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The Arroyos, de Lima and a Potential Governmental Crisis

I have no interest whatsoever in former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s health predicament in the light of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s defiance of the Supreme Court ruling granting a Temporary Restraining Order on the implementation of the Hold Departure Order. From all indications, there is nothing immediately life threatening about the former President’s current state of health.

What alarms me is de Lima’s continued insistence that the Hold Departure Order is to be enforced in spite of the fact that the ruling from the Supreme Court has formally been received by the Department of Justice.

In tonight’s news show, hogging the limelight as she rather tends to do almost nightly, de Lima was livid. They – meaning the Supreme Court Justices – de Lima insisted, should act first on the motion for reconsideration which, apparently, the DoJ has already filed. Before she lifts her instructions to the Immigrations people to prevent the Arroyos from leaving the country was what she meant.

Since when, pray tell, is a Secretary of Justice able to tell the Supreme Court anything?

On the face of it, de Lima’s line of reasoning appears to have some validity to it. What, she asked, if the Supreme Court rules in favour of the DoJ after the motion for reconsideration has been read and argued? What she was trying to say was that there will be no point to any affirmation of the Hold Departure List if the Arroyos had already left the country.

The validity of the reasoning, however, is entirely dependent on the suspicions that the Arroyos are not coming back being correct. Supposing that the Arroyos were allowed to leave and then they return after the former President has sought medical attention. Won’t de Lima be feeling just a tad foolish about all the pains she took to keep the Arroyos in the country?

In truth, unless she – de Lima – has a crystal ball, she has no way of knowing if the Arroyos plan to return or not. It had come to her attention, she said another night, that the former President was planning to seek political asylum in another country. But who really knows what the Arroyos are planning except the Arroyos themselves?

At second pass, de Lima’s reasoning then takes on the stench of being paranoid. Moreover, it even violates one principle upon which our democracy is built – that which states that a man – or, in this case, woman – is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Not because a pigeon whispered into her ear that the Arroyos are not returning does not mean that the pigeon was correct.

In the first place, any cases that are expected to be filed by the DoJ are those that will contain accusations of plunder or electoral sabotage; not whether the former President will return or not or of she will be seeking political asylum somewhere. The Arroyos had said that they would be facing any cases filed against them in court; so unless there was solid evidence to the contrary, any suspicions that the Arroyos will not be returning are, therefore, no more than plain and simple speculation.

Because de Lima does not have a crystal ball, she really has no way of knowing either what the Supreme Court’s take on the DoJ’s motion for reconsideration will be. If the Supreme Court reiterates that the Arroyos may still leave, then de Lima will have one godalmighty row to deal with – if there isn’t one already. Not to mention serious legal and administrative cases to contend with.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, speaking to media last night, said that the DoJ had only itself to blame for not having worked the Arroyo case enough to have filed the cases against the Arroyos sooner. Had it done so, then the Arroyo camp would not be able to cite that no cases had been filed to begin with.

Supposing that the Arroyos were allowed to leave and do indeed seek political asylum. Will this really be any worse than the US Air Force providing limousine service for the Marcoses to fly off to Hawaii? For the record, most of the alleged plunder remains unrecovered and the rest of the family remains influential.

Stepping back from this whole sorry business, what I find alarming is that we have a Secretary of Justice who thinks that she is bigger than the Supreme Court. Never mind what she thinks of individual Justices; it is her defiance of the institution that boggles the mind.

Sen. Miriam Santiago, colourful personality that she has always been, went for the melodramatic in saying that she wanted to slash her wrists upon learning of de Lima’s defiance of a Supreme Court ruling. For all her eccentricities, frequently Santiago is actually the one whose logic it is that is hard to refute. As always, in this standoff between the DoJ and the Supreme Court, she was correct.

The very foundation of government in a democracy such as ours is the principle of separation of powers between the three branches of government, with each branch having co-equal powers in the sense that no branch is beneath or above the other.

Between them, the Executive and the Legislative branches check each other’s powers so that government does not degenerate into either a dictatorship or an oligarchy. To ensure that governance by these two branches as well as the rest of society are in accordance with law, that is the role of the Judiciary.

Because of the geographic properties of modern states, the dispensation of justice is tiered in modern democratic governments. Any interpretations of law or the constitution, however, ends at the Supreme Court. Popular or unpopular as a Supreme Court ruling may be, it still has to be regarded as the correct one if for no other reason than to keep order in a democratic society.

What Senator Santiago was saying in her colourful way, therefore, was that it was inconceivable to her that the Executive branch – or, in this case, its represenative, the Secretary of Justice – would even contemplate defying a Supreme Court ruling. If the Secretary of Justice cannot respect a Supreme Court ruling, who will?

Forget about the Arroyos and overtures by their lawyers that the rights of the ordinary citizens as well are being violated by the Hold Departure List, which ironically was also implemented during the Arroyo incumbency. The real problem with de Lima’s pigheaded refusal to allow the Arroyos to leave is that she might have just lit the wick for not only a constitutional crisis but also a crisis of fundamental governance.

Have you ever seen a car with the wheels each going in a different direction? Well, ours, at the moment, seems to be doing just that.

I would not read too much into the former President’s pitiable appearance on a wheelchair last night. She is a wily and proud old warhorse; and she is no novice in the political arena.

And because de Lima does seem to love the limelight and also does seem to have a propensity for thinking out loud, in her defiance she might just have exposed herself – as well as the administration that she represents – to future legal and administrative actions. Contempt. This is what is already being said. Impeachment, too. See what I mean?

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