The Supreme Court (SC), in an 8-5 vote, issued Tuesday a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the watch list order (WLO) issued against former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, her husband former First Gentleman Jose Miguel T. Arroyo, and others facing investigation on the alleged poll fraud in the 2004 and 2007 elections in Mindanao.
The order allowed Mrs. Arroyo to seek medical treatment abroad. However, the SC imposed three conditions for the former First Couple to avail themselves of the TRO, according to SC Spokesman and Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez.
Second, they should appoint their lawyers to receive in their behalf all the processes or subpoenas that may be issued by the DoJ in the poll fraud cases or the Office of the Ombudsman in the plunder complaints involving Mrs. Arroyo.
Third, they should report to the Philippine consular offices or embassies in the countries they would be travelling.
De Lima defiant
Despite the TRO, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima remains defiant, saying the TRO only takes effect upon government’s receipt of the order. She immediately directed the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to continue enforcing the watch list order. She also requested Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC) Secretary Mar Roxas issue the same order barring the Arroyos from leaving.
De Lima also said that the Department of Justice (DoJ) will file as soon as possible a motion for reconsideration.
Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said that until the government has received an official copy of the SC decision, the Arroyos will not be allowed to leave the country.
But Marquez said the TRO is already executory immediately after the SC releases the order and the Arroyos have complied with the conditions set by the High Court. In a television interview, Marquez said anyone who defies the SC order may be cited in contempt.
Even House Majority Leader and Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali “Boyet” Gonzales II, a former Arroyo ally before he joined the Liberal Party, said the DoJ may order the BI to hold Mrs. Arroyo should the government decide to file a motion for reconsideration.
Before De Lima’s directive last night, the BI had said that it will allow the Arroyos to leave as soon as it receives a copy of the SC decision.
“We have not yet received the SC order, but we will allow them to go abroad as soon as we get the copy the TRO and they comply with all the requirements prescribed by the High Tribunal,” lawyer Maria Antonette Bucasas-Mangrobang, BI spokesperson, said.
How Justices voted
According to Marquez, the eight justices who voted to issue the TRO were Chief Justice Renato C. Corona and Justices Presbitero J. Velasco Jr., Arturo D. Brion, Diosdado M. Peralta, Lucas P. Bersamin, Roberto A. Abad, Martin S. Villarama Jr., and Jose Portugal Perez.
He said that those who voted to deny the TRO and opted to hear first the position of the government, through the DoJ, were Senior Justice Antonio T. Carpio and Justices Jose Catral Mendoza, Maria Lourdes P. Sereno, Bienvenido L. Reyes Jr., and Estela Perlas Bernabe.
Justice Teresita J. Leonardo-de Castro is on official trip abroad, while Justice Mariano C. del Castillo is on a wellness leave.
Marquez said the SC set oral arguments on the consolidated cases filed by the former First Couple on November 22. The DoJ was directed to file its comment on the two petitions.
Marquez said the justices who voted to issue a TRO believed that the inclusion of the former First Couple in the DoJ’s WLO “might probably work as an injustice to them without any case being filed against them in court.”
“The issuance of the TRO is consistent with the constitutional presumption of innocence until proven guilty,” he said.
He pointed out that the TRO was addressed only to the DoJ and the Bureau of Immigration (BI) and “not to any court.”
Under the rules, a TRO issued by the SC is indefinite. But it could be lifted anytime if circumstances warrant like a case against the Arroyos is filed in court and that court issues a hold-departure order (HDO) against them. The filing of a case in court and the issuance of an HDO must be manifested before the SC to warrant the lifting of the TRO.
The DoJ, which was the main respondent in the petitions filed by the Arroyos, can file a motion to lift TRO. The lifting depends on the sound discretion of the SC. But SC records showed that the High Court seldom lifts its TRO pending resolution of the case on its merits.
Sen. Joker Arroyo said he is pleased that the SC decided to allow the former President to leave the country to seek medical attention abroad.
At the very least, the High Court, which is the last bastion of democracy in the country, has managed to put a brake on the Aquino administration’s “totalitarian tendencies.”
“My point here is this: the SC has put a stop, put a brake, on the totalitarian tendencies of this government. We already have a creeping martial law here that we don’t only notice,” Arroyo said when asked by reporters.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago commended the SC for issuing the TRO.
“The Supreme Court did a good job, that is an exhibition of judicial sagacity and sobriety,” said Sen Santiago.
