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How Gloria almost got away!

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If not for Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Leila de Lima’s insistence to see the official Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) from the Supreme Court issued on November 15, 2011, ex-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo could have been relaxing at Costa del Sol in Spain or skiing in the Swiss Alps right now.  And if De Lima took the word of Supreme Court Administrator Midas Marquez that the Supreme Court, by the same 8-5 vote, had upheld the TRO in “full force and effect” on November 18, Gloria would have been free as a bird and beyond the reach of the law.

But what exactly happened in the hallowed chamber of the Supreme Court the morning of November 18 was far from what Marquez declared.  The TRO was not executory at the time.  As a matter of fact, contrary to what Marquez announced, the Supreme Court, by a 7-6 vote, declared the TRO “inoperative.”

The High Court’s ruling that the TRO was inoperative was predicated on Gloria’s failure to comply with one of the conditions it set, to wit: “The appointment of legal representatives, who will receive all legal documents including subpoenas.” The other two conditions were: “Payment in cash of a P2 million cash bond; and report in person or call the Philippine embassy or consulate office in countries where the Arroyos will travel.”

Clerical error

What happened was that a “clerical error” became a “monumental horror” to Gloria.   Even Chief Justice Renato Corona failed in the end to help Gloria escape prosecution from justice, which, ironically, was the same institution that he swore to uphold when Gloria appointed him – notwithstanding the ban on “midnight” appointments – as Chief Justice in 2010.

It’s amazing that a seemingly orchestrated scenario, which was implemented with clockwork precision failed because of one minor glitch during its execution.  Some people say it was karma at work.

In their attempt to facilitate Gloria’s “Great Escape,” her lawyer Estelito Mendoza and his law firm blundered in complying with the TRO condition to appoint “legal representatives, who will receive all legal documents including subpoenas.” Any legal secretary could have done that in a minute.  But that’s what probably caused the “hiccup” – it was a routine clerical task that nobody reviewed the document before it was sent to the Supreme Court.  And as it turned out, the document was not compliant with one of the conditions set by the TRO.  The document says that lawyer Ferdinand Topacio is appointed as the Arroyos’ representative to “produce summons or receive documentary evidence” on their behalf.

But the TRO condition was very specific: “The appointment of legal representatives, who will receive all legal documents including subpoenas.” Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno spotted the words “produce summons,” which was not required.

Judicial voodoo

In an early evening interview with the media last November 18, Marquez explained that while it’s true that, by a 7-6 vote, the justices found the TRO inoperative, the High Court decided that there was no need to suspend the effectivity of the TRO.  But how can they make it operative without correcting the document to make it legally compliant with the conditions of the TRO?  It’s like driving a car that breaks down making it inoperative.  To make it operative again, the car’s problem must first be fixed.

But by that time, the TRO had become moot and academic.

Earlier that day, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) met en banc and, by a 5-2 vote, passed a resolution to file electoral sabotage charges against Gloria.  The case was immediately filed with the Pasay Regional Trial Court (RTC).  By 4:00 pm, the court issued an arrest warrant against Gloria.  And by 6:30 pm, Gloria was served the arrest warrant at St. Luke’s Medical Center where she was admitted after her aborted “Great Escape” last November 15.

Determined to avoid prosecution at all cost, the Arroyos didn’t let up. They petitioned the Supreme Court to nullify the electoral sabotage case filed against Gloria.  Mike Arroyo also submitted a supplemental petition arguing that the case should be declared “null and void and without legal effect whatsoever” because it was based on the findings of the joint DOJ-Comelec panel, which he claimed was unconstitutionally created.  He asked the High Court to issue a TRO or a status quo ante order, which if granted would stop the case and release Gloria from arrest; thus, allowing her to flee.

Supreme Court intervention

The Supreme Court fast-tracked the Arroyos’ petitions and met en banc last November 22.  The justices, on a 10-4 vote, deferred ruling on the petitions and did not issue a TRO or status quo ante order.  The High Court instead required DOJ and Comelec to submit their comments within five days on the consolidated petitions of the Arroyos and that of former Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos Jr. who was also charged in the same electoral sabotage case.  Oral arguments were set for November 29 at 2:00 pm to determine whether a TRO should be issued on the electoral sabotage case.

What is strange is that 10 justices – presumably all of Arroyo’s appointees — voted to have the High Court handle the consolidated petitions while four justices voted to remand them to the Pasay RTC.  Obviously, the 10 justices’ motives are suspicious.  Why wouldn’t they remand the petitions to the Pasay RTC where they belong and let justice takes its course?

Mike Arroyo’s reaction to the ruling was, “We follow whatever the honorable Supreme Court says unlike De Lima. We follow the rule of law.”  What rule of law, Mr. Arroyo?  Or is it “rule of man” disguised as “rule of law”?

Determined to have Gloria prosecuted for plunder, President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino may have a little time on his side.  If the Office of the Ombudsman filed at least one of the six pending plunder cases before the anti-graft court, Sandiganbayan, prior to the Supreme Court oral arguments on November 29, another arrest warrant could be issued against Gloria; thus, preventing her to travel regardless of the outcome of the oral arguments.

Tyranny of supremacy

The question is: Would the “Arroyo Court,” as the Supreme Court is pejoratively called, come to the rescue of Gloria again?  And with a slew of cases – Malacañang said around 20 – soon to be filed against Gloria, would the “Arroyo” justices continue to callously protect her from prosecution?

With 10 “Arroyo” justices voting as a block, their supremacy in the High Court is assured.  What they say is the law. Their rulings “amend” the constitution just like what they did when they legalized the midnight appointment of Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Sovereignty of the people

But the people would not just stand by the sidelines and watch the breakdown of the judicial system.  History tells us that the people’s patience has its limit.  The “Arroyo” justices should be reminded that they might be supreme when it comes to interpreting the law any which way they want, but the people are sovereign above all, including the Supreme Court.  That is people power and it is enshrined in the constitution. (PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

By Perry Diaz




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