Press Release
November 28, 2011

Transcript of Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago's interview

On CGMA's house arrest

There is now intense debate on what arrest should be executed against Mrs. Arroyo. Should it be house arrest, hospital arrest, or police arrest -that is to say, she should be housed in a police detention cell? But even before this kind of debate is conducted, I humbly propose that we must first talk about a bail hearing. All of these kinds of arrest will be part of the question on whether bail should be granted. Just because electoral sabotage is described as non-bailable does not absolutely mean that she is prevented from posting bail.

If you examine the Rules of Court, you'll notice that bail is a matter of right for all citizens accused of a crime. It is a matter of right. However, it is also a matter of discretion on the part of the judge. Bail can still be granted in cases where the offence is punishable by death, life imprisonment, or reclusion perpetua. We no longer have offences punishable by death, because we have abolished the death penalty. It is simply a question of whether the offence imposes a penalty of life imprisonment or reclusion perpetua. There is a difference. Life imprisonment is imposed by a special law for very serious offences, while reclusion perpetua is imposed by the Penal Code. Another difference is, life imprisonment is not accompanied by an accessory penalty; whereas, reclusion perpetua would necessarily be accompanied by an accessory penalty, such as perpetual disqualification from running from public office. And finally, life imprisonment does not have any duration. It can be as long as what the judge wishes it to be; whereas, reclusion perpetua, normally, is limited to only 30 years, after which, the accused can apply for a pardon, or at the very most 40 years.

Whether the penalty is reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, the Rules of Court provide that first, the judge must hold a summary bail hearing. He does not go to trial proper immediately. First, he conducts a shorter hearing, called a bail hearing. And during that hearing, according to the Rules of Court, the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove that the evidence of guilt is strong. If the evidence of guilt is strong, then of course, the judge, in his discretion, may deny bail completely then the detainee goes immediately straight to jail--whether it's the city jail, police facility, or Muntinlupa--it's all in the discretion of the judge. But, if the prosecution fails to prove that the evidence of guilt is strong--in other words, the judge is convinced, after a summary hearing that the evidence against the accused is weak--then the judge in his discretion may grant bail to the accused. That is why Mrs. Arroyo should be granted bail by the trial judge and I think, this should take precedent over debates on where she should be held under arrest because there is a possibility that she could forego arrest, forego jail time, and spend it instead as a free woman or under house arrest.

Now, in the case of house arrest, the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove that evidence of guilt against Mrs. Arroyo is strong. Normally, house arrest is granted to former heads of state. For example, we have the following personalities under house arrest: Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma has been under house arrest for 20 years; Pol Pot of Cambodia; Pinochet of Chile; or, if you go very far back, Galileo Galilei was placed under house arrest and died under house arrest because he stuck to the Copernican theory that the universe does not revolve around the Earth, but instead, the Earth revolves around the Sun. There is a possibility that Mrs. Arroyo may still be granted bail. If she is not granted bail, then there is still a possibility that she can still be granted house arrest.

There is a principle called the principle of judicial precedent. Whatever the courts did in a prior case must be followed in subsequent cases. If President Estrada was held under house arrest as a former head of state facing criminal charges, then it stands to reason that President Arroyo, with the presumption of innocence in her favor, should likewise be entitled to house arrest pending her conviction in the trial court. And remember that it took six years to convict President Estrada.

To summarize, although she has no right to bail, it is still discretionary on the right of the trial judge to grant her bail. It all depends on whether the prosecution, that means the State, is able to prove that evidence of electoral sabotage is strong.

Do you personally favor house arrest for CGMA?

If she is saying that she is ill, but the doctors are saying that she can be an out-patient, then because she is ill although she is an out-patient, she should be allowed house arrest, because, in a detention cell, her medical condition might worsen. Just because the doctors say that she is okay now, that she can walk out of the hospital, does not mean that she is already normal. If she's been ill, and there's a possibility that the condition might recur or be aggravated, these matters might follow if you put her in a detention cell. Normally, in a detention cell, you have not only people accused of offences punishable by death or by life imprisonment, but people who have pleaded guilty. You don't want a person, who enjoys the presumption of innocence, to be jailed in a facility with self-confessed prostitutes, murderers, or robbers, kidnappers, etc.

The strongest evidence would be eye witnesses. We all know that in trial court, the strongest evidence is a witness who was there, present, and who perceived with his senses what was taking place, and could communicate his perceptions to the judge. But in other cases, it could be that the document would be the strongest evidence. However, I doubt that this is possible, because to invoke the best evidence rule or the written evidence rule, you have to show that Mrs. Arroyo's signature appears in certain election documents. That would be very hard. The next step would be to prove that she was conducting all of these alleged electoral maneuverings against the law in the presence of an eye witness.

As far as you're concerned, puwedeng magpost ng bail?

I would have held a bail hearing just like I did during Martial Law when the students of U.P. and Ateneo were all charged with the non-bailable offence of unlawful assembly because they held a demonstration in Cubao and insulted the First Lady and the President at that time. They were all sent to jail and frightened out of their wits because they could no longer take their final exams if they were not sprung out of jail. First, even before putting them on trial, I held a bail hearing. I heard no less than 50 witnesses and I was able to come to the conclusion that even if it was Martial Law, the evidence was not strong; therefore, I released them on bail, which was discretionary on my part. Later on, many years, my decision was upheld by the Supreme Court.

Is it proper for the Blue Ribbon Committee to pursue its hearing against CGMA's alleged charge of electoral fraud?

Personally, I would not advise it. But, under the Rules of the Senate, no investigation of any nature outside of the Senate should be considered an obstacle in holding an investigation in the Senate itself. If you apply the rule, there is nothing to block the Senate investigation.

On the RH bill: Who among the Senate leaders are allegedly using delaying tactics?

What we are hoping is we stop now the period of interpellations because this has gone on for so long. The interpellation has gone so far as to cover the chemical composition of a contraceptive pill! What is the relationship of the chemical composition of a tablet to the merits of the reproductive health bill? Our position with Sen. Pia Cayetano is that we should now move on to the period of amendments. However, we shall still be willing, during the period of amendments, to answer interpellations just in case there are still any left. That is at least so we can move forward because the public is now very restive.

In my last university symposium, 3,000 students expressed through their student leaders the suspicion that the length of time that has been taken by the interpellation is deliberately being resulted to as a delaying tactic. The student leaders there, who came from U.P., La Salle, and Pamantansan ng Lungsod ng Muntinlupa, declared that any senator who votes against RH will be considered by their group to be an anti-youth senator.

Who among the senators are causing the delay?

These are the officers of the Senate, since we have to obey what the officers tell us.

When shall you move to the period of amendments?

Perhaps today, perhaps tomorrow. I still have to consult with Sen. Cayetano. It's not in the agenda today. Normally, it is the Senate Majority Floor Leader who determines, after consultation with the Senate President, on what should be the agenda for the day.

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