MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) – Justice Secretary Leila De Lima on Thursday said that there is no extreme necessity for former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to leave the country and seek medical treatment abroad.
“It would appear from all indications and from the report of Sec. [Enrique] Ona that the former president is recuperating very well. Her condition is improving, and therefore, there seems to be no immediate necessity, at this point, for us to grant the request,” said De Lima.
De Lima earlier sought the help of the Health Secretary in evaluating the medical abstract submitted by physicians of the former president.
The Justice Secretary said she raised two questions to Ona during their discussions. One is if there is life threatening situation in so far as the former president is concerned and if the DOJ denies her travel request to seek medical consultation abroad, will it result to an irreparable condition.
“It would appear that the answer to both questions is in the negative, and therefore, it would appear there seems to be no immediate or extreme necessity for her to leave the country at this point,” she said.
De Lima however had asked for more time to decide on the issue.
“But I want to be very sure. In other words, I need a few more days to further reflect on the issue at hand. I'd rather be criticized in some delay in my action than be criticized because I made the wrong decision,” she said.
De Lima also questioned the different countries of destination that are listed on the 3 letters submitted to the DOJ by Arroyo's camp.
“Secondly, I wish to ask from the camp of Arroyo the final list of the countries of destination because there is varying or shifting information being given to us,” De Lima said.
She said the 3 letters--dated October 20, 21 and 24-- submitted to her had no mention of the countries of destination. Instead, the details were found in the attachments.
“Now, among those attachments are in the first travel authority issued by Speaker Belmonte and this was an endorsement dated Sept. 16, 2011. They mentioned 3 countries only: US, Germany and Switzerland,” she said.
She noted that travel authority stated that Arroyo was to participate in the Clinton Global Initiative Media and Medical Consultation last Sept. 18 to 27, 2011. This will be followed up by a trip to Munich, Germany for a medical consultation supposedly on Sept. 28 to October 6, and then to Geneva, Switzerland to participate in the Regional Consultation meetings of the International Commission Against Death Penalty on Oct. 10 and 11.
“So, 3 countries only at first. Then the amended one, issued by the House of Representative, this time through the office of the Secretary General Atty. Artemio Adaza Jr., this became 5 countries--US, Germany and would now include Singapore, Spain and Italy. And this time, only to seek medical consultation with specialists for the period Oct. 22 up to Dec.5,” she said.
De Lima said the travel authority was only for 4 people namely Arroyo, the former first gentleman, a security and a private nurse.
In an affidavit attached to Arroyo’s letter dated Oct. 21, she only mentioned 3 countries: Singapore, Germany and Austria and the reason for the travel was for consultations with medical specialists.
‘More than a medical issue’
As of Wednesday, the DOJ received the latest from Arroyo’s camp stating 3 countries of destination: Singapore, Germany and Spain, and included her spokesperson, Maria Elena Bautista-Horn, in her entourage.
“I think no one would dispute the fact that this is more than a medical issue. We do recognize the right of any patient to seek treatment from his or her doctor, of his or her own choice and confidence,” De Lima explained.
“But we are duty bound to uphold the laws in this country. We're duty bound to ensure that since she's the subject of the spending proceedings and these are important cases, high crimes, then we want to make sure that these proceedings will not get frustrated or derailed because of her absence from the country that would make her beyond the reach of the legal processes, especially during the critical stages of the proceedings,” De Lima added.
Meanwhile, De Lima also revealed receiving information from a reliable source that there are at least 10 to 11 people joining Arroyo’s entourage. She, however, declined to name them.
“Ang pakiusap ko lang sa kampo nila is to come clean, to be very transparent para hindi naman ako nahihirapan. Because this is going to be a major important decision that this department, specifically the Secretary of Justice would have to make,” she said.
De Lima said she will issue her decision next week after attending the ASEAN Law Ministers Meeting in Cambodia.
“Since Monday is a holiday, I will be issuing my order Tuesday next week, at the latest Wednesday,” she said.
De Lima added that among the important considerations she would be making is the issue of extradition in the countries mentioned.
“I continue to exercise due diligence before I issue my decision. This is all about justice and accountability. We are balancing those contrasting interests, the individual right as against the higher interest of the state,” she said.