MANILA,  August 26
, 2004 (STAR) Prevented from seeking knee surgery in the United States with the denial of his US visa application, ailing deposed President Joseph Estrada now wants the operation done in Singapore.

Estrada asked his lawyers yesterday to petition the Sandiganbayan to allow him to have knee surgery in Singapore "within a month’s time."

Through official spokesman Rolly Ramirez, Estrada told The STAR that his knee condition had become worse and was already affecting his spinal nerves.

"President Estrada must undergo this surgery at the soonest possible time, at least within a month’s time, because his condition, unless corrected now, might paralyze him for the rest of his life," Ramirez said.

He said Dr. Christopher Jordan, the American doctor who originally attended to Estrada’s arthritic knee problems, indicated he could do the surgery as soon as Estrada is available.

Ramirez said physicians at the Asian Hospital in Alabang in Muntinlupa City had warned the former president about the paralysis during his last medical checkup there.

After the US Embassy in Manila informed him that his pending plunder cases at the Sandiganbayan would prevent him from getting a visa, Estrada considered having surgery in Switzerland.

But the Estrada family found the cost of surgery in Switzerland too prohibitive, Ramirez said.

"So the president said he could have his surgery done instead in Singapore, which is much closer to the country and cheaper," Ramirez explained.

He said Estrada does not want to be out of the country for long because of worries over the health of his 99-year-old mother, Mary Marcelo-Ejercito.

When The STAR called up Estrada, the former president declined to confirm his plans for surgery, fearing the Sandiganbayan might again confiscate his cell phone for talking to the press.

"My right to speak have been blatantly violated. I’m innocent and yet that’s how they have been treating me here," he said.

Estrada said three of his cell phones had already been confiscated after interviews on him got printed in The STAR.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) re-issued Estrada a regular passport last January, a month after the Sandiganbayan granted him a three-month medical furlough to undergo knee surgery by his former American doctor, Christopher Mow, at the Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto, California.

But with his US visa application turned down, Estrada allowed the court-issued furlough to lapse.

Ramirez said Estrada would ask his lawyers to request another furlough before his knee condition gets any worse.

Multiple slipped discs were found to have worsened Estrada’s knee condition during his checkup at the Asian Hospital.

The former president is receiving physical therapy from sports doctor Tyrone Reyes, who writes a regular sports medicine column in The STAR.

Estrada is also receiving physical therapy at his resthouse in Tanay, Rizal, where is now detained after the Sandiganbayan granted his petition for a transfer of detention from nearby Camp Capinpin.

When he was first transferred to Camp Capinpin from the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City, President Arroyo sent golf carts to Estrada to allow him to move more freely.

The 67-year-old Estrada was transferred to his resthouse after back-to-back court victories by the Public Attorney’s Office representing him in the Sandiganbayan trial.

Aside from granting his request for a transfer of detention, the Sandiganbayan also cleared Estrada on the charge of illegally using an alias ("Jose Velarde") in bank transactions.

Estrada insisted he didn’t enter into any supposed "deal" with the administration in scoring his court victories. — Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved