by jun asuncion
It was like a chess championship match with the brave sacrificing act of Justice Secretary Leila De Lima leading to the checkmate of GMA. The thrill reached its peak as GMA attempted to flee from her impending checkmate – using her ailment as cover up and with her team of lawyers exhausting her cornucopia of legal means so she could escape prosecution – these in dizzying alacrity. Not to be dismissed as boring were the acrimony between the lawyers of each camp, political observers and netizens and the diverging opinions of the senators and constitutional experts on the legal imbroglio and pandemonium that transpired the last days.
Beside offering a cerebral entertainment, this match was a crossing of the Rubicon for Aquino’s administration with its determined fight against the culture of impunity – the catalyst and stabilizer of corruption engines – and its entrance into a culture of accountability with the arrest of GMA last Friday.
Big change shakes the foundations, brings with it conflicting situations and demands sacrifices and strong will. Though it was GMA’s histrionics that dictated the tempo of events, it was the seemingly collision of the fundamental right to travel and the right of the state to prosecute high crimes and the contumacious actions of Justice Secretary De Lima vis-à-vis the Supreme court that interested keen observers the most. On top of that one questions: How absolute are human rights, the Constitution and the orders of the Supreme court? And how powerful is the judiciary against the executive? Was there a constitutional crisis? Opinions differed on these questions among lawyers and constitutionalists.
Everything appeared paradoxical and dramatic. Secretary De Lima was unfazed, controlled, tough and very quick on the trigger. She had her angle all the time and she’s proven her worth as Justice Secretary. For her justice must be served by all means – even to the point of disobeying a Supreme Court order- this Temporary Restraining Order (TRO). Senator Escudero was among the antagonists who espoused blind obedience to the law and was quick to praise the Court’s decision. Were he in command, GMA would have escaped prosecution.
Justice vs. the right to travel? It was another instance of two good things colliding at a given space and time. Had Senator Escudero viewed the whole situation not as a lawyer but as visionary politician, he would have been part of the entourage that crossed the Rubicon. Hence, he was left behind with his myopic, legalistic view of the world. He cut a pathetic figure last week. The constitutional right to travel should not be used to obstruct justice and crimes committed should not be blinded out or relegated to the background as lawyers engage themselves in textbook debates on law. Accused persons must be tried by all means.
Crossing the Rubicon is disobedience yet groundbreaking. President Noy Aquino and his team have crossed the Rubicon in order that justice be served in the Philippines. This is reflective equilibrium, visionary politics, epoch-making leadership.
Democracy is not only about rights and individualism but also about duties and collectivism. GMA’s insistence on her human and constitutional right to travel (since when did she insist on human and constitutional rights?) must be viewed not in isolation or purely as an article in the 1987 Constitution but within the context of the crimes imputed to her. That’s why it was a piece of impudence and out of context for her legal advisers to equate GMA’s deprivation of her right to travel as endangering all Filipinos’ right to travel. Not all Filipinos are Gloria Arroyo.
If Democracy is a balance of rights, duties, individualism (personal welfare) and collectivism (common good), then decisions involving conflicting rights or principles must also be balanced. Secretary De Lima was right when she mentioned the balancing of the situation before arriving at a decision. Some members of the Supreme Court seemed to have problem with balancing last week, hence, this TRO was far from being democratic because it was decided without this greater sense for justice, sense of social responsibility and in sheer disregard for the accountability of public officials and suspected criminals. The state’s decision for justice, accountability and to end impunity outweighs GMA’s personal right to travel. Naturally, GMA was in a hurry to leave for she knew that without the case being formally filed before a court-and with her one -way TRO ticket in her suitcase – she could still defy the Watchlist Order of the Justice Department. A fleeing suspect in prestissimo has no right to blame Judge Mupas and the Southern Police District if they’re catching up with her tempo. Railroading a woman suspect on wheelchair? Had she not displayed the intention to follow the example of Ramona Bautista, everything would have been settled in adagio manner. So GMA was in command of the metronome last week – but to her disadvantage.
If the government represents democracy and if sovereignty emanates from the people, then the people who voted for Pres. Aquino and his promise to fight corruption surely supported all actions taken by Pres. Aquino’s team in preventing Arroyo from leaving the country until her arrest last Friday. That TRO could hardly be taken as representing the interest of the sovereignty. An ordinary Filipino doesn’t need the service of a lawyer to decide not to entrust his child to somebody with records of stealing, violence and pedophiliac activities or send his housemaid he highly suspects of stealing his money for a vacation in her province before he has confronted her about the situation. Using the same common sense he would likewise not allow GMA to leave and escape prosecution.
GMA is famous for her inconsistencies, very poor credibility rating, betraying Public Trust and for being accused of committing a dozen of crimes, among these being electoral sabotage and plunder. So why let her go before her cases are cleared? The Supreme Court’s voting for TRO was legally right but did it respect or consider the people’s covenant with the President? The Supreme Court justices – including the Chief Justice – who voted for TRO, all being appointees of GMA when she was still president, decided in favor of their ex-boss, a situation we could easily link with Utang Na Loob. Lawyers interpret a legal situation differently. The fact that the Supreme Court justices were divided in their judgement on TRO issuance, supports this argument. Hence, the TRO was a personal gift for Arroyo, a one way ticket for a world tour.
Gloria Arroyo’s theatrical performance at the airport was aimed to tickle that Filipino traits of Awa and Utang na Loob. But she has been unmasked by the people and so it was a flop for no Awa came to her rescue. “Persecution, cruelty”, according to her husband. It’s amazing how justice can change someone’s vocabularies. This much heard promise of returning home may have been true but has anybody thought of asking them (Arroyos) when? Two weeks could also be stretched to twenty years. Or maybe forever – like their promise when they were wedded, to be together in good times and bad times.