Gov’t to pay for Gloria Arroyo detention at Veterans
The government will pick up the tab for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s detention in the presidential suite of Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City.
“[It’s based on the] court order, so the government will foot the bill,” Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo said on Friday. He said he still had no idea of how much the government would spend, but added it would at least not be as much as the reported cost of Arroyo’s suite—P50,000 a day, excluding medical bills—at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Taguig City.
Robredo said Arroyo’s transfer to the state hospital from St. Luke’s would be done no earlier than Sunday.
The VMMC director, Dr. Nona Legaspi, clarified that the hospital had never charged its VIP patients for the use of the presidential suite, including presidents, their relations, and other prominent political figures.
“There’s no rate ever because it’s not used by the public,” Legaspi said at a briefing in Camp Crame, where she represented VMMC at a meeting with various agencies to discuss security arrangements for Arroyo’s transfer.
But she said VMMC would bill the Department of the Interior and Local Government for utility costs and miscellaneous expenses that would be incurred during the stay of the former President and now Pampanga representative who is accused of electoral sabotage.
Legaspi said “everything is OK” in the suite measuring 150 square meters (not 120 sq m, as previously reported), except for some requests made by the Arroyo camp. The requests include the addition of beds and furniture, as well as the installation of more electrical sockets.
Robredo, on the other hand, said Arroyo would have to pay for the services of her doctors at St. Luke’s, should she retain them.
“Doctors at [VMMC] do not charge professional fees. If [Arroyo and her camp] will bring their own doctors, they will pay,” he said, adding:
“Let me make it clear: The government will pay for the things it needs to shoulder, but as for [the Arroyo camp’s] other requests, if granted, these will have to be shouldered by the one who made the request.”
Arroyo’s spokesperson Elena Bautista-Horn on Friday pronounced the VMMC presidential suite satisfactory.
Horn and Arroyo’s youngest child, Camarines Sur Rep. Diosdado “Dato” Arroyo, inspected the suite twice on Friday and on both occasions said “OK naman” when asked what they thought of it.
The lawmaker declined requests for an interview. When asked about his reaction to his mother’s future detention quarters, Horn said it was “OK” by him.
Horn said the Arroyo camp’s primary concern was the bed to be used by the former President, who is afflicted with a bone ailment. She said a mechanized (“de-pindot”), and not a manually operated (“ni-ro-roll”), bed was preferable.
She also said that while “we understand the stand of VMMC” regarding the ban on the patient’s use of cell phones and computers while in detention there, they would take the matter to court.
When asked by phone if the request of Arroyo’s camp for Internet access would be granted, Legaspi was adamant.
“No, no, no, she will not have access to the Internet and cell phones,” she told the Inquirer. “We will abide with a court order if she will be allowed access. But till then, we will not grant their request.”
Robredo also inspected the suite Friday and said it was “ready but for minor details.”
Legaspi said minor renovations were being done. “We also want the former President to be as comfortable as possible,” she said, adding that the water problem during the stay in the suite of Arroyo’s predecessor, Joseph Estrada, had been addressed.
Horn herself said she had been assured by VMMC management that the water connections were now working.
She said negotiations on other requests were ongoing with concerned government agencies and hospital management. She declined to elaborate beyond saying that the negotiations involved “clarifications of some issues.”
But she also said that Arroyo’s lawyers were still batting for her house arrest.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) has drawn up an elaborate security plan for Arroyo’s transfer to the state hospital.
The PNP spokesperson, Chief Supt. Agrimero Cruz Jr., said “Task Force: Former President GMA” had been formed to lead the security arrangements, including a request to the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines to enforce a “no-fly zone” on the transfer route.
The Southern and Eastern Police Districts will secure Arroyo’s transport until she reaches the point where the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) will take over, Cruz said.
He said the task force would be led for the meantime by National Capital Region Police Office Director Alan Purisima.
Cruz said a “sufficient” number of police officers would be deployed to guard against demonstrations by Arroyo supporters or detractors. He said policewomen would be assigned to guard the former President, per standard operating procedure.
Defense Undersecretary Eduardo Batac, who had also briefly inspected the VMMC presidential suite, agreed that it was secure for Arroyo, according to a close aide who asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak to reporters.
“[Batac] said OK but he wanted more photos of the room above the suite,” the aide said. He said Batac had also checked the soundness of the bulletproof windows in the suite.
Senior Supt. Rainer Idio, QCPD director for operations, said the suite had been designated as a restricted area.
Idio said that with Arroyo’s stay in the hospital, every vehicle would be inspected at the VMMC gate.
“There will be control points to check on people already inside the hospital facility,” he said. “Everybody has to pass through the control points.”
When she gets well…
Commission on Elections Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. said Arroyo’s transfer from St. Luke’s to the government hospital, as ordered by Pasay City Judge Jesus Mupas, was fine by him.
“[But] if the government doctor says she’s already well, she has to be transferred to the SPD (Southern Police District). We are agreeing temporarily only because she’s reportedly sick. If they insist on house arrest, we’ll also insist on [SPD] detention. It’s all up to the judge because it’s the court that will ultimately decide,” he told reporters.
Brillantes said it was important that Arroyo be held in a government facility so that the state would have full control over her.
“In a government facility, it would be easier to see her. Unlike in a private place where she’s hiding and hiding, and you can’t speak to her without a subpoena,” he said.
Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez aired a similar view, saying that Arroyo would be safe at VMMC for the time being.
“[But] once her health is OK, she should be transferred to a regular detention place,” Iñiguez, a critic of the former President, told reporters in a phone interview.
“For her it may be better in her house, but the government has the prerogative to choose an option,” he said.
But for Cristina Palabay, convener of the women’s rights group Tanggol Bayi, Arroyo’s impending detention at VMMC constituted special treatment.
“Hospital detention for a notorious human rights violator like Gloria Arroyo, who has no life-threatening illness, is special treatment at its best. This is in stark contrast to the situation of the sick and elderly … political prisoners who are languishing in dire conditions in jail. This is injustice and double standard at its worst,” Palabay said.
She said that “in the interest of justice,” Arroyo should be held in a regular jail facility like other female detainees. With reports from Jerome Aning, Jocelyn R. Uy and TJ Burgonio
First posted 1:29 am | Saturday, December 3rd, 2011