MANILA, NOVEMBER 10, 2011 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - The camp of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo welcomed yesterday President Aquino’s offer to bring to the country foreign doctors to treat her at government expense but said it would have serious and long-term constitutional repercussions.

This developed after Justice Secretary Leila de Lima stood by her decision not to allow Arroyo to leave the country to seek treatment for a rare disease in her cervical spine amid plunder and poll fraud charges against her.

Ma. Elena Bautista-Horn, Arroyo’s spokesperson, said the former leader sincerely appreciated the offer of the President, especially on shouldering the huge expense for such undertaking.

“We sincerely thank the offer of P-Noy but this is no longer a medical issue, this is already a legal issue,” Bautista-Horn said, referring to the petition filed by the former president’s lawyers on Tuesday asking the Supreme Court to nullify the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) watchlist order (WLO) against her, arguing that it is only the courts that can prevent a person from leaving the country.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona admitted that he recognized it is a person’s right to choose his doctor when he visited the former president but clarified that this “fundamental right” is not absolute.

“What I said was that, as principle, it is the right of a person to see the doctors of his choice, in hospital of his choice. However, it is not absolute,” Ona said, adding that there are “extenuating factors” that may affect a decision on whether or not Arroyo should be allowed to leave the country.

One of the reasons cited by De Lima in refusing to allow Arroyo to seek treatment abroad was Ona’s assessment that there was no compelling or immediate need for the former leader to undergo treatment in another country.

Thanks, but no thanks

Bautista-Horn reminded Aquino to uphold the rights of all Filipinos, including that of his predecessor by reading the oath of office of the President of the Philippines.

“The dilemma here is that if the former president negotiates on that, will that compromise her rights? The Constitution? Will she grab the offer and let others in the long run be victimized by this order? Will she be selfish and think only of her welfare when what is at stake here is every Filipino’s right to travel? She may get well but what about the rights of the Filipinos?” Bautista-Horn told reporters.

Mrs. Arroyo’s lawyer, Christian Diaz, thanked the President for his offer but asked how he can justify spending public funds for her private doctors and medical treatment.

“More importantly, it disregards the schedules of the doctors and assumes that they are willing to come here to treat one patient and leave their patients. The Bill of Rights cannot be subordinate to a general claim of national interest or exercise of police power that is Constitutional Law 101,” Diaz told The STAR.

Judgment call

De Lima said she fervently prayed before arriving at her decision on Tuesday and initially “agonized” on what to do.

The DOJ secretary was the former Commission on Human Rights chief during the Arroyo administration.

She advised the ailing former leader to instead consider importing her needed medical specialist and have her treatment here.

“It’s a very open option. I think many people have thought of that – for the former president to just invite her doctor of choice from abroad and have her treated here,” she told reporters in an ambush interview.

She stressed that her decision to deny the request of Rep. Arroyo to leave pending joint preliminary investigation of Department of Justice and Commission on Elections on her alleged involvement in cheating in Mindanao during the 2007 national polls was “the most just thing to do.”

For the first time, she revealed that she considered two other options apart from absolute denial of the request.

The first one was to grant the request without any condition, which she thought was “farfetched.”

She recalled that the other option was to grant the request under strict conditions, including possible sending of a government escort who will accompany the former president in her trip.

“At the end of the day, I felt that the denial is the most just thing to so. It was part of my determination. I made a judgment call based on my reading on attendant facts and circumstances,” she explained.

The DOJ chief believes she made the right decision even after receiving flak not only from the Arroyo camp but also from known allies of Aquino like Senators Francis Escudero and Panfilo Lacson.

“I have expressed substantive justifications. I feel that I have indicated enough basis. I don’t think anyone can accuse me of arbitrariness when I issued that order,” she stressed.

She downplayed allegation of Arroyo’s camp that she abused her discretion by imposing additional requirements for the issuance of allow departure order (ADO) that would be necessary for the former president to pass through Immigration counter in the airport.

“It remains still the prerogative of DOJ to require additional requirements for purposes of the determination of the existence or absence as the case maybe of exceptional reason. So, to guide the DOJ in determining whether there exist an exceptional justification for the grant of authority, we demanded other requirements and that’s why it took time,” she explained. – With Edu Punay, Sheila Crisostomo

Government officials acting like schoolyard bullies - Mike A By Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) Updated November 10, 2011 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Former first gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo yesterday slammed President Aquino for turning down the travel request of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo by citing national interest.

In a text message to The STAR, Mr. Arroyo said Aquino’s decision “unmasks the present government for what it really is: a bunch of schoolyard bullies who have no platform of government aside from exacting street vengeance for perceived wrongs while running roughshod over legal processes designed to prevent governmental excesses.

“He (Aquino) is lying through his teeth and engaging in endless rhetoric once again. The DOJ denial of FPGMA’s (Mrs. Arroyo’s) request to seek medical treatment even if it means violating her constitutional rights betrays PNoy’s (Aquino) agenda in this issue—his one-sided pursuit to put the Arroyos behind bars at all cost. He would even go to the extent of using taxpayers’ money to bring doctors here to ensure FPGMA does not leave so her persecution would continue unabated. If that’s not personal interest, then I don’t know what is,” Mr. Arroyo said.

