Lady Justice

For Friday/Nov. 18, 2011
Good Morning Philippines

What happened at the airport yesterday (15 November) will have dire consequences if not resolved soon and we mean in the next 24 to 48 hours. Whether we like GMA or not, whether she and FG are guilty or not, whether she is as ill as she says she is or not, all these are neither here nor there — they are all irrelevant to the issue. The issue is non-compliance by the executive branch of government with a Supreme Court ruling that is executory. The highest court in the land that virtually confirmed GMA’s rights including the right to freely travel outside the country issued a TRO on her hold-departure order – that’s what it is by any other name. It had some conditions placed on her right to travel which she complied with and yet, she was disallowed by Justice Secretary De Lima and enforced by the Bureau of Immigration to board her plane. The main contention of the Supreme Court in allowing Mrs. Arroyo to travel is her presumed innocence against charges being readied by the Department of Justice and the fact that there have been no cases filed against her up to now. And this may be the reason for De Lima’s bull-headedness because it is her department that should have filed at least one case for a court to be able to issue a hold-departure order. Having failed in doing this, she now would risk a crisis in government to compensate for what seems to be a shortcoming of her department. However, for this administration, that does not look like anything new. More seriously, this action of a member of the Executive Branch of Government with the concurrence of the President is a clear defiance of a Supreme Court ruling, the final and ultimate arbiter and interpreter of the Constitution that contains the laws of the land. There is no other institution of government to turn to in order to appeal a final and executory ruling made by the Supreme Court. So, what happens now? Clearly, the executive branch controls the airports not to mention the police and the military. But has it come to physical might to determine who is to be followed? If the protagonists were not the executive and judiciary branches of government, one could conclude that this was a story of a war lord in some remote province of the country where the rule of law is secondary to who has the most arms, gold, and goons. We are told that there will be another attempt by GMA to leave and that the justice Department will again not allow it. When that happens, we will be witnessing a constitutional crisis unprecedented in this country. What follows is anybody’s guess. There is an irony in this drama filled “battle” of two co-equal branches of government for many people including myself and that is: we now find ourselves in favor of allowing GMA to travel and the possibility of her escaping prosecution for the crimes she allegedly committed which we opine the Arroyo couple are guilty of. It is sometimes tempting to remove the blindfold of “Lady Justice” but we either strengthen our institutions at every chance they are threatened or postpone it for another day and weaken it.


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