(Editor's note: Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo granted ABS-CBN News an exclusive interview)
RG Cruz (RGC): Now that it's over, what are your first days of freedom like?
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA): Well, when I got the order that I could leave there were already many people who were in the VMMC (Veterans Memorial Medical Center) in anticipation of being able to send me off at least or meet me here. So, there were many people there and then some of them just came to say hello because there were so many people and then they left ahead. Some of them just followed my convoy up to the gate of La Vista so they could give me my privacy. Some of them joined for a quick dinner because before I would prepare to check-in for St. Luke's Hospital for my check up and then some of them arrived as I was leaving or after I had left. When I got out of the hospital, I said, "Sorry about last night, come and have dinner with me tonight." So, they had dinner with me. What was that, I think Saturday? Then yesterday, since I had invited them for dinner so they came late in the afternoon. In the morning, I had a couple of visitors but I had time to start looking at the house because it's really not been attended to all these years and in fact, my sister-in-law was saying "Tu case te es fera," which is like a way of saying your house is in horrible shape so you better go home and fix it. So, I started to look to see what has to be repaired, what has to be rearranged and things like that. I attended to that until my guests started to come so then we had a dinner with some of them last night. Here we are again today with you.
RGC: Balikan lang natin, what was your life like in detention. What was a typical day?
GMA: A typical day, in the morning I would either have physical therapy which I need twice a week or I would have Pilates for my stretching which I usually have once a week or I would have acupuncture which I had every other two weeks so that was usually morning. And then my visitors would come in the afternoon starting at 3 o'clock and if I will see off one visitor, I would already take the opportunity to do my one-hour daily walk so that was what I could do, and then during my free hours. I would work on my memoir. Now, of course, I had a lot of visitors because that's the only way they could talk to me because cellphones were not allowed and internet was not allowed. On Sundays, the priest would come to the chapel would come to say Mass and every day, there was a priest who would come also whenever he could, so sometimes I had a Mass, a lot of the time I had a Mass, maybe half of the time I had a Mass also during the day, that was the way that my life was.
But I think what's more important, what I’d like to convey with regard to the people who were with me on a daily basis, you know, the police guards, the doctors, the nurses, the physical therapists, the nursing aides, the utility people, because I can't say enough about how gracious and kind they were to me.
RGC: You were talking about Mass. How important was your faith?
GMA: Oh, all important. My faith was very strong. I'm a devout Catholic and I considered that, you know, the porter of my faith. That said, that if the office is suffering, whether physical or emotional, to be part of the suffering of Jesus on the cross then somehow, you would have lessened his own suffering and that's how I… So, when people would say let's pray, let's pray for your, no no. If they would say let's pray for you to reduce your suffering, I would thank them but if they would say, do you want us to pray for this or that, I would say actually pray for my freedom because as far as my physical suffering is concerned, I am offering it to be part of the suffering on the cross.
RGC: How would you characterize your detention under the previous administration?
GMA: Well, as I said… I mentioned that… you know, a lot of injustice. To begin with, the detention itself was unjust, so to me, that’s the most important thing and what I learned from that is this whole thing of political power to persecute political enemies? That must stop. I must be the last victim. Let me be the last victim. I'm not saying that political figures should be immune from prosecution. What I'm saying is that the process should be fair and even-handed. So, let me be the last victim of political persecution using the justice system.
RGC: How do you feel about people who were there when you were president, but abandoned you when you were done?
GMA: Oh, (I've) been there, (I've) been there. I was not surprised because remember, my father was president of the Philippines, and then (Ferdinand) Marcos came in, so especially when martial law was declared, we saw that exodus of friends. And then they came around when I became senator, and then especially, they came around when I became president. But you know, it happened to my father, I was not surprised that it would happen to me, especially because of the persecution. Not only was I persecuted, my allies were persecuted. People identified with me were persecuted.
RGC: Having gone through what you went through, do you have any rancor in your heart?
GMA: You know, as I said earlier, I'm a devout Catholic, so any rancor I feel is not first hand. The rancor that I feel is precisely what I was saying earlier, the justice system... the use of political persecution using the justice system, that must stop. I must be the last victim. I don't wish what happened to me on my worst enemies.
RGC: Tomorrow, you go back to work. Let's talk about your work while you were in detention. You had many bills and resolutions and a lot of those became law even when you were in VMMC, so what were those and how do you feel about that achievement?
GMA: I had seven bills that became six laws. I want to name the right bills and so the first bill that Dato and I filed that became a law was the Household Helpers’ Rights (Kasambahay Bill). We filed HB1140 on August 2, 2010 and then it became law on January 18, 2013. And then again Dato and I filed a bill, Aquaculture and Fisheries Mechanization. We filed it on the same day the House Helper's Rights and then it became a law on June 5, 2013. And then on November 11, 2010, I, after having some discussions with overseas Filipinos and we were discussing about overseas voters' rights, they wanted a bill that would give them more rights more political rights, so therefore I filed a bill on absentee voting. More rights on absentee voting, RA 3001 on November 11, 2010 that became law May 27, 2013. My fourth bill, which you guys, I think, wrote about on drunk driving. I filed on March 7, 2011, that was the first bill that got a lot of publicity, I think because I attended the committee hearing and you interviewed me about it. That was drunk driving, it was filed March 7, 2011 and it became law May 27, 2013. And so after that, I got detained but there were still some other bills I was able to file. Actually, I filed over 250 bills, 204 of them were filed during my detention, so when I was already under detention because the drunk driving was the one just a few weeks before detention. After I became detained. I filed an amendment to the Fisheries Code to prohibit trade in corals, that was filed July 23, 2013 and then on the next day, we filed a bill to prevent trade in sharks. Actually, I have already done an executive order for that so it was meant to institutionalize it. And then finally, I had a local bill, the sharks bill and the coral bill were incorporated into one bill, an amendment into the Fisheries Code to prevent the environmental concerns. And then finally, I had a local bill that I filed on December 18, 2013 which became a law this year. Seven bills became laws, and of course, I was very gratified I was able to do something even if was inside detention.
