Palace accuses Arroyo camp of ‘changing the tune’
Malacañang on Thursday said the refusal of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s camp of the government offer to fly in a doctor of her choice to treat her had bolstered its doubts on the real intention behind her planned trip abroad.
With his offer, President Benigno Aquino III “answered squarely” the “premise” of Arroyo’s request for permission to seek medical treatment overseas, according to his spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.
But now Arroyo’s camp is “changing the tune” and wants her constitutional right to travel addressed instead, Lacierda said at a news briefing.
“Why are they now refusing that offer?” he said, referring to Arroyo’s spokesperson Elena Bautista-Horn.
On Wednesday, the President upheld Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s decision to deny Arroyo’s request for an allow-departure order to pave the way for her travel to certain countries to seek treatment for cervical spondylosis and hypoparathyrodism.
Mr. Aquino even said the government would pay for Arroyo’s treatment. He said this was a way to balance her interest and that of the people who wanted justice and accountability for the plunder and electoral sabotage cases filed against her.
The real reason
Lacierda told reporters that with the Arroyo camp’s refusal of Mr. Aquino’s offer, “one wonders, what is the real reason for traveling abroad?”
“Certainly, it strengthens the people’s perception on the real reason for the request to travel,” he said.
He also said that before Arroyo’s camp could speak on the constitutional right to travel, it should be reminded of the memorandum circular that her own administration had issued.
The document lists the requirements for issuing a hold-departure order on people facing criminal complaints.
Lacierda shrugged off the warning of some bishops that the travel ban on Arroyo could lead to chaos. He cited the results of informal surveys showing that “the Filipino people would like to see Mrs. Arroyo treated here in the Philippines.”
“And that is the reason why we also are volunteering to fly in specialists of her choice,” he said.
Lacierda said the President had made his offer “in uberrima fide—in utmost good faith.”
“We would like to see that the camp of Arroyo will take up the offer … in utmost good faith as well,” he said.
President Aquino’s contingency fund
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the travel ban on Arroyo and the subsequent offer to fly in her chosen doctor were “informed” decisions that did not come easy to the President.
In a phone interview, Abad said that Mr. Aquino consulted a number of people on the matter, and that the decisions were based on medical, legal and political considerations.
He also said that in case Arroyo changed her mind and accepted the offer, the fund for her treatment could possibly be taken from the President’s contingency fund.
This fund can be utilized “for unforeseen events and contingencies for which there is no appropriation in the regular budget,” Abad said.
He said that if and when, the money would be given, not to Arroyo’s camp, but to a national agency like the Department of Health or a government hospital.
Later in a text message, Abad said: “It’s all speculation for now, especially with the outright rejection by the Arroyo camp of the Aquino offer.”
He said that before any fund could be released, clearance should be obtained from the Philippine Regulation Commission to allow the foreign specialist to practice in the country.
This is done so the Commission on Audit will not disallow the release of funds, he said.
Added Abad: “It must be made clear that the assistance provided is made not out of need as Arroyo can very well afford the cost, but as a gesture of Aquino to show that he is also concerned with Arroyo’s health even as he is putting more weight on the national interest.”
Spokesperson ‘in error’
A member of the Board of Governors of the Philippine Medical Association said the bone biopsy that Arroyo wanted to undergo abroad was not immediately needed.
“They (Arroyo’s camp) were reported saying that she has to undergo tetracycline bone biopsy. There is no urgency, there is no need do to that at this point,” Dr. Leo Olarte on Thursday told reporters.
Olarte, an orthopedic surgeon who trained in Boston, Massachusetts, in the United States, said Arroyo’s spokesperson Horn erred when she said that “tetracycline bone biopsy” was a treatment procedure.
“Tetracycline bone biopsy is not a treatment. It is done to determine the amount of growth [of the bone]. [Arroyo’s] X-ray showed that there was already bone formation,” he said.
This only meant that Arroyo, now a representative of Pampanga, is “on the way to recovery,” and that the bone biopsy is no longer necessary, he added.
Olarte, who is also a lawyer, cautioned the Arroyo camp against using medical grounds in its appeal for an allow-departure order for the lawmaker, “because these can be disputed.”
“They should not use medical grounds but legal grounds, such as that she, as a patient, has the right to choose her doctor,” Olarte said. With reports from Jerome Aning and Norman Bordadora