MANILA — The Supreme Court (SC) held in abeyance last Nov. 21 its ruling on a plea for a temporary restraining order (TRO) or status quo ante (SQA) on the electoral-sabotage charges filed against former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo until the comments of the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) are submitted and oral arguments are held on Nov. 29.
SC Spokesman and Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez said the DoJ and the Comelec are given a non-extendible period of five days to submit their comments.
Tackled by the SC in its full court session last Nov. 21 were the petitions challenging the constitutionality of the creation of the joint DoJ-Comelec panel that conducted the preliminary investigation of the electoral sabotage case and filed the criminal case.
The petitions against the joint panel were filed by former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and former Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. The petition challenging the filing of the criminal case before the Pasay City Regional Trial Court (RTC) was filed by former President Arroyo.
All the three petitions pleaded for either a TRO or an SQA as an immediate relief.
A TRO, if issued, would stop the Pasay City Regional Trial Court from proceeding with the criminal case against Mrs. Arroyo. It may also order the temporary lifting of the arrest order issued against the former President, who is now a member of the House of Representatives representing the second district of Pampanga.
But if an SQA was issued, the filing of the criminal case, the issuance of the arrest order and the order for the detention of Mrs. Arroyo would be temporarily invalidated. This is because a status quo ante is the condition prevailing before the controversy, that is the filing of the criminal case before the Pasay City RTC.
Marquez said the three petitions were ordered consolidated into one case in a 10-4 vote by 14 justices who participated in the full-court session.
He said it was also a 10-4 vote that resolved the issue over whether the SC should take cognizance of the three petitions instead of remanding the cases to the Pasay City RTC for resolution.
Marquez said only 14 of the 15 SC justices participated in the deliberation of the three petitions because Justice Arturo D. Brion is on sick leave.
“The court (SC) is aware of the facts and of what is happening,” said Marquez in explaining the action of the court on the three petitions.
Earlier, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima issued watch list orders (WLOs) against the former First Couple and those undergoing preliminary investigation on the election-fraud complaints in the 2004 and 2007 elections in Mindanao.
But on November 15, the SC issued a TRO against the WLOs of the DoJ under Circular No. 41. However, the DoJ did not heed the TRO and instead filed a motion to lift TRO that was denied by the SC.
But on Nov. 18, the Comelec filed with the Pasay RTC the electoral- sabotage charges against Mrs. Arroyo, and an arrest warrant was issued on the same day.
While the TRO against the WLO issued by the SC is still standing, its efficacy – as far as allowing Mrs. Arroyo to go abroad for medical treatment – was lost as a result of the issuance by the Pasau RTC of an arrest order.
In his petition to nullify the filing of a criminal case against her wife, Mr. Arroyo told the SC that “all the acts so far performed by Respondent Joint Committee, as well as all proceedings emanating and arising therefrom, including the Resolution of the Comelec en banc authorizing the filing of information for electoral sabotage, as well as the said information themselves be declared null and void and without any legal effect whatsoever.”
At the hearing of the oral arguments last Nov. 21, former President Arroyo told the Supreme Court that her right to travel and seek medical treatment abroad cannot be impaired by a mere issuance of the executive department because these rights are protected by the Constitution.
Speaking through her lawyer Anacleto Diaz. Arroyo said that DoJ Circular No. 41, the basis of the WLO issued against her, violates Section 6, Article III of the Constitution.
The SC heard oral arguments on the petitions seeking to declare unconstitutional DoJ Circular No. 41.
“DoJ Circular No. 41 impairs a person’s constitutional right to travel and it is not even a law. It’s a mere administrative circular,” Diaz argued.
He said that the circular “gives the Secretary of Justice an unbridled discretion in issuing WLOs which has the effect of a hold departure order (HDO) which only the courts can issue.” (Rey Panaligan, Manila Bulletin)