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Gloria Arroyo camp threatens De Lima with disbarment

The camp of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Friday warned that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima could be disbarred or criminally charged for publicly discussing an unverified text message that tended to cast doubt on Arroyo’s motive in seeking permission to travel abroad.

On the phone with the Inquirer, Arroyo spokesperson Elena Bautista-Horn said that before airing her suspicions to the media, De Lima should have done the “honorable” thing and substantiated the text message that Arroyo, now a representative of Pampanga, was seeking political asylum in the Dominican Republic.

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De Lima said that though the asylum report is unverified, she had already seen the page from the website of Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez showing Arroyo being conferred an award in May.

Not forthright

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The Arroyo camp initially denied that the lawmaker had visited the Dominican Republic, but later withdrew the denial.

“This only show that they are not forthright, they are not really open. That is why we are having doubts,” De Lima said.

She recalled that Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, traveled to Germany recently and announced upon his return to Manila that he had found a medical institution where his wife could undergo stem cell treatment for her bone ailment.

But the Arroyos said nothing about this in their letter requesting an allow-departure order, she said.

To influence SC

“Her statement is calculated to influence the Supreme Court on our petition to nullify the watch-list order [on Arroyo] because she knows fully well that [the government] will lose the case. We challenge her to come out with proof, or she should make a retraction,” Horn said.

She said Arroyo’s lawyers were studying the filing of criminal charges against De Lima for continuing to violate their client’s rights.

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Raul Lambino, Arroyo’s legal spokesperson, echoed Horn’s remarks in a separate phone interview.

‘Mad, wild’

“How can she apply for asylum when she is still here? Why are they raising this asylum issue now? Are they admitting that they are persecuting Representative Arroyo?” he said.

In a statement, Lambino described the text message as “concocted by the government and now circulated in public in order to get more headlines and continue embarrassing, harassing, oppressing and vilifying the Arroyos.”

He said this showed that the Aquino administration had run out of “legal arguments to justify [its] highly illegal and unconstitutional acts.”

“After P-Noy (Mr. Aquino) made a retarded offer to foot the bill for foreign doctors who will examine [Arroyo] in the country, now De Lima and the Palace henchmen have gone mad and wild in arguing their case in public,” Lambino said.

“The latest statement of De Lima is an admission and indubitable proof that the [Aquino administration] had politically harassed, insulted and maligned the Arroyos, and will keep them suffering with degrading and inhumane treatment,” he said.

Merely responding

But in an ambush interview with reporters, De Lima said she did nothing inappropriate when she publicly spoke about the text message that Arroyo was planning to seek asylum in the Dominican Republic.

She pointed out that she was merely responding to queries from the media when she spoke about the text message.

“Did the information about the Dominican Republic come from me? Isn’t it that you were the one who asked me about it? [You asked] if I got any information about the Dominican Republic. I said, yes, I received it, but I was still verifying it. I don’t even know who’s the source of the text message forwarded to me … You yourselves also received it,” she said.

To Horn’s challenge that she show proof that Arroyo intended to seek asylum in the Caribbean state, De Lima said: “I don’t need to produce evidence at this point. But it’s my duty to verify that [information] in the same manner that I’m verifying others. I actually have more reliable information but since I haven’t verified it yet, I still cannot disclose it.”

“They should not demand proof from me. But once I have the proof, by all means I will produce it.”

Still unconfirmed

In a radio interview, De Lima said she still had to get formal confirmation from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on the asylum report.

But DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said in a text message to the Inquirer: “We have not received any communication from the DOJ (Department of Justice) on the matter.”

Asked if the DFA could not verify the matter on its own, he said: “We need a basis for our actions which should come from appropriate authorities.”

De Lima shrugged off Horn’s allegation that the justice secretary was using the asylum issue to “grandstand” and boost her plan to seek a Senate seat in 2013.

“They have raised that a lot of times. Every time I act on high-profile and sensitive cases, that is hurled against me. Why is it hard for my detractors to believe that the justice secretary can do her job without thinking of anything but fulfilling her mandate? Do I need to have a political mandate just so I can do my work faithfully?” De Lima said.

She said her critics aired the same accusation when she ordered the reinvestigation of the Vizconde massacre.

Damaging to popularity

Lambino said Mr. Aquino’s popularity was taking a big hit as a result of his position that Arroyo should not be allowed to seek medical treatment abroad.

“I am certain that the public now understands that the real issue is not just medical but constitutional and legal—our liberty and sacred rights of abode and travel, and healthy life. The people have now realized that the Arroyos have long been used by P-Noy to distract their view of the ills of [his] administration,” Lambino said on the phone.

Horn said legal experts, including Mr. Aquino’s political allies such as Senators Franklin Drilon and Francis Escudero, had sided with Arroyo on her “inviolable right” to travel.

“What is personally giving me optimism on the issue is that the lawyers who are not our friends, who are not our allies, are saying that this is very unfair,” Horn said in reference to the travel ban on Arroyo.

“Our lead counsel, Estelito Mendoza, has stated that this is just a simple case being complicated by the President,” she said.

‘Punching bag’

Lambino said that if the Supreme Court would accord the Arroyos “a short furlough [to travel] abroad for medical treatment,” Mr. Aquino would be “exposed to full public view daily.”

“P-Noy would rather have a sick lady punching bag around, being feasted [on] and embarrassed in media, and even disregard and violate the Constitution, than risk being hated and ridiculed by the people for not delivering them to paradise, as he falsely promised and keeps promising,” Lambino said.

But an Aquino ally in the House, Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, said the onus of ensuring Arroyo’s return to the country from medical treatment abroad would be shouldered solely by the Supreme Court justices, most of whom are her appointees.

SC’s tough job

“The Supreme Court has a tough job as it would have to be absolutely correct on the matter,” Fariñas said.

“If it overrules the executive department’s decision not to allow travel, and in the event that [Arroyo] does not return to the country, it will have to contend with the wrath of the sovereign Filipino people and/or their duly elected representatives,” he said. With a report from Tina G. Santos

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TAGS: Dominican Republic, Elena Bautista-Horn, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, political asylum
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