INFOGRAPHIC: The Kasambahay Law
RGC: Which begs the question, papaano niyo po nagawa iyon?
GMA: Wait let me talk about this one by one of the 7 bills. The first one, the bill on house hold helpers, actually that's Dato’s baby, the Center for Human Rights helped him to craft that (Arroyo’s youngest son, former Congressman Dato Arroyo, later on clarifies it’s the Ateneo Human Rights Center that helped him) so it was he and his staff who attended to it.
The second bill on aquaculture, the same thing, that's also Dato’s. Dato’s job to his staff took care of that. The absentee voting that was mine and maybe that's why it was not passed exactly the way I wanted to because I wanted to allow overseas Filipinos who had become dual citizenship and coming back to be able to enter public office. I wanted that to be the amendment. But because I was in detention, I couldn't exactly say what my purpose was when it went through the legislative mill what came out was really having more registration centers. In other words, increasing the participation of overseas Filipinos in the voting exercise so it was not exactly the way I had wanted to do it had I been outside. At least I'm glad, as a result, the voting participation also increased because it's easier for them and then the drunk driving, which you're very aware of them, the chairman of the Committee on Transportation was Oging Mercado and he was already in the majority at that time. He’d been my ally for the longest time. Even before I became president so I would follow it up with him when I was not yet detained and that's why he heard it and he gave it priority and I guess knowing that it was an important bill for me when my staff used to follow it up after it went through and it maybe it might have been the first one that became law. It might have been the first one that became law among my bills. Ah no, it was the Kasambahay Bill and then my 2 bills of the Fisheries Code, the trade in sharks and the trade in corals and other bills and also my... Let me put it this way, I had the chairmen in charge were Dado Matugas of Natural Resources and Marlyn Aggabas of Revision of Laws and I would say because they were very productive in their committees, so my bills were able to benefit from the productivity of their work especially about the portion about the sharks because even my own allies were jokingly telling me, GMA that one we cannot support because we eat sharks fin soup.
RGC: Looking forward, what are your plans what would your role be in this next Congress?
GMA: Well, you know as I told you, I'm a very devout Catholic and all my life, I always just ask the Lord to give me the discernment to do what He wants me to do, and so every day, I pray for discernment I get it in my prayer time. I see it in the events that unfold about me. That's why it's all up to God.
RGC: Let's talk about your health. Kamusta na po ang health ninyo?
GMA: Of course, it's... how shall I put it? I was better before detention than after detention to say the least. I have some new… you see, the doctors took really very good care of me, but not withstanding that there are some new conditions that I am now suffering which I wasn't suffering before. Hypertension and the nerve deterioration. Those two things are new conditions or conditions that were dormant that maybe got exacerbated.
When I first entered Veterans Memorial Hospital, I couldn't even raise my hand up to here, but then the therapist did a really good job, so I became very normal, but then after a while, I am not back to that horrible... when I could not even raise my hand beyond this. But now, I wake up with a lot of pain again so when I had my check-up in St. Luke's, they said there is some deterioration, but they have not given me yet what it's called, because that was my last day, and besides, I have to go back again. Even when I was in Veterans, my doctor from St. Luke's said that it's time for me to have my liver checked, so I would be having whatever test she kept nagging me about before. I'll be having it maybe sometime next week.
RGC: Anong nangyayari 'pag tinataas mo 'yung kamay mo?
GMA: Noong araw? I couldn't. Physically, not that you cannot. I just couldn't. It just wouldn't go up. Up to here only, but the therapy in Veterans helped me to be able to bring it up so it's really... now it's the pain and the weakness but as I surmised, it became very good and it deteriorated again somewhat but not to the same extent that it was before. But there's a lot of pain. There's a lot of pain and weakness but not so good as I wouldn't be able to raise my hand.
RGC: What is the permanent solution to your medical condition?
GMA: Oh, I have to get a second opinion. That, I was not allowed to have before so I guess I have this test in St. Luke's that my doctor has been nagging me about and I hope to get, finally, a second opinion abroad. Because if you recall, Dr. Anastacio of Makati Medical Center, when I did this, Anastacio Protocol, which is still groundbreaking, so it's not yet mainstream. He, from his findings, he said I should seek a second opinion abroad. He qualified it, very, very, very specifically by a cervical spine purist who does repeat surgery every day and there's nobody who does that in the Philippines so I have to seek that abroad.
RGC: What's next for you? What are your future plans?
GMA: Well, as I said since I'm a very devout Catholic and I tried to make it my practice to wait for discernment from the Lord. I'll go back to what my father always told me in his own public life: "Do what is right, do your best and let God take care of the rest."
RGC: Thank you very much Mrs. President.