UN: Gloria Arroyo's detention 'violates int'l law'

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has released its opinion that the detention of former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo "violates international law" and is "arbitrary on a number of grounds."

In its opinion released October 2, the WGAD recommends that Arroyo, who is facing plunder charges, be accorded "with an enforceable right to compensation" for having been deprived of her liberty.

This was disclosed by international lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney in an email to Larry Gadon, one of Arroyo's Philippine lawyers, who shared it with the media on Thursday, October 8.

The complaint was filed by Clooney in February 2015, on behalf of the former Philippine president and now Pampanga representative, who is suffering from “multilevel cervical spondylosis” or the wearing of the bones. (READ: Lawyers ask UN to seek 'humanitarian release' of Arroyo)

"Mrs Arroyo and her legal team welcome the UN’s expert opinion and urge the Philippine Government to comply with it immediately," Clooney said in the email.

'Gov't failed to refute allegations'

Clooney said that the UN opinion "finds that the detention of former President Arroyo was arbitrary and illegal under international law because the Sandiganbayan court failed to take into account her individual circumstances when it repeatedly denied bail, failed to consider measures alternative to pre-trial detention and because of the undue delays in proceedings against her."

"Further, the Working Group recognized that the charges against Mrs Arroyo are politically motivated, since she is detained 'as a result of the exercise of her right to take part in government and the conduct of public affairs' and 'because of her political… opinion,'" she added, quoting from the UN opinion.

The international lawyer said the Working Group cited the Philippine government's “defiance of court rulings removing travel bans against Ms. Arroyo” to illustrate how it has targetted her and interfered with judicial decisions in her case.

It referred specifically to the incident involving Arroyo's bid to leave for medical treatment abroad in 2011, which was blocked by the Department of Justice on the argument that she could seek treatment at home. Malacañang defended the DOJ's decision and offered to fly in specialists from abroad to treat Arroyo in the Philippines.

'Enforceable right to compensation'

The Working Group  recommended  “reconsideration of Mrs Arroyo’s application for bail in accordance with the relevant international human rights standards and to accord Ms Arroyo with an enforceable right to compensation… for the deprivation of liberty which already occurred.”  

It also concluded that “[i]f the remaining criminal cases proceed against Ms Arroyo, the Working Group requests the Government to ensure fair trials which respect all the guarantees enshrined in international human rights law. In particular, the trials must take place without undue delay…”

Malacañang said in a statement on Thursday that while it "takes note" of the opinion of the WDAG, only Philippine courts can rule with finality on judicial proceedings in the country. (READ: Palace to UN body: Only PH courts can decide on Gloria Arroyo)

In March, Modesto Ticman, a lawyer representing Arroyo, said they were no longer seeking bail and had asked the UN to compel the Philippine government to release Arroyo on humanitarian grounds.

Also in March, Philippine-based human rights group Karapatan wrote a letter to the WGAD, suggesting that the UN body and the prominent lawyer had been “misinformed” by the Arroyo camp.

“In our view, it is the height of irony that Mrs Arroyo is now complaining over ‘violations’ of her civil and political rights when she enjoys the most special treatment of detained persons in the Philippines under the current Aquino administration,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay told the UN working group in the March letter.

Arroyo is serving her second term as Pampanga congressman, but is under detention for plunder charges over the alleged misuse of P366 million ($8.2 million) by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) during her presidency.

Ticman noted that while the anti-graft court had denied her multiple petitions for bail, it had freed her co-accused, former members of the PCSO board of directors.

“The President has been in detention for nearly 3 years despite the weak evidence of the prosecution,” Ticman told Rappler in March.

He said that in the Philippines, even if an accused is charged with a non-bailable offense, if the prosecution is weak, the court may allow the accused to post bail. He believes that, in Arroyo's case, bail should have been granted.

Ticman mentioned to Rappler that the case was brought to the attention of Amal Clooney back in December 2013. Arroyo’s Philippine lawyers Gadon and Ticman had been communicating with the international lawyer for at least 7 months prior to the filing of the complaint.

Clooney met Arroyo personally at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) through Pedrosa in December 2013. 

"There's not much to do after this opinion," Gadon said. He added that the UN working group's opinion is "strong enough" by itself.  – Rappler.com 

 

Ryan Macasero

Ryan covers Cebu and the Visayas for Rappler. He covers all news in the region, but is particularly interested in people stories, development issues and local policy making.

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