Smiling but silent was how Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was described when she stepped inside the presidential suite of Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City at around 4:10 p.m. Friday.
“She was smiling but she did not say a word when she entered the room and looked around,” Dr. Nona Legaspi, the VMMC director, told the Inquirer by telephone. Legaspi said Arroyo, who is under arrest for alleged electoral sabotage, was accompanied by her husband and sons to the suite.
Doctors from the Philippine National Police, and not Arroyo’s private doctors, turned over her medical records to VMMC doctors, Legaspi said. She said that apart from the hospital management and PNP officials, Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista was there to meet the former President and now Pampanga representative.
Arroyo alighted from the white coaster that took her from her luxury suite in St. Luke’s Medical Center in Taguig City, walked to a waiting wheelchair, and passed through a metal detector on her way to her quarters.
Outside the hospital, Camarines Sur Rep. Diosdado “Dato” Arroyo, the former President’s younger son, said his mother would now be able to rest. He said his mother had been ready as early as 6 a.m. to leave St. Luke’s but that some confusion arose on the method of transfer.
“Fortunately, we were able to reach a compromise,” he said.
The police had apparently wanted to use an ambulance, but the family asked for a bulletproof vehicle.
Dato Arroyo said the family would follow the rule of law and its processes in dealing with the electoral sabotage case against his mother.
According to a source in the PNP, an electrical bed has been put in the main room of the presidential suite, beside a king-size bed.
Members of Arroyo’s immediate family, her congressional staff and lawyers are included on a list of persons submitted to the Police Security and Protection Group for issuance of access passes, said the source who asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak with reporters.
“Those who have an access pass may enter the suite even without advance notice,” the source said.
“But everything that goes in will be inspected and checked,” the source said. He said the ban on cell phones and Internet access would be “strictly implemented.”
Members of the Quezon City Police District put up tight security measures in the hospital complex and around the presidential suite.
Hundreds of policemen have been deployed in the premises since Friday morning.
Expensive vehicles sporting license plates with the number 8 were seen in the parking lot leading to the presidential suite.
A disagreement over whether Arroyo would be flown or driven to VMMC took about nine hours to resolve, with Arroyo’s lawyers and representatives playing hardball with authorities.
“Besides, who would want to fly in this weather?” said Ferdinand Topacio, lawyer of Arroyo’s husband, as rain poured outside the state-of-the-art St. Luke’s.
At around 3 p.m., officers from the Southern Police District lined up at least 10 vehicles, including three police ambulances, at the back of the hospital, on standby as Arroyo and her family boarded a white coaster.
The convoy left St. Luke’s and headed straight to a road closed to traffic.
Security guards of Bonifacio Global City tried to head off members of the media by closing the road after the last police car entered. But a female TV reporter stormed out of her network’s vehicle and single-handedly moved a metal barrier used to seal the road.
“Hayaan na sila (Let them be),” the Inquirer overheard a uniformed security guard shout to his colleagues who had tried to cut the media vehicles from the convoy.
A man in plainclothes yelled an invective at the Inquirer as it made its way to catch up with the Arroyo party.
Motorcycle units from the Highway Patrol Group guided the convoy as it negotiated the streets leading to Edsa, which had moderate moving traffic all day due to the rain. Police officers somehow succeeded in parting the sea of vehicles stuck in traffic to make way for the former President’s convoy.
Upon Arroyo’s arrival at VMMC, police sentries immediately shut the facility’s gates to the media when the tail car of the convoy entered the grounds.
The sight of Arroyo’s convoy leaving St. Luke’s capped the tense stakeout at St. Luke’s, with some hospital employees appearing relieved.
Arroyo’s spokespersons Elena Bautista-Horn and Raul Lambino, as well as Topacio, took turns in assailing the Aquino administration for its purported bumbling of the security arrangements for the transfer.
“We were ready since 6 a.m. The former President wanted to leave early so that there’s no traffic,” Horn told reporters at past 8 a.m. “If we made our way through the traffic, we’d be giving people another reason to hate Congresswoman Arroyo.”
