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De Lima downplays Amal Clooney’s involvement in Arroyo case

Even with celebrity lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney in the picture, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Wednesday remained confident the Philippine government can secure a conviction in former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's plunder case.

De Lima gave the assurance following Clooney's decision to file a case last Feb. 26 before the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD), a body under the UN Commission on Human Rights, seeking to persuade the Philippine government to release Arroyo from hospital detention.

"We believe that the denial of Rep. Arroyo's motion for bail was decided on the merits and that she will eventually be convicted or acquitted on the merits," said De Lima.

Arroyo, now a congresswoman representing Pampanga's second district, has been under hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City for a plunder case in connection with the alleged misuse of P366-million in intelligence funds of the state lottery firm during her presidency. She is undergoing treatment for a spine disease.

In downplaying Clooney's involvement, De Lima said: "Simple questions of fact or law on Rep. Arroyo's predicament are neither made grander nor more dramatic merely because they are raised by a celebrity lawyer before an international forum."

"The flamboyant gesture only reflects the paucity of her cries of political persecution," she added.

Clooney, 37, is the wife of Hollywood star George Clooney. Specializing in international law, criminal law, human rights, and extradition cases, her prominent clients are Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Timoshenko. She has been named a visiting professor on human rights by the Columbia Law School in New York.

Direct petition to Sandiganbayan

De Lima said it was not the Aquino administration's fault that Arroyo has been denied bail privileges, pointing out that it was ultimately the call of the Sandiganbayan, which handles the plunder case.

"If Ms. Alamuddin is charging the government of arbitrarily depriving Rep. Arroyo of her liberty, she must direct her petition to the judiciary, since the Aquino administration is not responsible for the fact that the judiciary does not subscribe to her claim that her continued detention is a result of politival persecution," she said.

De Lima reminded Alamuddin that Arroyo must first exhaust domestic remedies before she can file a complaint before the UNHCR or the Human Rights Council, in accordance with the criteria for the acceptance of communications filed with the Working Group on acommunications.

"We are presuming that Ms. Alamuddin is knowledgeable of the (processes) of the Philippine justice system because it is patterned after the American system, which must be familiar to her," she said.

De Lima insisted that Arroyo's detention for the non-bailable crime of plunder is not violative of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

"Under international human rights standards, a commitment or detention order issued against an accused in accordance with a state's independent judicial processes is recognized as a valid cause for restraining one's liberty," De Lima said.

Interest on Arroyo

Lawyer Modesto Ticman, one of Arroyo’s lawyers, had earlier revealed the former president was elated that Clooney had elevated her case to the UN.

Clooney’s interest in Arroyo’s case began in 2013, according to the former president's camp. The British barrister even visited Arroyo at VMMC to see her condition.

Their correspondence increased in frequency from November 2014 onwards after a brief lull when the British lawyer was busy preparing for her wedding.

To build the case, Clooney reportedlyasked Arroyo’s legal team to send documents and other information concerning her plunder case, which they immediately sent to her.

The Arroyo camp said Clooney is convinced the former president is a victim of political persecution after studying her case.

For one, the British lawyer pointed out that it was only Arroyo who has not been allowed by the Sandiganbayan to post bail even though her other co-accused in the plunder suit have been granted the same privilege. —KBK, GMA News