Senators ready to quiz Mike Arroyo despite ailment
Mike Arroyo cannot use his health condition as a blanket invocation to dodge a Senate blue ribbon inquiry into his alleged participation in the questionable purchase of two secondhand helicopters by the police, senators said on Sunday.
“If he refuses to attend, we cannot force him,” said Sen. Franklin Drilon, a member of the committee. “We will decide based on evidence. But he cannot blame anyone if the committee recommends his prosecution (for graft).”
Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said the chamber was “willing to bend its rules to accommodate” the husband of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“We cannot settle for an affidavit. It cannot answer our questions. His presence is required so we can ask important and vital questions,” Cayetano said.
Letter of excuse
Mike Arroyo’s lawyer, Inocencio Ferrer, explained his client’s absence at the Senate hearing on Thursday in a letter, saying that Arroyo’s doctors warned about a newly discovered tear in the patient’s heart that “could cause his sudden death.”
Ferrer said Arroyo indicated willingness to be examined “in any hospital, where his medical records are readily available, by a Senate-designated physician who is competent on, and has personal expertise and experience in this medical condition known as ‘dissecting aortic aneurysm.’”
The Senate has invited Arroyo to testify at a hearing after businessman Archibald Po claimed he sold five helicopters to the former in 2003.
In 2009, two of these were sold as brand-new to the Philippine National Police.
Dr. Manuel Siaco
Drilon already asked the blue ribbon committee to allow Dr. Manuel Chua Siaco, medical director of Philippine Heart Center, to examine Arroyo.
Cayetano said witnesses called by the Senate in other investigations, including former military comptroller Carlos Garcia and former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office executives Rosario Uriarte and Manuel Garcia, were able to testify despite their deteriorating health.
“We can wait until (Arroyo) gets well. It does not mean we will cease the investigation. We do not want to set a precedent here where anyone can simply say ‘I am sick’ and refuse to come here,” Cayetano said in an overseas phone call.
“If he is sensitive on a particular day, his blood pressure shoots up, then let’s not conduct the investigation on that day. Or his representatives can agree to hold the questioning under certain situations, or we can limit our questions. But if he uses his condition as a blanket excuse not to be questioned, that is not justice,” the minority leader said.
Drilon warned Arroyo that his absence in the Senate probe would not hamper a possible recommendation of graft charges against him.
“Will it defer prosecution if he is sick? The filing of a case cannot be stopped just because an accused is ill, although the trial can be delayed because of his condition,” Drilon said in Filipino.
“Let us be clear on this. It is the right of the accused to be present during his trial (in court). But from a legal viewpoint, the preparation of a case against him cannot be deferred because of sickness,” he said.
He said Arroyo was within his rights to invoke silence and privacy, but “it cannot be a blanket invocation.”
There are other ways of pinning Arroyo down in the absence of a testimony in the blue ribbon committee, according to Drilon.
These include an examination of the income tax records and statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of former President Arroyo.
“If Arroyo can pay for helicopters in cash, how much did he pay in taxes? And if the helicopters sold to the PNP were not reflected in the SALN, that constitutes giving a false statement,” Drilon said.
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