Former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s plans to travel abroad to seek medical care for a rare bone disease has been rejected by the Department of Justice. In denying GMA’s request for an allow departure order (ADO), Secretary Leila de Lima said she has seen no exceptional reason to allow the former president to go abroad at this time as she is facing a string of charges like plunder and electoral sabotage—high crimes which are non-bailable and punishable by life imprisonment. The DOJ’s decision is significant because President Benigno Aquino III earlier announced to foreign media that his administration will file charges against GMA in November or anytime now.
Freedom of movement is a basic human right. American jurisprudence says, this “may be as close to the heart of the individual as the choice of what he eats, or wears, or reads,” which is basically what Arroyo’s lawyers are trying to point out when they insist on their client’s right to her choice of medical care wherever that may be.
To recall, GMA had a third operation last August when doctors implanted titanium around her neck. The implant was dislodged because the bones around her neck have become brittle. Women develop brittle bones as they age, but we also heard that the doctors worried about their patient’s low calcium levels. As the medical team tried to improve her situation, presumably in preparation for another round of titanium implant, we heard that she was made to wear a halo vest. The medical bulletins about GMA after her surgery last August were rather scanty, but it can be fairly assumed that she was trying to recover. Reports say the period of recovery would extend to about eight months or up to April or May next year, at which time she could be more or less prepared for another surgery.
GMA wants to go abroad for a bone biopsy, a procedure that is not available in the country. A member of the Philippine Medical Association stressed this procedure is only necessary if the patient is scheduled for operation but her medical team in St. Luke’s Medical Center is not talking about a fourth surgery. Nevertheless, medical experts pointed to “radioisotope scan, a “non-invasive” procedure which is readily available in the country.
Health Secretary Enrique Ona’s assessment concerning the former President’s situation indicate there is no life threatening reason for her to leave. A member of the Board of Governors of the Philippine Medical Association backed up Ona’s statements. Dr. Leo Olarte stressed, “there are enough doctors in the country who can treat Arroyo or any patient with metabolic bone diseases.”
Secondly, in GMA’s request for an ADO, she submitted an itinerary which Secretary De Lima described as “ambivalent.” In her previous letters to the DOJ, the former President listed United States, Singapore, Austria, Germany, Italy and Switzerland where she intends to get medical consultations. Then in subsequent communication to the DOJ, GMA indicated Singapore, Germany and Spain as her destinations.
De Lima said the itinerary raises risks that the DOJ cannot take, short of saying that the administration fears GMA will be beyond the reach of the law if she is allowed to leave town, especially because the countries that she listed had no existing extradition treaties with the Philippines. Even if these countries have extradition pacts with PH, I still think the DOJ should not take that risk.
The Arroyos have gone to the Supreme Court to question de Lima’s decision, saying that the state cannot deprive the former president’s right to travel. Take note, they are not simply leaning on legal points to argue their case. They are also out to win public sympathy by releasing the photos of the former President wearing a halo vest. It’s not clear if Arroyo is under medical instruction to wear the neck brace 24/7 but at more than 2 kilos as reported, it must be excruciatingly cumbersome.
Does she really intend to fly to North America, Asia and Europe in that condition? Even if she travels business class, the hassle of going through immigration at every point, waiting for luggage and ground transportation, not to mention adjusting one’s body to a new climate can take a toll on even the healthiest senior citizen. At 66 and having undergone multiple surgeries this year, she should take it very easy.
The DOJ decision would appear quite severe for Arroyo allies, but in the scheme of things, it would seem that Secretary De Lima has more concern for the ex-president’s health than her husband and lawyers, unless the foreign trip is merely an excuse for her to escape prosecution.
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