The Travails of an Unpopular President

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I often read in several newspaper columns how they put side by side the legacy of Arroyo with those of history’s most unpopular tyrants, making it appear that Arroyo, beyond reasonable doubt, stands fit in the same pedestal where Herod or Marcos now stands with great infamy. Adding insult to injury, it seems that Arroyo’s case differs largely from those whom she is compared with: while they enjoy some speck of popularity, Arroyo on the other hand never enjoyed it longer than she would want, even when she assumed office after Estrada’s fall, many saw it as a constitutional farce and a mockery of the system we have. All these bickering about her flight abroad to allegedly escape trial had been the talk of the nation, but it couldn’t have precipitated to the current issue without the infamous the body that started it all: the DoJ-COMELEC Joint Panel Investigation that is tasked to probe on probable cases of election-related violations and the offenses that may have (or for some, already had been) been committed by several officials, notable of course by Arroyo. Following the supposed “hasty” filing of a criminal case against Arroyo in the Pasay City Regional Trial Court by COMELEC based on the finding of the said body, the Arroyo camp (through former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo) and former COMELEC Commissioner Benjamin Abalos filed separate petitions challenging the constitutionality of the joint panel which, if found to be violative of the constitution, would nullify all the findings of the panel and ultimately lift the HLO and arrest warrant against Arroyo which apparently would allow her to leave the country having the last laugh. On November 29, the Supreme Court heard the Oral Arguments, starting off with the Abalos’s counsel, but over-all, the court highlighted the following issues: (1) whether or not the creation of the panel and the procedures adopted by it is constitutional, (2) is there a need to publish the Rules of Procedure adopted by the investigating committee/panel, and (3) is there violation of the equal protection and due process clauses of the constitution. The first impression of this session is clear: is the joint panel reminiscent of the early Spanish Inquisition created specifically to hunt non-believers and heretics without the slightest observance of a fair trial. To emulate the ever-eager columnists, let me cite some historical similarities to Arroyo’s case. In Romania, following a successful overthrowing of the government of Nicolae Ceausescu, the military immediately dispatched Nicolae and his wife and subjected them to a trial before a military tribunal. The court looked less than a respectable one, and many historians believed it was just a show trial. What happened next tells the horrors a tyrant might get from his or her betrayed country. In just one day, Nicolae and his wife were found guilty of several crimes and atrocities, sentencing them to suffer death. Right after the trial, the spouses were shot to death by a firing squad. This event in Romanian history marked the advent for revolution, but it made an unprecedented leap towards bending the rules through disregard of even the most humane of our natural laws. Now, we have our own case which we might fear not to resort to such atrocious persecution which was a wide-spread act in several European countries, or recently, in the most recent Arab Spring. How does Arroyo’s case find the same standing? Some argue that the panel hastily did an overtake ahead of the Supreme Court after it re-affirmed the issuance of a TRO by filing a criminal case against Arroyo in a trial court which, by operation of law, would bar Arroyo from leaving despite the TRO. Although the TRO speaks of her right to travel, the criminal charge bars her from leaving as a matter of police power to withhold flight of potential criminals. But the ultimate question is: is the panel duly constituted in the first place? If not, would its findings become fruits of poisonous tree? Was it created purposely to prosecute Arroyo and others for the alleged vote rigging in the 2004 and the 2007 elections? One argument raised by the petitioner is that due process must be observed even in cases of preliminary investigation, citing the cases of PCGG vs. COMELEC and Allado vs. Diokno. The question of independence of COMELEC and the alleged violation of such independence by attaching itself to a political branch of government had been brought to the fore. And all other matters of procedure and proper jurisdiction had been duly raised. There’s the question that if the DoJ-COMELEC sought to punish the election cheaters, it should cover cases even before Arroyo, otherwise it violates equal protection. To that point, the stand is clear: that Arroyo might have been unduly subjected to an investigation as if she is the only beast that must be put down. The line of interpellation seeks to deduce the substantial issue of whether to whom the jurisdiction should investigating election offenses fall. In Republic Act 9369, the COMELEC has concurrent (but not exclusive) jurisdiction over all cases of election-related offenses. In Batas Pambansa Blg. 811, the DoJ has the same concurrent jurisdiction. The law speaks clearly that DoJ and COMELEC have concurrent jurisdictions to investigate election-related offenses, meaning, they can exercise investigatory function over the same subject matter. But the question is: can they go hand in hand in finding probable cause of violation by Arroyo and by other people she is in cahoots with? Does the mere joint function of an independent body and a political agency of government already subjects the former to questions of doubt and uncertainty? The impression is quite real than imagined: that Arroyo is under a show-trial that ultimately will throw her to jail no matter how the law speaks otherwise. But of course, whether the Supreme Court rules against the creation of the panel, the precipitation of all these boils down to the political reality of our country: that the vigilante will not stop in catching the crooks. Even if the so-called “Arroyo justices” will hand down their verdict to save their master, the Aquino administration will find a way to throw her in jail, like how they found time to delay Arroyo’s plight despite clear legal provisions, which would only take bold courage and risk “defiance” to question.

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