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As I See It

All rights are limited by the rights of others

/ 12:08 AM November 21, 2011

The most common complaint against our justice system is that it is too slow. But when the wheels of justice rolled faster in the case against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, they are still complaining. They say it was too fast, that the case was “railroaded.” A case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Even granting that the filing of the case and the issuance of the warrant of arrest went “too fast,” the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the case required extraordinary solutions.

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The Arroyo couple was on the verge of leaving the country. In fact, they had already booked flights on several airlines, and the couple, together with aides, had already gone to the airport to board their planes. It was evident that they wanted to skip the country ahead of a warrant of arrest.

Once they are out of the country, then they are beyond the pale of Philippine laws and authority. They can seek political asylum somewhere, claiming they are being persecuted in the Philippines. They can stay away from the Philippines indefinitely, and return, if they want to, when a friendly administration takes over. The Filipinos are a forgiving people with short memories who forget a person’s sins after only a short time. Look at the Marcoses. The administration of President Aquino would be left holding an empty bag, and the world would be laughing at us. “Naisahan” would be the common Filipino epithet hurled at us, meaning they were able to “put one over us.”

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What will that do to P-Noy’s (Aquino) promise to hold the guilty accountable for their sins? One reason that corruption is spreading in the Philippines is that the corrupt get away with their loot and are not punished.

Yes, the Commission on Elections was called to a meeting en banc to hear and decide on the recommendations of the joint Comelec-Department of Justice committee which investigated the electoral sabotage case against GMA (Arroyo) and detained Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. and detained Comelec official Lintang Bedol, both of whom said they were instructed by GMA to cheat in the 2007 polls so that there would be a 12-0 vote in favor of administration candidates in the senatorial elections. (By the way, why was Garci not included in any electoral sabotage case?)

Yes, the filing of the cases was rushed to the Pasay Regional Trial Court and yes, the judge rushed the issuance of a warrant of arrest, but if you were in the place of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, what would you have done? The suspects are about to escape; she has been ordered by the President “to do everything” to prevent their escape. Would you have sat back and allowed them to escape?

Lawyers of all stripes, always obsessed with the letter of the law, say that she should have obeyed the temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Supreme Court against the watch-list order (WLO) of the DOJ. They said refusing to obey it was a “defiance” of the high tribunal which is punishable by imprisonment and/or fine for indirect contempt.

But it is a cardinal principle in law that the substance of the law always takes precedence over the letter of the law. Which means that in case of conflict between the two, the intent of Congress that enacted the law (or the Supreme Court which promulgated the rule) should be taken into consideration.

For example, was it the intent of the framers of the Constitution, in writing the guarantee on an individual’s right to travel, to allow suspects to escape prosecution by traveling out of the country?

All the rights enumerated by the Bill of Rights are not absolute. They have limits, such as when they encroach on the rights of others. Freedom of the press is limited by the libel law, the right to freedom of expression is limited by the law against slander, the right of workers to strike is limited by other labor laws, the right of people to gather and seek redress for grievances is limited by other laws on peace and public order.

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By the same token, the right to travel is not absolute. It is limited by the state’s own right to impose justice and hold accountable those who have committed wrongs. Should a suspect in a criminal case be allowed to escape simply by invoking his right to travel? As I see it, the state’s right to hold accountable those who are guilty should take precedence over the individual’s right. The right to freedom is the most basic right in the Constitution, but the state can still detain you if you are accused of a criminal act.

The administration may be “biased” in the case of GMA, but the Supreme Court (called the Arroyo Court) is also guilty of the same sin. All the eight justices who voted for the issuance of the TRO, as well as the denial of the DOJ’s motion for reconsideration, were appointed by GMA. The tribunal scheduled oral arguments on the case but days before the scheduled hearing, it suddenly issued a TRO, effective immediately, taking the DOJ by surprise.

Not only that, the Arroyo camp seemed to have an inside track on what the Supreme Court would do. Even before the TRO was issued, they were all packed up and ready to go, the P2 million cash bond required by the Supreme Court was already in a duffel bag ready to be taken to the Supreme Court, and they had already booked flights (in several airlines) out of the country. It was only the DOJ’s firm orders to the Bureau of Immigration and to the Manila International Airport Authority not to let them leave that prevented them from escaping and making the Philippines the “laughingstock of the world.”

GMA should remember one thing: She did the same thing to former President Joseph Estrada who was not convicted of any corruption charge but was nevertheless imprisoned for more than six years. Now the shoe is on the other foot.

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TAGS: Arroyo Health, Arroyo Travel, Benigno Aquino III, crime, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Government, judiciary, justice, law, politics, Supreme Court
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