Sunday, November 6, 2011

Allies of GMA appeal to DOJ for compassion

MANILA, Philippines - The family of President Aquino had made, and was immediately granted, a request in 2009 for the immediate release of medical equipment from the airport warehouse of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) that was urgently needed for the surgery of the late President Corazon Aquino, who was suffering from colon cancer, former officials disclosed yesterday.
Banking on the same humanitarian grounds, former government officials who served during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo added their voices to press Justice Secretary Leila de Lima not to delay further the approval of the request by the ailing ex-president to travel abroad for medical treatment, claiming the same compassion was extended to President Aquino’s late mother.
Arroyo’s spokesperson, Ma. Elena Bautista-Horn, disclosed in an interview over radio dzRH yesterday that former Cabinet and other government officials of Arroyo have echoed these concerns and shared this previously unknown story that came out during one of their conversations while visiting Arroyo, who is recuperating from spine surgery.
“We did not publicize it. There is no need to publicize
it but it just came out of our discussions over the DOJ’s refusal to act swiftly on the travel request of the former President,” Horn said.
Horn said nobody knew about it until former Customs commissioner Napoleon Morales mentioned a telephone call he got shortly before midnight from Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Peter Favila.
Horn expressed dismay that De Lima seems to be using the medical travel request of the former president to gain political mileage for herself, citing the DOJ Secretary’s previous admission of her planned run for the Senate in 2013.
“The problem is they have a deadline to send to jail the former president by December. Even if no case is filed yet against her, they have prejudged the president already. So how can we expect a fair trial because De Lima has plans to run in 2013,” Horn charged.
As told by Morales, Horn said a certain member of the Aquino family sought the help of the Palace sometime in May 2009 to secure the release of medical equipment that was being held at the customs warehouse of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) that would be used for an emergency treatment of the cancer-stricken Mrs. Aquino, who was then confined at the Makati Medical Center.
“One of the children (of Mrs. Aquino) called up Medy Poblador for the machine needed for Tita Cory,” Horn said.
Poblador is currently Arroyo’s chief of staff. Poblador also served at the Office of the President at the Palace Guesthouse during the term of Mrs. Aquino, hence her close association with the Aquino family.         
“Favila called up Morales to release the machine because life was at stake. It was almost midnight but Morales went to his office to make sure the machine was released before the surgery the next day,” Horn said.
Morales and Favila, she added, are still around so they could confirm this incident.
The STAR contacted both Favila and Morales to get their versions of this story.
In separate telephone interviews, Favila and Morales confirmed and elaborated on their respective roles in this story.
The STAR also sought verification from Deedee Siytangco, who once served as official spokesperson of Mrs. Aquino, until she was relieved of that job “as the family wished that the intimate details of her treatment be kept strictly private.”
Siytangco said two foreign specialists flew to Manila to make this emergency procedure for Mrs. Aquino but could not recall if they brought with them any medical equipment.
“More of the procedure in the chemo method, I think of targetting just the cancerous lesions,” Siytangco said. Mrs. Aquino succumbed to cancer on Aug. 1, 2009.
Favila, who still works in the government as Monetary Board member, admitted he did make the call to Morales after Poblador informed him about the urgent request she got from the Aquino family.
“I did not ask who called her (Poblador) up. I know she worked for Tita Cory in the past. I took her word for it,” Favila said.
Favila recalled that he was working in MalacaƱang late that night finalizing briefing papers for then President Arroyo, who was also leaving for a foreign trip, when he was approached by Poblador.
“I recalled making many phone calls, until I reached Boy Morales. But he didn’t answer until after several calls, and I thought I roused him from sleep because he sounded groggy. I was already trying to find out his address so that I could send someone to fetch him. Anyway, I told him to have the medical equipment released that night,” he said.
The medical equipment was needed for the late president’s surgery scheduled at 6 a.m. the following day, Favila pointed out. He said the surgeons were ready for the medical procedure but would not be able to proceed without the particular medical apparatus.
“When he (Morales) started to talk about the paperwork, I cut him off and told him I’ll take full responsibility because we’re talking here of the life of a person, not an ordinary person but an icon of democracy and a former president. I told him I don’t care what it takes to release the item,” he added.
Before he left the Palace that night, Favila said he left word with Poblador to inform President Arroyo about what he did and that Morales should not be taken to task for it.
“The following day, I called Sec. Medy if she already told the President about what I did. She (Medy) said she explained it all to her. Much to my relief, I was told the President said ‘Peter did the right thing’,” Favila said.
Favila expressed surprise why this story came out because “I just kept quiet about it.”
