Before the story is buried under the news of who or what has filed his, her or its certificate of candidacy for the coming elections, I feel compelled to say: the Aquino administration has been conclusively found, by the United Nations, no less, to have illegally detained former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo—and yet will not move to rectify this clear miscarriage of justice.
It doesn’t really matter if you agree that Arroyo should continue to be detained or not. But it should matter—a lot—if the UN working group issued a mere “opinion” on Arroyo’s case, as the Aquino government described it, or if it handed down a judgment that has the force of a legal decision on the matter.
I happen to agree with the Sandiganbayan when it said, in reaction to the declaration of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, that the Philippines has its own set of laws and is not really subject to any issuances from other nations. But I have to disagree that this means that the government in Manila and its courts can simply ignore the UN ruling on the Arroyo case.
The case that the Philippines filed in the same UN against China is painfully applicable here. How can Manila insist that the UN intervene in the territorial dispute in the Kalayaan Island Group, using the organization’s Convention on the Law of the Sea, when it cannot accept an adverse ruling on the case of the long-detained former President?
And the Aquino administration had already decided to put itself under the UN working group’s jurisdiction. After all, it replied last June to the charge of Arroyo advocate Amal Alamuddin Clooney that the detainee’s human rights were violated, through the Philippines’ permanent representative in Geneva, thus tacitly agreeing that the group can and should rule on the matter.
But now that the panel has decided the case, the Aquino government has decided that the decision is of no value, because the Philippines has its own laws and the UN cannot enforce its decision. What the government is not saying is that if the ruling had gone the other way, then it would have, in all likelihood, accepted it.
China, at least, has never agreed that the UN has jurisdiction over the territorial dispute between Manila and Beijing. By refusing intervention, China has declared that it cannot be compelled to accept any ruling by the UN on the matter.
Not so the Philippine government, in the case of Arroyo. And the Aquino administration just proved that it is a poor loser—and an even poorer defender of international laws on the preservation of human rights.
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Of course, the Arroyo case is politically charged. But that doesn’t mean that the Aquino government should be allowed to act like it is administering a rogue state when it is accused of human rights violations.
This is certainly not the first time that the Aquino government acted like it was outside the reach of international convention and law and just plain common decency. The case of the killing of three lumad leaders in Surigao del Sur offers yet another example of the cavalier attitude that this government has taken in such matters.
To this day, the Department of Foreign Affairs has refused entry of representatives from the UN Special Rapporteur’s office who want to investigate the lumad killings. If the Aquino government really has nothing to hide—like, say, the involvement of the military in the murder of lumad leaders, the closure of indigenous children’s schools and the forced evacuation of thousands of Manobo tribesmen in Surigao—why can’t it allow UN representatives to look into these allegations?
And I suspect that this attitude of the current Philippine government is once again informed by the virtual policy direction laid out by President Noynoy Aquino himself. After all, this is the President who, confronted during a foreign visit with charges that his administration has allowed the killing of media workers to go unpunished, replied that the victims did not die in the line of duty—as if the government should be called out only when it fails to arrest and punish the killers of journalists assassinated while at work.
Advocates have long accused Aquino of insensitivity and abject failure when it comes to protecting groups and individuals from violators of their most basic and most sacred human rights. The charges are consistent with the widely-held belief that this President has no empathy for ordinary Filipinos—and is hell-bent on persecuting his political opponents.
I can only add that Aquino has always been a hypocrite, spouting slogans of righteousness while he repeatedly violates the law—local or international—in order to achieve his petty political victories. And you really don’t need the UN’s verdict to know, in your heart, that this is true.