Horn persistently thumbed down the prospects of Arroyo being airlifted to VMMC, citing the latter’s purported fear of flying in a helicopter and the bad weather, and pointing out that “in the three meetings, [airlifting] was never brought up.”
She said the police preferred the chopper because it would be “safer” for Arroyo in terms of security, but she harped that the weather was unsafe for air travel.
Asked whether the police might have thought about the supposed plot to kill the former President in pushing for the airlift, Horn told the Inquirer that the plan “was not to shoot Mrs. Arroyo.”
She was referring to an alleged plot, a snide reference to the former President’s height, called “Put the little girl to sleep.”
PNP Director General Nicanor Bartolome denied allegations by Arroyo’s camp that the government had purposely delayed her transfer, saying that it considered only her “safety, security and comfort.”
He said that thanks to the PNP’s well-crafted plan, the trip to VMMC took only 42 minutes and was without a glitch.
Bartolome said he personally gave the order to drop an earlier plan to transport Arroyo by helicopter, and that contrary to Horn’s statement, Arroyo’s camp had been aware that such an option was being considered at the start.
He said that in previous meetings, Arroyo’s camp had never suggested that they leave St. Luke’s as early as 6 a.m. “In fact, it was they who requested that the transfer not be done so early in the morning because it might be hard for the former President,” he said.
Bartolome said the PNP had studied the situation on the ground, including traffic and the rainy weather, as well as protesters and Arroyo supporters camped out at VMMC, before deciding on when to move Arroyo.
“I can say it was successful because there were no glitches during the transfer,” he said.
Bartolome said stringent security measures would be enforced by the PNP at VMMC, including four levels of security checks by the Quezon City Police District and the Police Security and Protection Group, which would be Arroyo’s primary custodian.
Lambino, who had just come from Europe where he supposedly brought Arroyo’s plight to international attention, criticized the lack of decision-makers at St. Luke’s during the day.
He said Arroyo could have left sooner had Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo been there to call the shots.
While Lambino spoke with reporters at past 2 p.m., text messages containing information purportedly from Topacio indicated that Arroyo had left the hospital.
Lambino was immediately asked to confirm the information because earlier in the day, a decoy convoy left St. Luke’s in an apparent attempt to distract the media. Only a handful of reporters tailed the five-vehicle convoy that included a black sport utility vehicle and police patrol cars.
Arroyo’s lawyer immediately phoned a staff member at the 16th-floor suite while TV cameras rolled. After a quick conversation, he said Arroyo was still in the suite.
The former President also allowed photographs to be taken while awaiting her transfer. The photographers present decided to send Bullit Marquez of The Associated Press, with the agreement that all media organizations would be provided copies of the pictures.
Marquez told the Inquirer that Arroyo was relaxed as he took photos of her in her suite. She walked around the living and dining areas, and even brushed her teeth, unsupported, he said.
Arroyo was photographed in a white dress with black diagonal stripes, with and without her neck brace.
Her supporters, claiming they were acting on their own, showed up at St. Luke’s early in the morning. But the rain forced them to take shelter in a building in front of the hospital before dispersing quietly.
About 385 residents of Angeles City trooped to St. Luke’s to monitor Arroyo’s transfer.
Angeles Mayor Edgardo Pamintuan said 1,000 more Pampanga residents were also at VMMC since 6:30 a.m.
Arroyo was “jolly” and even said goodbye to her police bodyguards as she left St. Luke’s, according to Sheriff Rogelio Buenviaje of the Pasay City Regional Trial Court.
Buenviaje told reporters that Arroyo wanted to get the transfer over with as quickly as possible, and appeared “very relieved” when she reached VMMC.
“I myself am relieved that this is finally over,” he said.
Buenviaje added that the court had yet to set the dates for Arroyo’s appearance in court. With reports from DJ Yap and Julie M. Aurelio in Manila, and Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon
First posted 12:08 am | Saturday, December 10th, 2011