Of course I agree with Justice Secretary Leila De Lima. The bigger national interest dictates that Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her husband should not be allowed to leave the country. As attested to by no less than the Secretary of Health, her illness is not one that cannot be addressed by Filipino doctors. The decision hence not to allow her to leave is not inhumane because she is not deprived of her right to health. Arroyo and I share the same hospital under the most competent medical professional, Dr. Cuanang. She can get her medical treatment from a world-class hospital right here in the Philippines
Despite my agreement with De Lima, the fact remains that this decision will inevitably be challenged before our courts. The possibility of this order being declared illegal looms. In a judicial system governed by stare decisis or precedents, the Court cannot deviate from its established rulings unless there are “drastic change in circumstances”. It cannot be denied that the Supreme Court in a very recently issued temporary restraining order in a case filed by Mike Arroyo already declared: “a restriction on rights should at least have the imprimatur of a court of justice; otherwise, an official of the Executive Department will have the power to determine who will or will not be allowed to exercise his constitutional right to travel.” It was the allegation of the former FG that the Justice Secretary could not restrict his to travel since he has no pending cases in court.
The weakness in the De Lima position is her own making. Unlike Arroyo who put President Joseph Estrada behind bars months after she, to quote Susan Roces, “stole” the presidency, De Lima and President Noynoy Aquino have waited all this time to even charge Arroyo with something. Eighteen months after occupying Malacañang, they have not filed any case against Arroyo and her husband in court. Worse, they have absorbed all the very close cronies of Arroyo even in the Cabinet. How could you expect the former President then to be brought to justice?
In favor of the De Lima position though is the case of Marcos vs. Manglapus. There, the former despot challenged then-President Cory Aquino’s refusal to allow him to return. In upholding the ban, the Supreme Court distinguished the right to travel, which is limited to travel within the country’s territory; to the right to leave and return to the country, which the court underscored was different and distinct from the right to travel. According to the court, the right to leave a country, including one’s own, “may be restricted (when) necessary to protect national security, public order, public health or morals, I disagree hence with Father Joaquin Bernas when he opined that Arroyo has the right to travel abroad. This right only applies to those with no pending legal investigation in their home countries.
But then again, the weakness in the current De Lima position is whether the restriction may be by virtue only of a pending preliminary investigation or whether it should be in court. We will soon find out
I am in Jakarta, Indonesia to attend the Asia Civil Society Consultation on National Security and the Right to Information Principles. On my way here, I met a Filipino who happened to be one of our sports coordinator for the Southeast Asian Games. He deplored the fact that despite PNoy’s “daang matuwid”, the crocodiles in Philippine sports, like Arroyo’s cronies in Aquino’s Cabinet, continue to lord it over. He called my attention to the fact that each of the 500 members of the Philippine delegation to the games were given plane tickets that cost 80,000 pesos each. My ticket on board the region’s most expensive airline amounts to less than 20,000 pesos. By golly, our delegation’s tickets cost 300 percent more! Mind you, these are economy seats, not first class!
Paging newly appointed Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales: Please help the cause of Philippine sports by charging these crocodiles in Philippine sports with graft and jail then together with Arroyo, her husband, and the singing handmaids of Arroyo who are now in PNoy’s cabinet.
Anent the right to information, I am in the minority on the need for a Freedom to Information law. Unlike other jurisdictions, the Right to Information is granted by the 1987 Constitution and not just by a statute. In fact, the Constitution says that legislation is required only to provide for the limitations to the right. Ergo, without the FOI bill, there are no limitations on the right, save for those recognized under jurisprudence.
The remedy for a denial of the right has also been provided by the Court in the cases of Chavez vs. PCGG and Chavez vs. PEA-Amari. According to the Court, the remedy is for journalists and citizens to resort to the filing of petitions for mandamus. In this regard, the civil society groups Concerned Citizens Movement and the Center for International Law will soon launch a legal clinic to serve as a one-stop center for journalists and citizens who want to exercise their right to information.