JPE cautions poll body, Noy administration against ill treatment of former presidents
The vindictiveness under the Aquino presidency never stops, it seems.
Commission on Elections (Comelec) lawyers suing former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, along with the Veterans Memorial Medical Center’s (VMMC) physicians, want her hospital stay revoked and have Arroyo immediately transferred to a regular prison.
The poll lawyers are planning to ask Pasay City Regional Trial Court presided over by Judge Jesus Mupas to transfer her to a regular detention facility as they claimed her health has improved based on the latest report submitted by the psysicians at the VMMC.
This was stated by Comelec counsel Maria Juana Valeza during the continuation of yesterday’s hearing of the former President’s bail petition at Pasay City RTC Branch 112.
Valeza said the Comelec is happy to learn that the health of the former president has improved but that they will be asking the court for her transfer to a regular detention facility just like former poll Chairman Benjamin Abalos who is currently confined at the Southern Police District detention cell in Taguig City. Both the former president and Abalos are facing electoral sabotage at Brach 112.
Observers said that this move was being made by the Comelec lawyers because the poll body, which filed the electoral sabotage case against Arroyo was weak, having only one claimed witness, Norrie Unas, a former aide of then Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan, Sr.
Unas, in an earlier hearing, testified that he had overheard Arroyo telling Ampatuan to ensure a 12-0 victory for her senatorial candidates, claiming that this was an order from her to cheat. Later, he admitted that the 12-0 “order” to Ampatuan could have merely been a campaign cry. Unas is directly involved in the Maguindanao massacre but wants to be a state witness by testifying against Arroyo.
But Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile yesterday warned against the reported planned transfer to a regular detention cell of the former president, given her deteriorating medical condition, saying it could only spark a new round of political crisis in the country.
Besides the matter of showing a bad image for the country before the international community in having to place a former leader in regular detention, alongside common criminals, while she is yet to be rendered any conviction, Enrile raised serious concern over the apparent lack of concern for Arroyo in providing proper medical care.
Enrile said it has come to his attention that Arroyo is in serious need of medical attention nowadays and under such a situation, the State can be held responsible if something happens to her.
“From what I gathered, she can only take liquids because she is having difficulty eating solid foods. So if something happens to her, that would be a major issue,” he said in a radio interview.
The Senate chief also noted the apparent slow-moving action on the pending cases against the former president, specifically on her filed motion to post bail as her camp has been claiming that the charges against her have not been supported by strong evidence.
“What they (administration) should look after and ensure is her well-being while in detention because it will be the government that can be made accountable if something unfortunate happens to her, while she is in government custody,” he said.
Enrile recalled that even during the regime of the Marcos administration, political detainees were afforded the necessary medical treatment.
“We allowed them to go out of detention whenever we were confronted with medical issues. If they needed to go to the hospital, we allowed them because that is a matter between life and death,” the senator said.
Even the late Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., father of the incumbent president, was allowed to seek treatment in the United States even if he had already been convicted by the military tribunal.
“I’m not saying that they should extend the same privilege to her. All I’m saying is that it is the responsibility (of the State) to ensure that they (government) protect her well-being,” he said.
The political stability of the country would be at stake, Enrile said recalling the times when some political oppositionists were assassinated such as the likes of Evelio Javier shortly after the Feb. 1986 snap elections, which fueled the start of the downfall of the Marcos administration.
Enrile was vocal in expressing his strong opposition to the idea of placing Arroyo under a regular detention cell, saying that the congresswoman should be accorded respect befitting a former president.
“No matter how badly they think about her, she is presumed to be innocent until she is really convicted. Secondly, they should first review their evidence, if they have enough strong evidence that can stand in court. If none and then she’s made to suffer in regular jail pending the resolution of the case, what would that make us look like before the international community? That we had a former president of the Philippines in jail with common criminals?” he pointed out.
Even Sen. Pia Cayetano, former Arroyo political ally turned critic, shared the sentiments of the Senate president.
“In the past, they have always extended courtesies to past president and even senior officials especially since the reasons cited for the supposed urgency for departure were health reasons. I don’t know the actual situation but until there are health issues involved, she should be put in a place where it is comfortable and accessible to immediately address her health concerns,” she said, speaking to reporters during the weekly news forum at the Senate.
Although putting her in detention would be the “logical place” where Arroyo should be, Cayetano noted the circumstances under which ousted President Joseph Estrada was placed, when he was still facing plunder charges.
She said Estrada was allowed to stay in his rest house in Tanay which was located beside a military camp.
“I leave it up to the administration to make the best decision on this. Normally they extend courtesies. Lets see how they handle it. I am imagining that they would be extending these kind of courtesies and making such arrangements. If you look at our presidents, look at (former) President Erap (Estrada), I would imagine that her style would appeal for something like that and see,” she said.
The co-accused of the former president in the election fraud committed in the 2007 election in Maguindanao are Ampatuan Sr., and former Provincial election Supervisor, Lintang Bedol while Abalos is also facing the same charges for two counts.
The Comelec said that so far they have not filed any motion for the transfer of Mrs. Arroyo to a regular detention facility at the Pasay RTC because they only received the copy of the latest medical condition report of the VMMC last Wednesday.
“The Comelec still needs to study the report on the latest medical condition of the former president before we file a motion for her transfer. We also have attend first to the bail petition hearing of Mrs. Arroyo so that the court will not grant her bail,” Valeza.
The group Bagong alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) also held a protest rally in front of the Pasay City Hall of Justice to press the Pasay RTC not to grant bail for the former president.
Bayan Secretary General, Renato Reyes said that some of their members also held a protest rally in front of the VMMC.
Reyes said the court must not grant the bail petition of the former president because the testimony of Maguindanao Provincial Administrator Unas linked her in the election fraud that occurred in the 2007 election in Maguindanao.
He said that the testimony of Unas in the last bail petition hearing told the court that he heard the former president came out with an instruction to Amptuan Sr., to ensure the 12-0 victory for the Team Unity.
In yesterday’s bail petition hearing, lawyers of the former president did not present any witnesses or evidence to prove the innocence of Mrs. Arroyo on the electoral sabotage filed against her.
Counsel, Benjamin Santos in an interview said the testimony of Unas in the last bail petition hearing is very week and he was not able to prove the link of the former president in the election fraud in Maguindanao.
Santos said that their presence in yesterday’s hearing was only to observe and to hear the testimony of the three witnesses to be presented by Reynaldo Princessa, lawyer of Bedol.
The testimony of one of the witness presented by Princesa, Saliao Amba told the court that in every meeting attended that is being called by Unas in the conduct of election fraud in Maguindanao, Bedol was not seen.
Amba destroyed the testimony of Unas, the Comelec’s key witness, and told court that the instruction for the 21 election officer in Maguinadanao to ensure the 12-0 victory of Team Unity came from Unas.