“What is specially stomach-churning is the emphasis of President Aquino on the unbridled exercise of executive power over the civil and political rights as guaranteed in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution. The monumental error of this position is shown by the fact that even the government’s closest allies have found it difficult to support the administration line and have even found it irresistible to voice their contrary opinions,” Mr. Arroyo said.

He said: “The Bill of Rights is supposed to be an island of entitlements into which governmental powers cannot intrude except for the most compelling of reasons. And the Constitution is a document for all persons for all times, irrespective of political exigencies. That is the underlying philosophy of a republican and democratic government. Unfortunately for all Filipinos, that concept appears to be far beyond the President’s powers of comprehension.”

Mr. Arroyo also said the suspicions aired by Malacañang that his wife is plotting to escape the numerous plunder complaints in the guise of seeking medical treatment abroad are just a “figment of imagination.”

“All their statements doubting her medical condition and her itinerary are merely conjectures and suspicion have in fact no bearing but for the President and the Secretary of Justice giving more weight on mere suspicion over a person’s constitutional right is outright tyrannical and disturbing,” he said.

‘A figment of imagination’

Mr. Arroyo and his wife’s spokesperson, Ma. Elena Bautista-Horn in separate interviews hit Aquino and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima for accusing the former president as attempting to evade prosecution in asking permission to leave the country for medical treatment.

Horn said Mrs. Arroyo has already made a written and sworn commitment to De Lima that she would report to her and face all the criminal complaints as soon as she returns from her medical consultations.

“She’s coming back. It’s (escape) all a figment of their imagination,” Horn said.

She recalled that when former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez resigned and Mrs. Arroyo was abroad to speak before the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, many critics suspected that she would not return to the country.

Granting for the sake of argument that Mrs. Arroyo would seek refuge abroad, Horn said the Aquino administration has all the power to force her return to the country.

“They have so many options. They’re the government. They are the current administration, all the powers are with them. They should not let themselves appear as helpless, they have all the powers more than any other citizen in this country, but they don’t have the power to curtail a person’s right that’s why we went up to the SC (Supreme Court)” Horn said.

Rep. Arroyo on Tuesday asked the SC to enjoin the Department of Justice (DOJ) from implementing its order placing her in the watch list of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) that prevented her from leaving the country to seek medical treatment abroad.

Arroyo invoked her constitutional right to travel in filing the petition.

Mr. Arroyo also filed a petition before the high court questioning the second watchlist order issued against him by De Lima.

The former first gentleman reiterated his argument that the order has violated his constitutional right to travel and freedom of movement.

Case raffled off

The SC yesterday has taken the petition of Mrs. Arroyo, which was raffled yesterday and assigned to Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes, an appointee of President Aquino.

The separate, similar petition filed by Mr. Arroyo was also raffled yesterday.

Both petitions would be tackled by the magistrates when they resume full-court session next Tuesday after month-long recess, according to SC spokesman Midas Marquez.

Marquez said the SC would decide whether to consolidate the two petitions and grant the couple’s prayer for issuance of temporary restraining order (TRO) enjoining the DOJ from implementing the WLOs against them.

Marquez, however, explained that Chief Justice Renato Corona, who is returning to the country from the US today, has the power under the rules of SC to issue TRO even before the session next week – upon recommendation of the justices-in-charge (JIC) and subject to the affirmation of the full-court in session.

Last August, the SC issued a TRO stopping DOJ from implementing an earlier WLO against Mr. Arroyo. The magistrates unanimously voted to issue the TRO, citing absence of case pending against Mr. Arroyo that made the WLO violation of his constitutional right to travel.

Justice Reyes was among those who voted for issuance of TRO. The voting was held on his first day as SC justice.

But the high court lifted the TRO and dismissed as moot the petition last September after the DOJ lifted the WLO.

The violation of right to travel was the main argument raised by the couple in their separate petitions filed last Tuesday.

“If the JICs can have a preliminary assessment and evaluation of those petitions and they see an urgent need, nothing stops them from giving a recommendation for issuance of TRO to the Chief Justice,” Marquez said.

Two Catholic Church officials, on the other hand, said the Aquino administration should allow Rep. Arroyo to go on her medical treatment abroad, warning that it might lead to chaos if she would be denied and if something unfortunate happens to her.

Former Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz (photo), who has been vocal in his criticisms against Mrs. Arroyo, believed the better decision is for the government to grant her request to seek medical help in other countries.

“I am not a GMA (Mrs. Arroyo) admirer. Ever since, I never praised the former president but that does not mean that you would step on a person who has already stumbled,” Cruz said.

Tagbilaran Bishop Leonardo Medroso said President Aquino should honor Mrs. Arroyo’s right to health” because this might “boomerang” on the present administration if it would continue to deny her request.

“In this instance, the government should consider the former president’s rights to take care of her health. Each one of us has a ‘right to health’ and if something bad happens to the former president, this would boomerang to the present administration,” Medroso said.

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace (CBCP-Nassa) chairman Manila Bishop Broderick Pabillo said it was only right that the government is being careful in granting the request of Mrs. Arroyo to go abroad.

“We should make sure that there is an assurance that she would return (to the Philippines) in case she is needed to testify or if a case would be lodged against her,” Pabillo said. -With Edu Punay, Evelyn Macairan

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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