MANILA (Mabuhay) – Having the House of Representatives prod the Sandiganbayan to place former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo under house arrest might send an “ominous message” that special treatment can be accorded to a lawmaker on trial, Akbayan party-list Rep. Ibarra Gutierrez III has warned.
Gutierrez said the public might question Congress’ sense of fairness if it approves the resolution urging the Sandiganbayan to allow Arroyo to be placed under house arrest for humanitarian considerations considering that hundreds, if not thousands, of inmates also suffer from serious medical conditions inside cramped detention facilities.
“How will this particular step [of approving the resolution] be taken by the general public? Will this be viewed as extending special privilege to a lawmaker and having Congress bend over backwards to accommodate one of its own while turning a blind eye to the cases of others?” he said at the House justice committee’s hearing on the proposed resolution Wednesday.
In House Resolution 1908, 1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello urged the House to present “a united plea” and urge the Sandiganbayan to grant house arrest for Arroyo as she awaits the resolution of her pending bail plea and the plunder case filed against her before the anti-graft court.
Arroyo is currently under hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City for a plunder case in connection with the alleged misuse of P366-million Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) intelligence funds during her term as President.
Not a flight risk
At the committee hearing, Bello said he remains perplexed why the Sandiganbayan continues to deny Arroyo’s motion for bail despite granting similar requests from the other co-accused in the case.
“The former president isn’t a flight risk. Di ko alam bakit natatakot ang Sandiganbayan na ang ating dating pangulo ay magtatago at sisibat considering her present condition,” he said.
The lawmaker, a former Cabinet official during the Arroyo administration, painted a sad picture of Arroyo’s health condition as he appealed to his colleagues to approve the resolution.
According to Bello, Arroyo has shrunk in size, with her weight down to about 80 pounds. She has also been limited to eating soft foods such as durian and fish since she has difficulty chewing and swallowing other foods.
The former president has been diagnosed with a degenerative lumbar spine disease.
“Medical attendants of the former president have recommended house arrest for her because it’s their opinion that if she stays in the house… at makakasama niya ang mga mahal niya sa buhay, makakatulong ‘yun sa kanya,” he said.
Bello noted that even former President Ferdinand Marcos allowed President Benigno Aquino III’s father, the late Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., to seek medical treatment abroad in 1980 for his heart ailment even if he was in jail at that time.
He disagreed with Gutierrez’s opinion that having the House approve the resolution for Arroyo’s house arrest constitute special treatment.
“If a poor inmate approaches me and asks for the same resolution. I will sponsor it,” Bello said.
The committee has deferred voting on the party-list lawmaker’s resolution until sessions resume on May 4. (MNS)