Double standards

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Three years ago, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) released an opinion that the detention of former Philippine President and now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo “violate(d) international law” and was “arbitrary on a number of grounds.”

The UNHRC issued the opinion after human rights lawyer Amal Clooney filed a case against the Aquino administration before the United Nations in February 2015 over the then continued detention of Speaker Arroyo at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center.

The Working Group cited the administration’s “defiance of court rulings removing travel bans against Ms. Arroyo” to illustrate how it targeted her and interfered with judicial decisions in her case, citing the incident in November 2011 when Arroyo’s bid to leave for medical treatment in Singapore was blocked by the Department of Justice (DoJ) on the argument that she could seek treatment at home. The incident happened hours after the Supreme Court (SC) issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) stopping the government from enforcing watch list orders barring Arroyo and her husband from traveling abroad, and an order by then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima for immigration and airport officials to keep Mrs. Arroyo from leaving the country.

De Lima rationalized her defiance of the High Court by saying the watch list orders remained in effect until the government had received a copy of the TRO. The SC sent a copy of the TRO to the DoJ late afternoon of 15 November, but the DoJ allegedly did not accept it because they were already closed. She added Arroyo’s continued detention then was part of the judicial process and was outside the control of the Executive branch of government.

De Lima even called the case before the UNHRC a “flamboyant gesture” and said under international human rights standards, “a commitment or detention order issued against an accused in accordance with a State’s independent judicial processes is recognized as a valid cause for restraining one’s liberty.” She said if Clooney thought Mrs. Arroyo was being deprived of her liberty, she should instead direct her petition to the judiciary since the Aquino administration was not responsible for Mrs. Arroyo’s continued detention.

Fast forward to December 2018, when the same WGAD of the UNHRC issued a statement saying De Lima’s detention was also “arbitrary” and violated various provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). De Lima is being detained for drug-related charges.

Notice that the WGAD issued virtually the same statement in the case of Speaker Arroyo and Senator De Lima. When her political allies were in power, De Lima repeatedly ignored the WGAD’s opinion and even defied the SC. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, she is calling for the government to heed the WGAD’s opinion. If the double standard is not clear, allow me to underscore it: why should the government, at the urging of Senator De Lima, heed the opinion of a body that De Lima herself readily dismissed as impertinent just a few years ago?

De Lima said before that “there (was) no question that under no circumstances (was) Rep. Arroyo’s detention for the non-bailable crime of plunder violative of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” That same logic can be applied to her case: Senator De Lima’s detention for the non-bailable crime of conspiracy to trade drugs is under no circumstance violative of the UDHR or the ICCPR. As she once advised Amal Clooney and the lawyers of Speaker Arroyo, any question about her detention should be addressed to the proper court, not to the administration. Indeed, as the Supreme Court has already ruled on her appeals, Senator De Lima should follow her own advice and remain in detention.

Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

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