As Speaker gives former President 45-day travel pass to US, 3 nations for treatment
MANILA – Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, husband Jose Miguel Arroyo, former Chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. of the Commission on Elections and 40 others have been summoned by the Department of Justice to appear next month at the opening of the preliminary investigation on election sabotage and violation of the Omnibus Election Code cases filed against them in connection with the alleged cheating in the 2004 and 2007 elections.
Mrs. Arroyo, now a congresswoman representing the second district of Pampanga, and her husband, may, however, skip the hearing as she and the former First Gentleman have been allowed by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. to travel and seek medical treatment abroad, particularly in the United States. The former president had three operations on cervical spine at St. Lukes Medical Center but now was found to be suffering from another rare disease which required medical experts abroad.
The St. Lukes Medical Center doctors said Mrs. Arroyo still needs to take medications for her bone mineral disorder.
Also, Mrs. Arroyo’s lawyer, Raul Lambino, said there was no need for her to attend the hearing, but they will submit their counter-affidavit on or before Nov. 3, the opening of the investigation. The Arroyos, through Lambino, earlier denied the charges filed against them.
A joint DoJ-Comelec investigating team composed of Comelec law department head Ferdinand Rafanan, Comelec lawyer Michael Villaret, Laguna Provincial Prosecutor George Dee, and Pasig City Prosecutor Jacinto Ang had issued the summons for its preliminary investigation.
A key ally of President Aquino said the former President cannot be compelled to attend the preliminary investigation on electoral sabotage cases against her.
“Gloria Macapagal Arroyo need not personally appear at the Department of Justice (DOJ) preliminary investigation hearing as she can just send her lawyers. She cannot be forced to personally appear,” said House od Representatives Justice Committee Chairman Niel Tupas.
Belmonte issued travel authority for Mrs. Arroyo, accompanied by her husband, an aide and a private nurse, for 45 days from October 22 to December 5 in lieu of an earlier approved travel (September 18 to October 11). The first couple, however, could not leave yet as Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has yet to issue the Allowed Departure Order (ADO).
Malacanang and Congress leaders, including Sen. Panfilo Lacson, have earlier said they were in favor of allowing Mrs. Arroyo to seek treatment abroad, but she has to make sure that she will be back to face the charges filed against her. Aside from the poll sabotage and poll law violations, Mrs. Arroyo is also facing plunder charges.
Others opposed her travel abroad, saying this could be a start of her escape.
At press time, Secretary de Lima said she could not issue the ADO without the recommendation of the Office of the Chief State Counsel or the DoJ’s legal staff, which processes the ADO.
De Lima remained confident that even if Mrs. Arroyo leaves the country, the former President will be represented by her legal counsels during the clarificatory hearings set to start on November 3.
Speaker Belmonte approved the travel passes for Congresswoman Arroyo to the United States, Germany, Spain, Singapore and Italy, where Mrs. Arroyo is supposed to seek medical opinions on her current condition.
Belmonte also allowed the former president to travel with former First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, an aide-de-camp, and a private nurse.
Others summoned by DoJ to the initial hearing were former Comelec commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer, former Justice secretary Alberto Agra, former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., former regional election director for Soccksargen Michael Abas, Colonel Reuben Basiao, former ISAFP director for Soccsksargen, ISAFP Major Joey Leaban, lawyer Jaime Paz, chief of staff of Abalos, Romy Dayday (PSG) and Jeremy Javier (ISAFP).
Also summoned were Jeehan Nur, Alice Lim, Norijean Hangkal, Christina Dalope and Maceda Abo, Estelita Orbase, Elisa Gasmin, Elsa Atinen, Saliao Amba, Magsaysay Mohamad, Asuncion Reniedo, Nena Alid, Ma. Susan Albano, Rohaida Khalid, Araw Cao, Salonga Edzela, Ragah Ayunan, Susan Cabanban, Russam Mabang.