Arroyo camp presses De Lima to quit
The lawyer of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said Justice Secretery Leila de Lima should resign after the Dominican Republic denied the Arroyos were seeking asylum in that country.
Lawyer Raul Lambino said De Lima’s decision to reveal unverified information that the Arroyos planned to make the Dominican Republic their sanctuary if they were allowed to leave the country had not only embarrassed the family but endangered the Philippines’ friendly relations with other countries.
Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso of the Dominican Republic denied on Saturday that the Arroyos had sought asylum in his country.
De Lima has kept the Arroyos on a watch list order, claiming that they might not return to face charges of election fraud if they were allowed to leave the country. The Arroyos have challenged the travel ban in the Supreme Court.
Arroyo was awarded a merit of honor by the Dominican Republic early this year and this may have fueled the speculation that the country was her choice for asylum to evade charges of plunder and electoral fraud.
Lambino said the asylum fiasco had shown that De Lima and other government officials had run out of arguments to defend their position barring Arroyo from seeking medical treatment abroad for her bone disease.
“De Lima, who is known for her intensive desire to run for the Senate, will do everything just to get media headlines. She is unbecoming and should resign now as justice secretary, if there is any bit of delicadeza left in her human system,” said Lambino.
No public apology
Earlier, the Arroyo camp had threatened to sue De Lima for maligning the Arroyos and to seek her disbarment.
But De Lima on Sunday shot down the demand of Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo that she issue a public apology after the foreign minister of the Dominican Republic denied the asylum rumors.
In a text message, De Lima said she was not the source of the asylum rumor.
“No way will I apologize. Why should I? The information regarding the (Arroyos’ supposed application for asylum) did not come from me,” De Lima said.
“I only confirmed the receipt of such information. And, rumor or not, it was my duty to verify such information,” she added.
“Can you fault (me) for probing such information?”
The justice secretary said the statement of the Dominican Republic foreign minister putting the rumor to rest “won’t prevent us from further verifying such and other information.”
“If that’s what the Dominican Republic foreign minister said, then of course we can take that at face value,” she said.
She said records of the Bureau of Immigration showed that Dominican Republic Ambassador to Asian countries Hans Dannenberg Castellanos was in the Philippines from October 25 to 28, but “we don’t know yet the purpose of the recent visit.”
Various text messages detailing the Arroyos’ supposed escape plot have been circulating in the media after De Lima slammed the door on the former president’s request to seek medical treatment abroad for her degenerative bone ailment on November 8.
Among the supposed plans were for Arroyo to “fake” a medical consultation in Spain and head straight to Portugal where the Arroyos had reportedly purchased an estate.
She is also reportedly banking on support from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Renato Corona, who once served as Arroyo’s chief of staff and spokesperson.
In an earlier interview, De Lima admitted receiving similar text messages, but insisted that she did not know where the information originated.
But she said the rumors bolstered the government’s suspicion that the Arroyos had other intentions aside from seeing medical specialists for Mrs. Arroyo’s condition.
The justice secretary noted that the countries that Arroyo was planning to visit had no extradition treaties with the Philippines.
The Palace defended De Lima, saying her statements did not cause any international embarrassment for the government.
“She was merely doing her job,” presidential deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a text message.
Valte charged Arroyo’s camp with issuing statements against De Lima to divert attention from the real issue.
Right to travel bill
Meanwhile, Senator Edgardo Angara plans to file a bill before Congress takes its Christmas break that would spell out the criteria for the Constitutional right to travel.
Angara told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that he had prepared a draft on what he hoped would eventually be the “standing rules” on the right to travel.
At present, the government is relying on a Department of Justice memorandum circular that was issued by the Arroyo administration that lists the requirements for issuing a hold departure order against persons facing criminal complaints.
Arroyo’s camp had questioned before the Supreme Court the watch list order barring her and her husband from traveling abroad.
Angara said the Constitution provides for the right to travel “as provided by law” and that was why Congress could come in to “implement” this provision.
By court order
Under his proposal, a person’s right to travel can be curtailed only through a court order under certain circumstances. These circumstances include “when a person is facing a criminal charge, when it involves a national threat and when it poses a health threat,” the senator said.
The proposed law would “try to remove the personal element and unregulated restraint and discretion” in issuing hold departure orders, said Angara, who is a friend of Arroyo’s. With a report from Christine Avendaño