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Court orders Arroyo transfer to Veterans

NOW THE SHOE IS ON THE OTHER FOOT In this photo taken on May 19, 2001, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo visits ousted President Joseph Estrada at the presidential suite of Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City where he was detained along with his son, then San Juan Mayor Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada. Malacañang file photo

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, under arrest for alleged electoral sabotage, will be transferred to the same presidential suite at Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City where President Benigno Aquino III’s father, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., was confined in the 1970s to recuperate from his hunger strike during martial law.

The 120-square-meter suite in an inner wing of VMMC was also where the former President’s deposed predecessor, Joseph Estrada, stayed after being indicted for plunder and before moving finally to his rest house in Tanay, Rizal province.

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Judge Jesus Mupas of Pasay City Regional Trial Court Branch 112 issued the order to move Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative, from her luxury suite at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Taguig City to the state-run hospital at a hearing yesterday morning. It is without prejudice to any motion up for resolution by the court, according to Clerk of Court Joel Pelicano.

Mupas’ order effectively resolved the defense’s motion for a five-day extension of Arroyo’s stay at St. Luke’s and the prosecution’s motion for her immediate transfer to a government hospital.

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At the same hearing, Arroyo’s main attending physician, Juliet Gopez-Cervantes, testified on her state of health and recommended continuous administration of intravenous antibiotics and evaluation of her condition for five days.

The subjects of the order—the contending camps, the Department of National Defense, which has jurisdiction over VMMC, the directors of St. Luke’s and VMMC, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), the Philippine National Police (PNP), and the Southern Police District—have been given five days to prepare for the transfer, Pelicano told reporters.

He said Arroyo should have been moved to VMMC by December 6.

Still house arrest

But Jay Flaminiano, one of Arroyo’s lawyers, filed early Thursday night another urgent motion asking Judge Mupas to partially reconsider his transfer order. He asked that Arroyo be allowed to stay at St. Luke’s until after her doctors recommend her discharge.

Process server Ismael Cuerto Jr. had to wait for the motion way past 4:30 p.m., the time Arroyo’s lawyers said they would file the document. Today (Friday) is a declared holiday in Pasay City, and the motion would have had to wait until Monday if it had not been filed in time Thursday.

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In the motion, Flaminiano cited a scheduled reexamination of Arroyo today to determine her condition. She is said to be suffering from colitis.

Earlier in the day, Arroyo’s legal spokesperson, Raul Lambino, said in a text message: “We will reiterate our earlier motion to have her under house arrest instead.”

The court has yet to resolve the motion for house arrest filed by the prosecution, which has been given 10 days to reply to the opposition filed by the Commission on Elections.

Arroyo’s other spokesperson, Elena Bautista-Horn, said in another text message: “We are gratified that the court has taken cognizance of our concerns about [the congresswoman’s] health and security. Her transfer to VMMC is an acceptable alternative. Nonetheless, she will continue to invoke the right of any patient to select their own  healthcare providers.”

Horn also said that despite fears of an assassination plot on Arroyo, her camp continued to rely on the police’s professionalism and integrity in “looking after her” since her arrest on

November 18.

But at Camp Aguinaldo, the newly appointed defense spokesperson, Peter Paul Galvez, a medical doctor, said he was not aware of any existing threat against Arroyo.

Still, Galvez said, the defense department was prepared to extend “courtesies” to the former President.

Bulletproof windows

The windows of the VMMC presidential suite has bulletproof windows, according to Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo.

The suite’s main entrance opens to a small living room. It is furnished with a sofa and three dining tables that seat 10 guests each. It also has a kitchen.

“It’s quite large. It’s as big as a house,” VMMC security commander Charles Guieb told reporters.

In 2002, speaking in relation to Estrada’s stay in the suite, then acting VMMC director Ricardo Blancaflor described it as “not luxurious but comfortable.”

Blancaflor said Ninoy Aquino stayed in the suite in the 1970s, as did General Emilio Aguinaldo, the President of the First Philippine Republic, before he died in 1963.

