SANTA ROSA, LAGUNA, March 12, 2004
(STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - President Arroyo’s campaign spokesman released yesterday a copy of a joint statement by the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) and the El Shaddai Movement denouncing the objections of so-called civil society groups to the "humanitarian consideration" extended by the government to deposed President Joseph Estrada.

Spokesman Michael Defensor is one of the officials facing charges along with the President, for the "humanitarian treatment" Estrada has received.

The statement was signed by INC spokesman Bienvenido Santiago and El Shaddai spokesman Mel Robles.

"We are greatly concerned why the so-called civil society groups are making a big issue over (Estrada’s) occasional visits to his vacation house in Tanay, Rizal," the joint statement said.

Estrada was not given any special treatment at Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Mrs. Arroyo insisted yesterday, debunking claims made by some quarters, including government prosecutors, that he was accorded privileges in detention.

Mrs. Arroyo took strong exception to the accusations hurled at her and three other government officials implicated in the alleged "special treatment" given to Estrada, who has reportedly been allowed to visit his rest house located across the road from the Army camp where he is detained.

"The alleged special treatment is for the sake of the many, many poor who see in (Estrada) a mirror of their oppressed conditions," the President said. "It is not special treatment for one. It is for the sake of the many poor."

The country’s two most influential religious groups cited Estrada for "not trying to escape from the law" when he received large numbers of visitors at his rest house on two occasions.

"Compassionate, fair and just treatment of an accused is the least that can be expected in a country like ours, which has been, for centuries, nurtured by Christian values," the statement said. "After all, our laws consider the accused as innocent until proven guilty by the court of law."

"We can show charity and compassion to the accused, particularly a former national leader, without necessarily abandoning legal procedures," the statement said.

Estrada himself denounced as "uncivil" and "unchristian" the statements made by Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa Ignacio and Plunder Watch lawyer Marichu Lambino.

The INC and El Shaddai noted with dismay that they "did not hear the same howl of protest" when Abu Sayyaf leader Ghalib Andang, better known as Commander Robot, "who has been charged with a number of heinous crimes," including kidnapping and murder, "was accorded medical treatment upon his capture."

The two religious groups also cited the case of cult leader Ruben Ecleo, "who has been charged with parricide," for the murder of his wife, and "was granted bail so he can seek medical treatment for his heart ailment."

The President, meanwhile, insisted that the visits Estrada made to his rest house were merely an implementation of her long-standing "strategic policy directions," which she laid down as early as July 2001, when she made her first State of the Nation Address (SONA) before Congress.

"Without going into details of whoever did whatever, I want to go back to my statement in July 2001," she said. "I said that since justice must be done, the trial must go on."

"However, while the trial is ongoing, for the sake of the many poor who see in the situation of (Estrada) a mirror of the oppression they themselves feel, it is important to be considerate of his personal circumstance," the President said.

She also said it is up to the concerned government officials to implement policies in accordance with the applicable laws, rules and regulations of the country. "The operational directions are not mine to handle, but I set the strategic direction ever since 2001," she added.

The President welcomed the joint INC and El Shaddai statement in addition to other expressions of support previously aired on the issue.

"I’m glad that they understand the principle that I have been very consistent about since 2001," she said, but laughed when asked if she can expect similar support from her allies among civil society groups.

"Well, you know, in any society, you have hard-liners, you have doves, you have hawks, you have moderates," she said. "It’s what the democratic space is all about."

Defensor told reporters here that the Palace was "surprised" by the joint statement and said its issuance was "unsolicited."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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