By INA ALLECOR. SILVERIO
MANILA – Members of the Makabayan bloc of progressive party-list groups in the House of Representatives are circulating a draft resolution against special treatment for ex-president and Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Arroyo has been charged with electoral sabotage and the police and judicial authorities are currently in a quandary as to where the official should be detained.
Arroyo’s legal counsels are pushing for house arrest, but progressive lawmakers have reacted strongly against the very suggestion. They said allowing the ex-president to be placed under house arrest smacked of “special treatment.”
Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño said Arroyo and her lawyers are deceiving the people and the court on her true state of health.
“She’s as healthy as a horse and should be immediately put behind bars in a regular jail. A house arrest at this time is unjust and constitutes special treatment. What the court should do is to remove her from St. Luke’s Hospital and bring her to jail first and from her cell, she can argue her petition for house arrest,” said the progressive solon.
To counter the move of Arroyo’s counsels, the Makabayan bloc in Congress, comprised of Casiño, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano, Gabriela Women’s Party Representatives Luz Ilagan and Emmi de Jesus, Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino and ACT Teachers’ Partylist Rep. Antonio Tinio are circulating a draft House resolution urging the Department of Justice and the courts to refrain from rendering special treatment to accused Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The resolution will be filed on Monday, November 28.
Special treatment already evident
Macapagal Arroyo was arrested on November 18, 2011 for electoral sabotage, allegedly engineering the sweep of administration senatorial candidates in Maguindanao in 2007. Despite the lack of an official order from the court, the arresting team from the Philippine National Police (PNP) did not bring her to a regular detention facility and instead allowed her to be confined under guard in her expensive hospital suite at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Taguig City.
The Pasay City Regional Trial Court Branch 112 court later on agreed to Mrs. Arroyo’s temporary hospital arrest “due to her health condition” without examining its veracity from either her private doctors or independent government doctors. The said court granted such request even as it said that it “will still look at the merits of her lawyer’s petition to put her under hospital arrest” and would issue a court order if the government has no objection.
In the meantime, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima announced, even before she received the petition calling for house arrest as the option of detention for Arroyo, that government prosecutors would not object and are amenable to said hospital arrest.
“In contrast to Mrs. Arroyo, of the 360 documented political prisoners, 28 are suffering from different ailments and 11 are elderly but they are hardly allowed to get proper medical attention and treatment. A peasant leader, Crisanto Fat, recently passed away in a provincial jail due to heart enlargement. Human rights groups have been calling for his release because of his health condition but to no avail,” the Makabayan bloc members said.
The lawmakers also decried how the mug shots of the ex-president, which were taken by the Criminal Investigation and Detention Group remain inaccessible, despite its being a public document of national interest. This, they said, was in stark contrast to those of former president Joseph Estrada’s, which were published when he was arrested in 2001 for plunder charges.
“The mug shot forms part of the arrest of a suspected criminal and is not a private matter. These forms of accommodation, so early in the process of the case, constitute the special treatment being given to Mrs. Arroyo and are unacceptable for they only show how the powerful and the rich continue to be given preferential treatment despite the terrible crimes they are accused of. It casts a negative impression on the country’s justice system, akin to the wang-wang mentality the President so often refers to when talking about the abuses of the previous administration,” they said.
Bayan Muna’s Casiño said the treatment being accorded Arroyo should showcase the principles of equality, justice and fairness under the law.
“These are the same principles that many aggrieved Filipinos expect to be applied to someone who is charged of such serious crimes as electoral sabotage, plunder and massive human rights violations. Just like any other person charged with a capital offense, Mrs. Arroyo should be jailed in a regular detention cell while her case is being heard,” he said.
Charge Arroyo for crimes against women
In a meantime, a newly-formed alliance against violence against women called on President Benigno Aquino III to order the Department of Justice (DOJ) to file charges against Arroyo concerning cases of extrajudicial killings and violence against women.
Advocates of women and children’s rights gathered at the St. Scholastica’s College in Manila launched Mariposa, a network working for the elimination of violence against women and children (VAWC). It said the Aquino government should file cases against Arroyo on issues of VAWC and human rights.
“The Aquino administration should go after Arroyo on issues of life and human rights violations and abuses,’ said Veronica Beranquit, officer-in-charge of the Institute for the Leadership and Advancement of Women, Inc. (ILAW), one of the major convenors of Mariposa.
Beranquit also pointed out that Aquino has to do more in terms of eliminating or even just lessening acts of violence against women.
“During his term, nothing significant has changed in terms of VAWC. Data from the Center for Women Resources (CWR) and its news monitoring reveal that violence against women increased by 12,072 or 75 percent from 2009-2010, which means that in every 43 minutes one woman is being victimized,” she said.
The new network also cited another study showing that every day 19 women are subjected to battery and two others are raped It also said that one to two children experience violence every hour; every day, six to seven children are battered; nine are raped. Almost 25 percent of women aged 15-19 also reportedly experience physical or sexual harassment.
In 2009, the Women and Children Protection Center of the Philippine National Police reported 1,072 victims of rape and 19 of these are incest victims. On 2010, they recorded 3,500 victims of rape, wherein 144 of these are incest victim.
Finally, the Mariposa alliance announced that they will stage a “Butterfly Festival” on February 2, 2012 coinciding with the 8th anniversary of the Senate ratification of the VAWC Act of 2004. The network will attempt to create a Guinness World Record as it attempts to release the most number of butterflies in an event that aims to amplify the campaign for the elimination of VAWC in the Philippines and the rest of the world.