “inherent and incidental powers,” such as the ADO and watch list order, “to exercise for the effective discharge of its core mandate.”
De Lima also said one of her main considerations in issuing an ADO was that the preliminary inquiry would not be delayed by the absence of the respondents.
“The preliminary investigation has already started. We don’t want that the process will not be finished because somebody will be unavailable. It’s not every day that we have high crimes like electoral sabotage, and we don’t want that those who are set to appear [before the joint committee] will disappear,” she said.
But Mike Arroyo’s lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio, assailed the DOJ for including his client in the watch list order.
“[This] impairs his right to travel to accompany his wife, … who is seeking urgent medical treatment abroad. [It] is most cruel and inhuman, and evinces a lack of compassion and common human decency in the leaders of the present administration,” Topacio said in a statement.
The lawyer reminded Mr. Aquino that during martial law, his entire family was allowed to fly to the United States to accompany his then ailing father who was seeking medical treatment there.
“It is thus most execrable for the present government to accord treatment to the Arroyos that is worse than what they experienced during the Marcos administration,” the lawyer said.
Arroyo’s critics, such as San Juan Representative JV Ejercito, had warned against allowing the Arroyos to travel abroad.
Ejercito, a son of deposed President Joseph Estrada, said the Arroyos would stay out of the country to evade charges against them until a new administration sympathetic to them would take over.
Arroyo received unexpected support from two administration senators following her inclusion in the watch list order.
Senators Franklin Drilon and Francis Escudero said that the order was “unconstitutional” and that De Lima should revoke a circular issued by her predecessor, Alberto Agra, on which the new order was apparently based.
“The watch list (order), which has the effect of a hold-departure order, is illegal,” said Drilon, himself a former justice secretary. “The right to travel is a constitutional right, and a restriction on the right to travel in the guise of a watch list order, to me, is also illegal.”
Escudero said only the courts could issue a hold-departure order, and warned the Aquino administration against using the “oppressive” Agra circular against Arroyo, under whose watch the regulation was issued.
“This is one of the oppressive regulations and circulars issued during the past administration, which the present administration should not be using. Otherwise, nothing would set us apart from the previous administration insofar as the curtailment of certain rights is concerned,” Escudero said. With a report from Christian V. Esguerra
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