Despite SC TRO, govt stops Arroyo from leaving PHL

(Updated 10:20 p.m.) Former President and incumbent Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo attempted but failed to leave the country Tuesday night after Immigration officials at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal I (NAIA-I) barred her from boarding the day's last flight to Singapore.

This developed hours after the Supreme Court stopped government from enforcing watch list orders barring Arroyo and her husband, Jose Miguel, from traveling abroad, and an order by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima for Immigration and airport officials to keep Mrs. Arroyo from leaving the country.

"Kakila-kilabot at karima-rimarim ang ginagawa nila sa dating pangulo," said Mr. Arroyo's counsel, Ferdinand Topacio, on the government's action against Mrs. Arroyo.

In an interview on GMA News TV's State of the Nation (SONA), Topacio said De Lima's order smacked of disrespect to the Supreme Court. "This is against any norm of human decency," he said.

Mrs. Arroyo arrived at NAIA from St. Luke's Medical Center in Taguig City on board an ambulance and was placed on a wheelchair. A GMA News TV Live footage showed that the former president was accompanied by her spokesperson Elena Bautista-Horn and House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman.

The former president was reportedly brought back to St Luke's after she was prevented from leaving the country.

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Topacio earlier said Mrs. Arroyo will fly to Singapore to seek treatment for her bone mineral disorder. He said the former president might go to Spain if consultations in Singapore fail.

De Lima, at a press briefing earlier in Malacañang, said the watch list orders stay until the government receives a copy of the TRO.

“The reported TRO has not been substantiated to exist pending the receipt by the respondents through the Office of the Solicitor General. Hence, the status quo, which is the existence of the watch list order against the Arroyos remains," she said.

Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez, in a separate SONA interview, said they have sent a copy of the TRO to the DOJ late Tuesday afternoon, but the DOJ allegedly did not accept it because they are already closed.

De Lima, who was Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairperson during the Arroyo administration, said she ordered the Bureau of Immigration and requested Transportation and Communications Secretary Manuel Roxas II to direct the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) and the NAIA management and personnel to enforce the watch list order.

“They should be on the lookout for the Arroyo couple's attempt to immediately leave the country on the strength of this TRO," De Lima said.

Next moves

Arroyo’s lawyers said they will file contempt charges against immigration and airport officials first thing Wednesday morning.

In a report of GMA News' Ruth Cabal, the former president's husband cried "tyranny" and reiterated their lawyers' threat to cite administration officials in contempt.

Atty. Midas Marquez said if and when the contempt charges are lodged, the Department of Justice and Bureau of Immigraton will be asked “to show cause why they should not be held in contempt."

The SC had earlier in the day overturned a government ban imposed last week barring Arroyo from traveling abroad.

SC justices had ruled 8-5 that the travel ban, which also applied to her husband, was unconstitutional because they had not yet been charged with any crime.

"They (Arroyo's lawyers) were able to show... the (travel ban) would probably work (as) an injustice against them," spokesman Midas Marquez said.

"This was of course consistent with the constitutional presumption of innocence."
However de Lima insisted that the travel ban would remain in place until the government formally received the high court's decision.

She said government lawyers would file a motion for reconsideration of the court order and expressed hope that they might convince the court to change its mind in a hearing next week.

In an escalating showdown between the branches of government, Marquez then responded to de Lima's comments by issuing a statement insisting the court's order was effective immediately.

"Since they (the Arroyos) have complied with our conditions, they are free to exercise their constitutional right to travel," he said, warning de Lima may face contempt of court charges.

Arroyo remained inside Manila airport late into the evening on Tuesday, but eventually left after it was clear she would not be allowed to leave the country, according to an AFP photographer on the scene.

What went before

Arroyo, who was president from 2001 to 2010, faced wide-ranging allegations of corruption and vote-rigging while she was in power.

Aquino, who won presidential elections by a landslide last year on a strong anti-corruption platform, has vowed repeatedly to bring Arroyo to justice and said he wants her to be formally charged before Christmas.

As the deadline for charges loomed, Arroyo said last week she needed to urgently receive medical treatment overseas for what she said was a rare bone disease, following three unsuccessful spine operations in Manila this year.

But Aquino and de Lima said last week that Arroyo could receive adequate medical care at home and they suspected she might be seeking to flee to a country that had no extradition treaty with the Philippines.

Aquino has faced repeated setbacks in his high-profile campaign to bring Arroyo to justice.

In one of the most significant blows, the Supreme Court ruled in December last year that a "truth commission" Aquino set up specifically to investigate Arroyo was unconstitutional.

Arroyo has retained political influence since stepping down as president, partly by winning a seat in the House of Representatives in last year's elections.

Aquino has also accused her of placing allies in positions of power before she stepped down, including justices in the Supreme Court. - with AFP/KBK/VS/MRT/ELR, GMA News