Government stops Arroyo flight
In a dramatic airport showdown, President Benigno Aquino III’s government stopped former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo from boarding a Hong Kong-bound plane and leaving the country Tuesday night, despite a Supreme Court order allowing her to seek medical treatment abroad.
The wheelchair-bound Arroyo, wearing a neck brace, and her husband were supposed to take a Dragon Air flight leaving for Hong Kong at 8:50 p.m. but immigration officials barred them from taking the flight.
The Arroyos had also booked other flights, including Singapore Airlines, but immigration officials stopped them from getting on any of the planes.
Arroyo’s lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio, said they would file contempt charges Wednesday against Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and others who stopped the Arroyos from leaving.
Asked if the decision of the Bureau of Immigration to stop the Arroyos from leaving despite a high court order giving the Arroyos the green light amounted to a contemptuous act, Supreme Court spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez said: “Yes, it is, but we still have to look at the facts.”
Prior to the Arroyos’ arrival at the airport, Lina Pelia, chief of the Bureau of Immigration’s airport operations center, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that she would heed De Lima’s order to stop the Arroyos from leaving.
Arroyo, now a congresswoman of Pampanga, and her husband arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) Terminal 1 on a St. Luke’s Medical Center ambulance.
Amid a mob of jostling mediamen, Arroyo was helped off the ambulance by her husband, her son and congressman Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, spokesperson Elena Bautista-Horn and several nurses.
It took several attempts for Arroyo to get off the ambulance as her guards tried to control onlookers and media people swarming around to come closer to the former President.
“Maawa naman kayo (Have pity)!” some of her aides shouted.
Earlier Tuesday, Marquez warned De Lima and other government officials that they “might be held for contempt” if they insisted on preventing the Arroyos from leaving in defiance of the court’s restraining order.
“As we have seen in the past, once the TRO (temporary restraining order issued by the high court) is released, it takes effect immediately. We have to understand that TROs are just a provisional remedy for the time being,” Marquez told the Inquirer.
De Lima: TRO deferred
Speaking at a hastily called news conference at the Palace late Tuesday afternoon, De Lima said: “In the event the Arroyos appear at the airport and other ports of exit between now and up to the resolution of our motion for reconsideration, [authorities] need to bar them from leaving. The TRO is being stayed or deferred until the resolution of [our] motion for reconsideration.
“We need to do this because of confirmed information and reports” from Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) and Bureau of Immigration (BI) “that there were bookings made [Tuesday].”
De Lima said Arroyo had booked passage on Philippine Airlines’ Flight PR501 and Singapore Airlines’ Flight SQ919 for 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. Tuesday but that these were canceled because she did not show up.
“There is an intention to leave the country immediately, and that is puzzling to us,” De Lima said.
There were supposedly two other bookings made for Singapore—PR505 and SQ921 leaving at 7:35 p.m. and 7:55 p.m. respectively—and a Dragon Air flight at 8:30 p.m. An Inquirer source said the last flight was bound for Hong Kong.
First plane out
The Arroyos apparently could not wait to leave.
Another source said that hours before the Supreme Court began its en banc session to tackle the couple’s petition to lift the travel ban on them, Mike Arroyo confided to certain reporters that he and his wife would take the first plane out as soon as the tribunal handed down its decision.
The source said the Arroyos had anticipated a favorable decision from the high court and made the two bookings with PAL.
Shortly before the high court released the TRO, House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales said the Aquino administration could choose to defy the tribunal and make it difficult for the former first couple to leave the country, perhaps by ordering the BI not to sign their papers.
“You cannot ride an airplane if you have no clearance from immigration,” he said at the Ugnayan sa Batasan forum.
Gonzales, however, said this course would entail a lot of risk because the international community might consider it a form of political persecution.
“The executive can risk it and have a next round of legal actions where it could be sued for contempt of court,” he said.
Asked if De Lima’s order that the Arroyos be stopped from leaving was an act of contempt, Marquez said: “Let’s see. I don’t think there is defiance yet.
“Maybe they were just surprised with what happened because they fought against it. But now that there’s already a TRO, it’s effective immediately.
“I am hoping out that our government officials will comply [with], observe and respect the TRO.”
De Lima said that as far as Malacañang was concerned, the Department of Justice’s inclusion of the Arroyos in the watch list remained in effect because it had not yet received a copy of the TRO, which would pave the way for its filing of a motion for reconsideration at the high court.
“The reported TRO has not been substantiated to exist pending receipt of respondents or the Solicitor General. Hence, it’s the status quo. The existence of the watch list order against the Arroyos remains,” she said.
De Lima said this was why she issued the directive to the BI and called on Transportation Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II to order civil aviation authorities to stop the Arroyos and their “entourage” from leaving the country.
She said she had also directed the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation to be on the lookout for any attempt of the Arroyos to slip out.
De Lima rushed to the Palace for a meeting with President Aquino after the high court issued the TRO shortly past noon.
She said that during the meeting, the President told her “to do what’s necessary under the premises and under existing circumstances,” and that her directives were in accordance with what she “deemed appropriate.”
Asked about the President’s reaction to the high court decision, she said: “I can say he is dismayed, he is frustrated.”
De Lima said Malacañang’s move was “defensible.”
“The TRO cannot bind us if we are not yet of official receipt of [it]. It’s our right to avail [ourselves] of the proper remedy—the motion for reconsideration,” she said.
Commenting on the high court’s TRO, De Lima said the Supreme Court had “effectively” decided that the watch list order was unconstitutional.
“That is the net effect. If [the Arroyos] would be able to leave because of the TRO, what will be our remedy now?” she said.
The justice secretary also questioned Marquez’s statement that the Arroyos were required to post a cash bond, appoint legal representatives, and report to embassies abroad.
“Are those guarantees?” she said.
Mr. Aquino’s spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the high court’s issuance of a TRO was “unfortunate.”
“It was a decision that we are not hoping for,” Lacierda said. “We were hoping for the best and expecting the worst.”
Told that representatives of the party-list group Bayan Muna had blamed Malacañang for its current predicament because it was slow in filing charges against the Arroyos, Lacierda said the President had directed his officials to observe due process for people being investigated.
‘As soon as possible’
According to Topacio, the former first couple immediately booked a flight to Singapore moments after the Supreme Court issued the TRO.
He said the Arroyo couple were to see medical experts in Singapore and Spain to seek treatment for the former President’s bone disease.
“They are leaving as soon as possible, not for anything else but the former President’s treatment,” Topacio told the Inquirer.
“There’s really an absolute necessity for [her] to be given immediate medical attention for her condition,” he said.
Topacio said that the three conditions set by the high tribunal were “reasonable enough,” and that he had advised his client to comply.
Dousing suspicion that the Arroyos had no intention to return, he said: “I assure the Filipino people that my client would return to the Philippines and face the accusations against him.
“We believe that the court would eventually absolve my client.”
In a statement, Mike Arroyo said the tribunal’s decision to grant his and his wife’s petition was “a triumph of the force of law against the law of force.”
He described the Aquino administration as “despotic.”
“Once again, the Supreme Court has proven itself as the bulwark of the people’s civil and political rights as against the encroachment of the vast powers of the executive,” he said.
In a text message to the Inquirer, Roxas said he had ordered airport and other air travel authorities to comply with De Lima’s directive.
In a statement issued early Tuesday night, the BI said: “Acting on the instruction of De Lima, Immigration Commissioner Ricardo David ordered immigration officers not to allow the departure of the Arroyos.” With reports from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr. and Jerome Aning in Manila; and Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon
Originally posted: 9:21 pm | Tuesday, November 15th, 2011
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