“I would really rather not talk about it because it’s better to keep quiet about the help we accord others,” Poblador said in a text message to The STAR.
As to who among the Aquino family contacted her, she said, “Whoever called me knows naman who she is.” 
For his part, Morales said he proceeded to the airport to facilitate the release of the equipment as directed by Favila. As Customs chief, the immediate supervisor of Morales was then Finance Sec. Margarito Teves who he recalled was out of the country at the time.
According to customs procedures, Morales explained, only imported perishable items and emergency items that have life or death implications are given terminal release at the airport warehouses.
“If I recall right, the equipment was released around 1 or 2 a.m.,” Morales said. “As soon as the equipment was turned over, I called up the secretary (Favila) to report mission accomplished.”
Morales then asked Poblador to call up the Aquino family to immediately send a representative to receive the equipment.
On the same grounds, Favila and Morales expressed concern over the DOJ’s lack of concern as it is dilly-dallying over the medical-related travel request of Arroyo.
“She (Arroyo) is a very sick woman and if only for humanitarian reasons, she should be allowed to seek the best medical treatment wherever she can get it,” Morales pointed out.
“They (DOJ) should set aside politics and consider this as life threatening situation,” Morales added.
Citing DOJ’s observation that Arroyo is recuperating already, Favila stressed this should be the best period to allow her seek treatment abroad while she is still healthy to travel.
“I am hoping and praying she gets what she needs to see specialists. You know as Filipinos, when it comes to our mothers, we will do everything for our mothers. I hope they (DOJ) would not politicize this,” Favila said.
Arroyo, who is now congresswoman of Pampanga, is seeking medical consultations and treatment abroad, to include a bone biopsy to determine whether she has bone disease.
Doctors said she is suffering from a condition called “hypoparathyroidism,” which prevents the full healing of her neck bones that were operated on three times.
In the dzRH interview yesterday, Horn disclosed that Arroyo has been taking 25 different kinds of medicine everyday plus a daily injection and is still wearing a neck brace.
Horn said Arroyo needs a bone metabolism disorder specialist and there is no such doctor in the Philippines. She said doing the bone biopsy here in the Philippines remains an option but this is different from the required medical procedure that only a bone metabolism disorder specialist could do. Another option, she added, is stem cell treatment in Germany.
Because of DOJ’s delaying action on the travel request, Horn said, Arroyo has already missed appointments with two specialists that she had set based on the travel authority earlier approved by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.
Arroyo was supposed to leave last Oct. 22 based on the 45-day travel authority given to her by the Speaker. She was supposed to go to Singapore, Italy, Germany, Spain and the US.
Although faced with plunder and poll fraud cases, Arroyo’s travel request is not without any precedent, Horn pointed out. She cited anew the cases of the late Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., father of the incumbent President, who was allowed by the Marcos government to go to the US for medical treatment even after conviction by the military court for rebellion charges.
As to the objections of San Juan Congressman Jayvee Ejercito, Horn sternly reminded the son of former President Joseph Estrada that his father was allowed to go to Hong Kong to undergo knee surgery even while undergoing plunder trial.
“Many people got angry at President Arroyo but she stood her ground to let Mr. Estrada go to Hong Kong. When it comes to life, she stood her ground,” Horn stressed.
“In the case of former President Arroyo, there is not one case yet filed against her in court,” Horn bewailed.
On fears that Arroyo might not come back to the Philippines, Horn cited the former president has traveled five or six times in the past already when these cases were filed against her but she returned.
De Lima placed Arroyo on a watchlist after several plunder complaints were filed against her.
Her lawyers, however, said the continued DOJ refusal to allow Arroyo to leave was tantamount to a hold departure order and violated their client’s right to travel.
Arroyo’s lawyer, Raul Lambino, hit presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda for harping on Arroyo’s medical trip.
“Lacierda, as usual, misses his target. He should aim his fire on the real issue at hand and that is the blatant disregard by P-Noy and DOJ Secretary De Lima of our constitutional right to travel. The issue of former President Arroyo’s going abroad for medical treatment is not the issue at all. It is the right to travel and the right to a healthy life as a person,” Lambino said.
“Every person’s liberty is now put in jeopardy by this vindictive P-Noy government whose priority is to humiliate and persecute the Arroyos for survey ratings purposes,” he said.
He said he is ready to file the necessary petitions before the Supreme Court (SC) to uphold the Constitution.
“We believe that the evil called the watchlist order of the DOJ Secretary, which has dangerous effects far greater than a hold departure order issued by the regular courts, would still be around even if De Lima will allow the former President to leave. Such a dangerous evil must be obliterated once and for all for the sake of every individual in the country. Unless and until the SC rules on this fundamental issue, everyone will be at the mercy of De Lima’s whim and caprices,” Lambino said. - By Marichu Villanueva and Paolo Romero (Philstar News Service, 

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