Lawyers ask UN to seek 'humanitarian release' of Arroyo
MANILA, Philippines – The complaint filed by international lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney at the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) on behalf of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo seeks to compel the Philippine government to release the former president on humanitarian grounds.
This was confirmed to Rappler by Modesto Ticman Jr, one of Arroyo’s Philippine lawyers, in a phone interview on Tuesday, March 10.
“We are no longer seeking bail, but hope that the UN can compel the Philippine government to release the former president for humanitarian reasons,” Ticman said.
The Office of the President, on March 9, said they were "not notified" of the filing of the complaint, but said they would "respond accordingly" once they receive official notice.
Arroyo, who is serving her second term as Pampanga representative, is being detained for plunder charges over the alleged misuse of P366 million ($8.2 million) from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) during her presidency.
Ticman noted that while the anti-graft court has denied her multiple petitions for bail, it has freed her co-accused former members of the PCSO board of directors.
“The President has been in detention for nearly 3 years despite the weak evidence of the prosecution,” Ticman told Rappler.
He said in the Philippines, even if an accused is charged with a non-bailable offense, if the prosecution is weak, the court may allow the accused to post bail. He believes that in Arroyo's case, bail should have been granted.
While the weak prosecution and denial of bail petitions were cited as a basis for the filing of the United Nations communication by Clooney, Ticman clarified that they are not asking the international human rights body to intervene in the Philippine case, which is pending with Sandiganbayan, the Philippines’ anti-graft court.
He said that Clooney felt that filing the human rights complaint was the "only move" left. It was filed on February 26.
They are only asking Arroyo be released on humanitarian grounds because, Ticman said, “the continued detention is endangering her (Arroyo’s) health.”
The OHCHR’s media officer Xabier Celaya told Rappler that the case is now with the UN’s Geneva-based Working Group on Involuntary and Arbitrary Detention.
Ticman also said that Clooney will only represent Arroyo at the OHCHR’s Working Group on Involuntary and Arbitrary Detention and will not be involved in the defense of Arroyo in the Philippines’ plunder case.
Arroyo has been suffering from “multilevel cervical spondylosis” or the wearing of the bones, first reported in 2011. The condition causes the compression of nerves responsible for respiratory and arm movements. The complication was caused by a dislodged titanium implant, which threatens to block her trachea. (READ: Spinal surgery and titanium plates)
Lawyers of the former president say that she should be allowed to pursue medical treatment abroad. They insist that Arroyo is not a flight risk.
In her last bail motion filed July 2014, which was later denied by the Sandiganbayan, Arroyo said her condition was not improving. A clinical psychologist recommended a “holistic approach” in recovery. The psychologist urged the courts to allow, “unrestricted mobility, interactive lifestyle, engagement in her usual daily routine and performance of her usual duties as public servant.”
According to a report in the Philippine Star, Clooney will urge the committee to recommend that the Philippine government lift current restrictions and allow Arroyo access to the Internet and communications devices.
Ticman said the case was brought to the attention of Amal Clooney back in December 2013. Arroyo’s Philippine lawyers Larry Gacad and Ticman had been communicating with the international lawyer for at least 7 months before the complaint was filed.
“Amal feels the only recourse would be communication with the human rights committee,” Ticman said.
Amal Alamuddin Clooney met Arroyo personally at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) through Philippine Star columnist Carmen Pedrosa in December 2013. Pedrosa is a personal friend of both women.
Clooney has yet to issue a statement about the communication filed at the OHCHR. Rappler has contacted Amal Clooney’s office, but was told that the lawyer was unavailable for interviews as of this posting.
Neither the United Nations nor Arroyo’s lawyers could confirm what will happen next in the United Nations case. Ticman hopes that that the committee will release its opinion in the next two months, but for now, the committee is bound by a confidentiality rule and cannot speak on the status of the case.
Arroyo is the latest of several high-profile figures Clooney has represented, including Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy who was jailed in Egypt, and controversial Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. – Rappler.com