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Interesting viewpoint on GMA’s travel plea

09:05 PM November 15, 2011

Raul Pangalangan’s Nov. 11 column, “Who’s to blame if Gloria does a Ramona?” provides interesting reading on the petition of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to travel abroad for bone biopsy treatment. Arroyo is facing charges of plunder, electoral sabotage and violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. Her lawyers contend her right to travel is being violated.

But Pangalangan’s opinion supporting Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s position deserves a close look by the Supreme Court. De Lima has denied GMA’s petition on the ground that the latter has not offered fool-proof assurance that she would immediately return to the country. Pangalangan argues that the Department of Justice—in fact, even the Department of Labor—has express power under the Administrative Code, to limit travel for a person facing serious crimes on the ground that he can be a risk to public safety and national interest, thus correcting a flawed notion that only the courts can impose travel restrictions. Clearly, the national interest here is that the complainant, which is the government, may be deprived of justice—and may fail to serve justice’s ends—should GMA fail to return and face the charges against her. When this happens, it would be a big blow not only to the country’s judicial system but also to Preident Aquino’s much-vaunted war on corruption.

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Following Pangalangan’s logic, there is no need for a Supreme Court order that will restrain DOJ from implementing its decision denying a travel permit for GMA, or reversing it. Isn’t the power to declare a person a “risk” to public safety or national interest within the purview of the executive branch and, therefore, “beyond the ambit of judicial inquiry?”

Amid public perceptions of a biased Supreme Court, it is sad to note that this protector of democratic institutions has failed to insulate itself from political influence. In fact, respect for justices is at its lowest ebb, after the Court issued a series of unpopular decisions that spared criminals, tax evaders and electoral saboteurs from punishment, thus appearing to have failed miserably to pass the litmus test of judicial independence.

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As a just arbiter of legal disputes and interpreter of the laws, the Court’s approval rating is in sub-zero levels—allegedly due to observations that it favors moneyed litigants with whom some of its justices may have special relationships. Observers have also noted that the Court has flip-flopped on several decisions. Can it decide fairly on a case involving a person to whom most of them are perceived to be beholden?

Its credibility under question, the Court has a more compelling reason to decide cases based mainly on merits—with the highest degree of fairness, integrity and honesty. Its integrity, like Caesar’s wife, must always be beyond suspicion. Unfortunately, this is not so.

What is really happening to our Supreme Court?

—EDGAR J. TAMAYO,

president, Free Journalists Association of the Philippines

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TAGS: administrative code, arroyo, crimes, DOJ, justice, letters, right to travel
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