Ferdinand Marcos in 1980 allowed his archenemy Ninoy Aquino to go to Boston for a heart bypass surgery, even as the procedure had become routine since 1975 at the Philippine Heart Center. Aquino had been sentenced to death for murder and subversion after five years of trial by Military Commission No. 2, whose legality was affirmed by the Supreme Court.
The Sandiganbayan in 2004 allowed Joseph Estrada to travel to Hong Kong so that the doctor he chose could undertake a very routine procedure to correct his knee ailment. Estrada’s plunder trial was then underway for nearly four years, with credible eye-witnesses against him such as Ilocos Gov. Chavit Singson and Clarissa Ocampo and roomfuls of documents, especially bank accounts supporting the allegations that he enriched himself in office.
In sharp contrast to these past situations, the cases against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo haven’t even reached the very first stage of trial. Yet she is barred from seeking medical attention abroad for a rare disease that couldn’t be cured after three operations.
What exactly are the charges against Arroyo, which Justice Secretary Leila de Lima claims bar her from traveling abroad? The complainants should already raise very red warning signals as to the charges’ authenticity. Two were filed by the party-list Bayan Muna, which is allied with the Communist Party of the Philippines whose New People’s Army suffered serious setbacks under Arroyo’s watch. The other leftist party Akbayan calculates that the publicity in filing its own charges against Arroyo would boost the senatorial ambitions of its leaders. And there is Frank Chavez, who perhaps not so coincidentally filed his attention-getting charges when President Aquino was still looking around for a new ombudsman.
While the term “plunder,” which conjures up images of pillage, in the charges was effectively designed for media impact, it creates a fatal legal flaw. These charges will be thrown out simply because the crime of plunder that she is accused of doesn’t have anything to do with the things she is alleged to have done. The requirement for conviction under the Anti-Plunder Law of 1991 is that there is proof of personal material gain of over P50 million—“an asset, property, and business enterprise or material possession” amassed by the accused government official through graft. Estrada was convicted of plunder because prosecutors uncovered his bank accounts where he kept over P500 million acquired through graft.
All the charges against Arroyo, except one that doesn’t have an iota of credibility, do not even claim that she made money out of graft.
First, the most ridiculous, filed by Chavez: that Arroyo (together with other officials such as the unassailable Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo) transferred overseas workers’ fund to the Philippine Health Insurance System. This “plunder” put millions of overseas Filipino workers under the umbrella of the state’s medical care system.
Second, the most futile: that government funds for fertilizers were allocated to over 500 congressmen, mayors and governors who supported Arroyo’s election bid in 2004. But Arroyo is not charged here for amassing money from the funds. Would any congressmen or local politician testify that he or she received illegal funds?
Third, the most unintelligent: the alleged misuse of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office’s intelligence funds. It turns out that these were allocated for such purposes as emergency operations that saved overseas Filipino workers’ lives. Even Sen. Francis Escudero pointed out that this charge is nonsense, as there is not even an accusation of personal gain on the part of Arroyo.
Fourth, the weirdest: that P72 million in capital gains tax was not collected from the sale of the old Iloilo City airport to Megaworld. Even Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares says that there was no capital gains tax to be collected in the first place, as it is government selling the property.
Fifth, the most media-driven: that ZTE Corp., China’s largest listed telecoms company which this year overtook Apple as the fourth biggest cell phone vendor in the world, gave Arroyo a bribe to bag a government contract. This allegation of a bribe to Arroyo was solely made by one Dante Madriaga, who claimed he overheard it from his employer. He however refused to sign his affidavit, which he had distributed all over cyberspace. The Senate suspected he was fabricating lies and withdrew the security it initially provided him. Sen. Panfilo Lacson disclosed that Madriaga initially asked him P10 million for his false testimony.
And sixth, the most sycophantic charge: De Lima’s own 2007 poll fraud allegation, her “compliance” move to Mr. Aquino’s announcement that his administration would file charges against Arroyo by this month. But her main witnesses are the likes of Zaldy Ampatuan and the clan’s underboss Norie Unas, who are facing or will face charges for the Maguindanao massacre. Their motives—obviously to save their own skins—are so suspect that any principled judge would strike out their testimonies.
It is because of these ridiculous, futile, unintelligent, weird, media-driven and sycophantic charges that a former president is being barred from seeking medical aid abroad that could save her life.
And we haven’t even discussed the unconstitutionality of barring a citizen from traveling abroad without a court order, as constitutional expert Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J., explained in a column in this paper. We are seeing the eclipse of reason and justice under this administration.
If De Lima’s order is intended for her senatorial ambitions, she has made a big blunder. Filipinos will not take kindly her callousness over the suffering of a former president, just because of her unprincipled servility to an equally hard-hearted boss.