By Romel Regalado Bagares
So the Dominican Republic has denied that Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is seeking asylum in the Carribean country.
Of course, she can’t file an asylum claim while she is here, unless some special arrangement has been made between her and the government of Mr. Leonel Fernandez , which has tendered her his country’s highest honor during a visit by the former president of the Philippines in May this year.
As we said in an earlier post, by definition, an asylum-seeker is someone who “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” It may also apply to a person who “not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”
The international news agency AP quotes Dominican Republic Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso as saying that they have not received an application for asylum from Arroyo.
That could well be true, because, under the international law on asylum, where Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo is right now, she can’t be an asylum seeker; she can only be someone facing criminal prosecution in her country for electoral fraud, plunder, graft and corruption and human rights violations.
In other words, she has to be physically out of the country to qualify as an asylum-seeker.
So, after all, there is some wisdom in issuing a hold departure order against her.
But she must be really special to the government of Mr. Fernandez because, according to Move.ph, it sent its ambassador based in India — Frank Hans Castellanos — to Manila in October this year to meet with her for some unspecified purpose.
If Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo does a Ramona –as Raul Pangalangan would put it — and heads for the Dominican Republic to seek asylum there, all that a court there has to do is to dribble the ball.
Remember that under refugee law, a receiving state has the obligation to hear a request for asylum. She can invoke the principle of non-refoulement and a friendly asylum court in a friendly state can simply stay her deportation on the ground that there is a real possibility that if sent back, she will be persecuted or subjected to bodily harm.
Under the circumstances, it is not unreasonable to suppose that it would not be beneath a government whose President had accorded her its highest honor and even allegedly sent its ambassador based in India to Manila to personally attend to her asylum-shopping plans , to assign her a nice villa with a sweeping view of the ocean while her petition is being heard.
Of course, there is always the option for her well-placed friends in the Dominican Republic to speed things up for her benefit.
Indeed, the rich and powerful are not like you and me: they can shop for asylum in states willing to grant it for the right price.
We can only wish now that the Department of Justice moved sooner to bring her to the bars of justice. And we hope it still isn’t too late for that.
Illustration credit: PDI editorial cartoon for 11.11.11