By Romel Regalado Bagares
In the end, it was still the court – a regional trial court housed in a rundown, poorly-constructed government building in Pasay city, to be exact – that saved the day for the Executive in its running tussle with the Supreme Court over an ex-President named Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
At 4: 30 pm yesterday, Judge Jesus Mupas of the Pasay City Regional Trial Court Branch 112 issued a warrant of arrest against her and several others for allegedly rigging the 2007 senatorial elections in favor of administration candidates.
Two hours later, it was served by a team of policemen led by Senior Superintendent Joel Coronel on her 16th floor suite at the St. Luke’s Medical Center, by all indications now the favored hospital of the rich, famous and powerful in the Philippines.
And with the judge’s signature on the warrant of arrest, a constitutional crisis was apparently averted.
It also somehow muffled criticisms the Aquino administration had moved so little and too late to prosecute Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo, 64.
Indeed, the Executive was willing to take it to the edge of constitutional brinkmanship.
In an earlier post, we noted with dismay the defiant denial by Justice Secretary Leila De Lima of the legal worth of a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the High Court against a watchlist order she slapped on Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo, which prevented the latter from leaving the country.
The high drama of Tuesday night at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport – which everyone now knows to be one of the world’s most hated, –showed she was willing to do anything, including risking a constitutional crisis, just to stop the woman said to be one of the most hated Presidents the Philippines has ever had, on her tracks.
Of course, if Justice Leila De Lima didn’t do something , Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo , with the TRO issued by the Supreme Court in her favor in hand, would have flown the coop. As it turns out later, her defiance finds some strong factual and legal support in the dissenting opinion of Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on the issuance of the TRO.
Friday morning came, and the Commission on Elections, after voting 5-2, filed charges of electoral sabotage against Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo with the Pasay City Regional Trial Court,
Just in the nick of time it came, as later in the day, the Supreme Court heard a Motion for Reconsideration filed by the DOJ asking the High Court to reconsider its issuance of the TRO on the justice department order which served as the basis for placing the former president in a watchlist and prevented her from flying out of the Philippines.
The High Court threw out the DOJ’s motion. But by the time it did so, the charge had already been filed against Mrs. Arroyo and an arrest warrant issued.
The TRO only covered the question of the constitutionality of the DOJ’s issuance of a watchlist order against Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo. Unfortunately for the former President and her lawyers, it could not be applied to the new case – for electoral sabotage, a non-bailable one – and for which, moreover, a warrant of arrest was also issued.
This, the High Court’s spokesman Jose Midas Marquez, himself acknowledged at a press conference later in the day.
Moreover, the question of whether it was an act of desperation or a brilliant political move executed at crunch time has been eclipsed by new revelations about the High Court’s deliberations on the TRO.
You see, at his press conference, Marquez said the TRO stays. He also claimed the voting remained at 8-5.
A news report quoting a highly reliable source within the Supreme Court said otherwise. As Verafiles reported:
Contrary to the announcement of Supreme Court Spokesman Midas Marquez that the High Court voted 8-5 reiterating the temporary restraining order on the Watch List Order of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima issued on former President Gloria Arroyo and her husband, a highly reliable source said the tribunal, voting 7-6, actually declared its Nov. 15 TRO inoperative following the failure of the Arroyo camp to comply with all the conditions set by the court.
The seven who voted that the TRO is inoperative were Senior Justice Antonio Carpio, Associate Justices Maria Lourdes Sereno, Bienvenido Reyes, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Jose Mendoza, Martin Villarama and Roberto Abad.
The six who stood firm on the TRO were Chief Justice Renato Corona, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin and Jose Perez.
The source said the Arroyo couple did not comply with the second condition requiring that the former First Couple appoint a legal representative to receive subpoenas, orders and other legal processes on their behalf while they are abroad.
The two other conditions were a bond of P2 million each and a requirement that they report to Philippine consulates in the countries they will visit. The legal counsels of the Arroyos also have to coordinate their travels.
The SC also directed Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to show cause within 10 days why she should not be held in contempt of court for refusal to comply with the TRO issued by the Supreme Court and for disrespect towards the SC.
The High Court also rejected the Arroyo camp’s motion to schedule earlier the oral arguments on the Arroyos’ petition to lift the watchlist order and declare as illegal Department of Justice Circular No. 41 paving the way for scheduled oral arguments on Tuesday. ( Click here for the full text)
A dissenting opinion of Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on the denial of the Motion for Reconsideration, widely circulated on social networking sites later confirmed Verafiles’ report. Justice Sereno, in the same opinion, scolded Marquez for interpreting the opinions of the justices for them.
On late night television, Marquez would correct himself and say that indeed, the latest round of voting has changed the make up of the Supreme Court on the issue. It is now at 7-6, one more justice joining the dissenters.
But he omitted what Justice Sereno noted in her dissent – that the TRO is suspended because of the failure of Arroyo’s lawyers to comply with the Supreme Court’s requirement that the former First Couple appoint a legal representative to receive subpoenas, orders and other legal processes on their behalf while they are abroad.
All told, Friday was the unraveling of the Arroyo camp’s immediate travel plans. When news of the Pasay court’s decision to issue a warrant of arrest broke out, her camp announced they had canceled all airline reservations for the day.
It was clear they had been outpointed in the first round.
Saturday afternoon, Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo underwent the inevitable police procedural in the comforts of her suite at St. Luke’s Medical Center: police took finger prints and mug shots, for the return to the court of the served arrest warrant.
It seems police honored her camp’s request not to release to media her mug shots – at least for now.
Surely, the disappointment of Tuesday night was nothing compared to the humiliation of Friday night. Within two hours of the issuance of the warrant of arrest, she became the second ex-President of the Philippines to have been indicted, charged in court and arrested for a criminal offense.
Preparing for Round Two
Her camp is obviously preparing for the second round, including the oral arguments on their first petition set for Tuesday next week.
And they may find some ammunition in a new report from the on-line magazine Move.ph that the Comelec disregarded its own rules when it voted to charge her in court without allowing her an opportunity to contest the decision in a motion for reconsideration. (There’s also the claim that it was irregular of the judge to issue a warrant of arrest when all that the government was asking for was a Hold Departure Order. Now any student of criminal procedure knows the judge on his own, may issue a warrant of arrest on his own finding of probable cause).
Already her legal advisers have indicated they’re questioning before the Supreme Court the filing of the electoral sabotage charge and the issuance of the warrant of arrest against her.
Legal pundits are wont to say there had been instances in the past when the Supreme Court upheld the Comelec’s decision to set aside technical rules to get to the bottom of an election case.
But the big question is whether this particular Supreme Court, headed by a chief justice once assailed by President Aquino for being a “midnight appointee” of Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo herself, will give the Comelec the benefit of the doubt.
I seriously doubt it.
But then again, Friday afternoon’s 7-6 defection at the Supreme Court wasn’t expected either.
What’s for sure — at least for President Aquino — is that it only just began.