Aquino offers to fly in medical specialists for ex-President Arroyo

Backing Justice Secretary Leila de Lima's decision to deny permission to former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to seek medical treatment abroad, President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday offered to fly in medical specialists to look into her condition, on government expense.

This is a way to balance the wish of Arroyo and that of the people, the President said in a nationwide broadcast, underscoring his administration's desire to ensure the just resolution of the many cases filed against his predecessor, including electoral sabotage.

Mr. Aquino said it was the desire of the government to see Arroyo's immediate recovery.

"But if I were to ask you, if we allow a person accused of a nonbailable offense to travel to a country without an extradition treaty with the Philippines so she could be treated for an ailment that could be equally addressed by local hospitals, will justice prevail here? Which carries more weight, the interest of the many or the interest of a single person?" he said.

The President said De Lima's denial of Arroyo's request for an allow-departure order was "justifiable" because it was necessary for the latter to personally attend to her case.

"[W]e don't want the derailment of a case that has a big implication on our democracy," he said, adding:

"Our only desire is to get justice."

Speaking with reporters later, Mr. Aquino explained that if Arroyo failed to attend her arraignment if it reached that point, her case would not move because "there is no trial in absentia."

"In other words, if an accused is not in the Philippines, the case will not push through and there will be no closure on the issue of electoral sabotage that happened in 2007," he said.

Happy compromise

Mr. Aquino's offer to Arroyo is a "happy compromise," according to his spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, who described it further as a "balancing of the interest of one who wishes to travel versus the interest of the state for accountability and justice."

"And we recognize that in order to balance it, we would provide [the doctors], so that there would be no claim that we are persecuting [Arroyo, now a representative of Pampanga]. We will provide at our own expense any physician that she would so appoint or … request," Lacierda said after Mr. Aquino's news conference, which was attended by De Lima and Health Secretary Enrique Ona.

Reading from a prepared statement, the President raised doubts on the real intentions of Arroyo to go abroad.

He said that while it was clear that Arroyo was ailing, specialists had also made clear that she did not need immediate treatment abroad.

He cited the statement of the Philippine Medical Association (PMA), an umbrella organization of practicing doctors nationwide, that hospitals in the country were capable of performing a bone biopsy that Arroyo wanted.

"And it is also clear that Ms. Arroyo is facing several cases, including electoral sabotage, a nonbailable offense," he added.

Permit from PRC

Arroyo, 66, is afflicted with cervical spondylosis, a degenerative condition of the cartilage and bones.

She underwent three surgeries between July and August to realign her spine. Later, she was also diagnosed as suffering from hypoparathyroidism.

The PMA governor, Dr. Leo Olarte, on Wednesday said Arroyo may also apply for a special permit from the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) to allow foreign physicians to treat her here.

By law, foreign medical practitioners cannot practice in the Philippines without a special permit from the PRC, which is mainly responsible for the implementation of regulatory policies on the regulation and licensing of various professions and occupations in the country.

"[She] can file a petition before the PRC and if the Board of Medicine is convinced, it will issue her doctor a special permit," Olarte said.

He said the issuance of a special permit was not rare. But to get one, a lawyer will have to prove that a foreign physician is indeed a specialist of a certain ailment and that such a physician cannot be found in the Philippines, he explained.

Earlier, Arroyo's camp said her treatment depended ultimately on a bone biopsy, which the family wanted her to undergo abroad.

But the PMA said there were many metabolic bone experts in the country who could competently treat any patient, including Arroyo.

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