President Elpidio Quirino was also a patient at the suite, as was the strongman Ferdinand Marcos’ youngest sister, Fortuna Barba.

Clerk of Court Pelicano said that from the court’s inspection of the possible detention or medical facilities for Arroyo, VMMC appeared the most secure.

“Although the DILG, the PNP will provide for the safety and security of the accused, we have to see to it that the place is secured,” Pelicano said. “[Also], President Estrada was brought to VMMC. We will not go far from the treatment given to [Estrada]. Whatever treatment he received, we will give the same to [Arroyo].”

Pelicano said the court considered Arroyo’s former position as President when it issued the transfer order.

“VMMC has the complete equipment and facilities to address [her] health condition,” he said.

At a briefing in Camp Crame, PNP Director General Nicanor Bartolome said Arroyo’s police custodians would make sure to “avoid perceptions of VIP treatment.”

Bartolome said the PNP would comply with the court order directing the custodians to restrict the use by the accused of such privileges as mobile phones or computers.

He said visitors would also be checked “based on a certain procedure.”

Bartolome said he was considering assigning the Police Security and Protection Group at Camp Crame to lead Arroyo’s security detail, backed by the National Capital Region Police Office and the Quezon City Police District.

He said police would follow the “template” used in securing Estrada at VMMC, such as posting guards in the “inner ring” inside the hospital itself, at the gates, and outside the facility.

“We have not completed our preparations yet, but what is important is for us to be able to comply with the order of the court. Necessarily, we will be utilizing the appropriate number of personnel to ensure that safety and security will be maintained,” Bartolome said.

5 days more

At the hearing, Cervantes recommended that Arroyo remain at St. Luke’s for the continuous administration of antibiotics for five days and an evaluation of her condition.

She said Arroyo had been suffering bouts of diarrhea and had been found positive for colitis-causing salmonella, a food- and water-borne infection. She stressed that the condition was present even before Arroyo’s confinement at St. Luke’s starting on November 15.

Cervantes said that during Arroyo’s executive checkup on November 13, a colonoscopy revealed swelling and redness in the intestines.

“There is really inflammation of the lining of the colon,” she said, adding that Arroyo had been complaining of abdominal pain three or four times a day.

But Ma. Juana Valeza, the chief election investigator and prosecutor, pushed for Arroyo’s immediate transfer, saying that continuous medical treatment could be provided in a government hospital where she could be under the court’s control.

Arroyo lawyer Lawrence Arroyo (no relation to the former President) countered that there was no point in insisting on the transfer “but to harass” his client. He said the government still had control over Arroyo even if she stayed in a private hospital.

After the hearing, Valeza told the Inquirer that the prosecution would not oppose Arroyo’s continuous medical treatment but would insist that it be done in a state hospital.

She added that house arrest was a different matter: “We will not let her enjoy the luxury of her home. We will not allow her special treatment different from any other accused.”

Pro and con

Lawmakers aired varying opinions on Mupas’ order for Arroyo’s transfer to VMMC.

“She can be fully secured there and I endorse that order of the judge. It is the obligation of the government to secure her and make sure she is not harmed,” Senator Franklin Drilon said.

But Bayan Muna Representative Teodoro Casiño said Mupas should have consulted an “independent government doctor” before ordering Arroyo’s transfer.

Casiño said the judge should also consider whether he was dispensing justice equitably by making sure that the same standard would be applied to all inmates suffering worse medical conditions.

Akbayan Representative Walden Bello said Mupas should have designated the court’s own panel of doctors to determine if Arroyo really needed to stay in a hospital and not in jail.

But an Arroyo ally, Zambales Representative Milagros Magsaysay, said the public should respect the court’s decision. With reports from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr. and Philip C. Tubeza

Originally posted at 10:57 pm | Thursday, December 01, 2011

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TAGS: electoral sabotage, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Judiciary, News, People, Prison, Veterans Memorial Medical Center
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