“The right to travel is a fundamental right that should not be impaired by anyone no matter how powerful they maybe because it is a constitutionally protected right,” said Santiago, who from the very start said that banning Mrs. Arroyo to travel is unconstitutional
Sen. Francis Escudero said he finds the SC decision “fair and reasonable.”
“The decision of the Supreme Court is fair and reasonable. While I believe that former President Arroyo has to answer for a lot of things, she should be made to do so under the proper constitutional processes,” Escudero said.
While acknowledging the Arroyos right to travel, Senate President Pro Tempore “Jinggoy” Estrada still said he fears the couple would never return once they leave the country.
Estrada and Sen. Franklin Drilon said it is high time state prosecutors file a strong case against the Arroyos so a formal hold departure order (HDO) can be issued against the couple.
“I’m not surprised by (the SC’s decision). They tested the limits of her (Secretary De Lima’s) power. She tested the limits of the presidential power, the power of the Executive branch, but at the end of the day it is the SC that will decide what are the limits,” Drilon said.
“The only remedy left is for them to file cases now. They should file a criminal case that is supported by evidence before the proper courts para maka-release na ng HDO,” added Drilon.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said De Lima mishandled the case because jurisprudence states that it is only the courts that can prohibit a citizen from traveling abroad.
Although he is not a lawyer, Lacson refuted De Lima’s stand that national interest prevails over the Constitution, particularly on the constitutional right of the Arroyos to travel.
“That is a wrong proposition,” Lacson said, indirectly stating that it is the other way around.
Lacson stressed that De Lima should have studied case carefully, particularly on constitutional issues before she acts.
The Arroyos had to go to the SC after Mrs. Arroyo’s request for an allow departure order (ADO) was denied by De Lima.
The Arroyos, in their petitions, also pleaded the SC to resolve, once and for all, the constitutionality of the WLOs issued by the DoJ.
Earlier, government lawyers had opposed the plea for a TRO made by the Arroyos on their two petitions.
In two urgent manifestations filed by Solicitor General Jose Anselmo Cadiz, the SC was asked to give the government reasonable time to respond to the two petitions filed by the Arroyos, to deny the plea for TRO, and to hold oral arguments on the cases.
In seeking the nullification of the WLO, the former President said she would suffer irreparable injury if the implementation of the WLO issued against her is not nullified immediately.
“The inability of petitioner GMA to leave for abroad to alleviate, or, at least, prevent the aggravation of her hypoparathyroidism and metabolic bone disorder has given rise to the danger that the said conditions afflicting petitioner GMA may become permanent and incurable,” Mrs. Arroyo said in a petition filed by former Justice Minister and Solicitor General Estelito P. Mendoza.
“Having been immobilized by a debilitating condition for the last few months, and having been subject to long operations and their complications, she seeks other experts’ perspective and to receive optimum care to ensure that she will not be disabled for the rest of her life and that her recovery will no longer be impeded by complications, which she has unfortunately experienced for the last few months,” the petition also stated.
In his petition, Mr. Arroyo told the SC the issuance of a WLO against him constitutes a violation of his freedom of movement and his right to travel.
But former President Joseph Estrada said that more than former President Arroyo’s “constitutional right to travel is her constitutional right to stay in the country.”
“The Supreme Court made a decision based on a debate on rights but they (Justices) should have also considered the importance of one’s duty as a public official,” Estrada said.
Last August 23, the SC stopped the DoJ from implementing the first WLO issued on August 4 against Mr. Arroyo on request of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee in its investigation into the acquisition by the Philippine National Police (PNP) in 2009 of alleged second-hand helicopters reportedly owned by the former First Gentleman.
In stopping the implementation of the August 4 WLO, the SC – in a unanimous vote – ruled that the WLO issued against Mr. Arroyo “violates his constitutional right to travel.”
Section 6, Article III of the Constitution provides that the “right to travel shall not be impaired except in the interest of national security, public safety and public health, as may be provided by law.”
As this developed, the former First Couple were “no-shows” for the Singapore Airlines flight SQ919 that they were booked on Tuesday afternoon. The flight departed for Singapore a 5:10 p.m., but the Arroyos did not show up.
The next flight of Singapore Airlines bound for Singapore is scheduled to depart at 7 p.m. but as of press time, no booking or reservations for the Arroyos have been made. (With reports from Genalyn D. Kabiling, Hannah L. Torregoza, Rio Rose Ribaya, Jun Ramirez, Mario B. Casayuran, Rolly T. Carandang, Anjo Perez, and Samuel P. Medenilla)