Drama at NAIA
Written by : Mayvelin u. Caraballo, Jomar Canlas and Jaime Pilapil
Immigration officials stop GMA from leaving
TENSION and bedlam reigned at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) when President Gloria Arroyo and her husband Jose Miguel tried to leave for Hong Kong late Tuesday, hours after the Supreme Court issued a ruling allowing them to leave.
Unfazed by a threat earlier issued by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima that the government will not allow them to leave, Mrs. Arroyo arrived at the NAIA terminal 1 at around 8:30 p.m on board an ambulance. She was then wheeled into the terminal. However, immigration authorities prevented the couple from leaving. The Arroyos booked a Dragon Air flight KE 932 to Hong Kong.
Mrs. Arroyo’s son Rep. Mikey Arroyo was also seen at the airport, as well as the former leader’s spokesman, Elena Horn-Bautista, who later broke the news that the Arroyo couple was barred from leaving.
Hordes of reporters and photographers watched the drama that unfolded as the Arroyo camp maintained that the former president can now legally travel abroad.
The Justice Secretary, in a press briefing at Malacanang, earlier said she had ordered airport, immigration and transportation officials to see to it that Mrs. Arroyo and her husband will not leave the country. She said the Watch List Order issued by her department remains in force because she has not seen a copy of the Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Arroyos’ constitutional right to travel.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Arroyo told a television interview that they were to fly to Singapore, and then to Spain, then to Germany. The Arroyos has listed six countries in their request for travel.
The SC ruling dealt a severe blow to the government’s bid to keep the former leader here to ensure that she will face the criminal charges yet to be filed against her.
Eight justices voted to grant the Arroyo couple’s petition for a temporary restraining order, five voted against, while two justices were on leave.
Among those who opposed the issuance of a TRO were appointees of President Benigno Aquino 3rd. — Associate Justices Bienvenido Reyes, Maria Lourdes Sereno and Estela Perlas-Bernabe.
Those who voted in favor of a TRO were Chief Justice Renato Corona and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Roberto Abad, Martin Villarama Jr. and Jose Perez.
Associate Justices Antonio Carpio and Jose Catral Mendoza opposed the grant of a TRO.
Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro and Mariano del Castillo were on leave.
The High Court, in upholding the Arroyos’ constitutional right to travel, noted that no charges have been filed against the couple.
The justices, however, only voted on the ancillary remedy for the issuance of a TRO, not the merits of the case.
The TRO takes effect immediately but it can be lifted by the justices anytime.
SC spokesman and Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez, however, clarified that the High Tribunal imposed several conditions that the Arroyos should comply with.
Marquez said that the Arroyos were ordered to post a bond of P2 million for both of them, they should report to the consulate or embassy in the countries they will be visiting and they were asked
to name their legal representative to receive the legal processes and subpoenas.
The SC also ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ) to submit its comment on the petition of the Arroyo couple within a “non-extendable” period of three days from Tuesday.
Marquez said that the “majority thought that the issuance of the TRO at this time is consistent with the constitutional presumption of innocence.”
De Lima in dilemma
A few hours after the issuance of the SC ruling, de Lima ordered Immigration, transportation and airport authorities to prevent Mrs. Arroyo from leaving after she was informed that the Arroyos were able to book flights to Singapore and other countries.
During a press conference, de Lima said that President Benigno Aquino 3rd was frustrated by the ruling and ordered her to “do what is necessary under the circumstances.”
She added that she sent a letter to Transportation and Communications Secretary Manuel Roxas 2nd to order his personnel to get hold of the Arroyos at the NAIA.
De Lima alerted the Philippine National Police’s aviation group and the National Bureau of Investigation to help aviation authorities and the immigration personnel.
“Since we have yet to receive the official copy of the TRO from the Supreme Court, the Watch List Order (WLO) is still in effect,” she said.
The Justice secretary admitted though that authorities cannot arrest the Arroyos since no complaint has been filed against them in court.
The Arroyo camp, however, threatened to file contempt charges against anyone who will stop the former president from leaving.
Ferdinand Topacio, legal counsel for Mr. Arroyo, said that the Arroyo couple were set to leave last night for Singapore and then to Spain.
“It is within the right of the Arroyos to travel abroad after the Supreme court issued a TRO.
“The Supreme Court has already spoken,” he said.
Topacio added that he will act as the authorized legal representative of Mr. Arroyo as required by the SC.
Topacio showed reporters a copy of his special power of attorney, which was signed by Mr. Arroyo.
Former Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza was reportedly appointed as the authorized legal representative of Rep. Arroyo.
Mrs. Arroyo and her husband are facing a number of plunder and electoral sabotage complaints.
The plunder cases filed before the Office of the Ombudsman are yet to be acted upon and the electoral-sabotage case being prepared by the Justice department and the Commission on Elections is yet to be filed in court.
De Lima said that the Arroyos were able to book flights to Singapore from 4 p.m. onward but their flights were cancelled because they failed to appear.
She also got reports that the Arroyos were able to book three more flights in the evening — 7:35 PR 505, 7:55 p.m. SQ 921 and a Dragon Airline flight at 9 p.m.
Mrs. Arroyo had been wanting to leave to seek medical treatment abroad.
She is suffering from hypoparathyroidism disorder, bone mineral deficiency and cervical spine problem.
The Justice chief said she was puzzled by the TRO.
“This TRO effectively rendered the [WLO] moot and academic. They practically ruled that the WLO is unconstitutional,” she noted.
De Lima sad that oral arguments have been scheduled for Tuesday.
Although they supported the Supreme Court ruling, Senators Francis Escudero, Panfilo Lacson, Franklin Drilon and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada pushed for immediate filing of charges against Mrs. Arroyo.
Drilon said that de Lima has pushed the limits of her power but she should respect the High Court’s ruling.
He added that the DOJ’s only recourse is to file charges against Mrs. Arroyo and ask for a Hold Departure Order (HDO) “since the circular used for the travel ban was unconstitutional from the very start.”
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said that the SC was right in its ruling.
The High Court, according to her, had no choice but to allow the Arroyos to leave because Congress has never passed a law defining the meaning of national security, public health and public order—the bases for prohibiting someone from traveling abroad.
Former President Joseph Estrada also on Tuesday said that Mrs. Arroyo has a constitutional duty to stay in the Philippines.
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