POSTSCRIPT / November 6, 2011 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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PNoy dictates which doctor a patient sees?

DILEMMA: On whether or not Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo should be allowed to go abroad for medical treatment, President Noynoy Aquino seems to be having a hard time maneuvering between the dictates of his Christian upbringing and the demands of his partisan circle.

With Ms Arroyo badgering him for an exit permit, the captain of the ship of state finds himself navigating, as it were, between Scylla and Charybdis, between the shoals near the craggy shore and the turbulence of a maelstrom not far off at sea.

But the President need not place himself on the horns of a dilemma. At the same time, former President Arroyo need not make a big case of her having to go abroad for treatment/surgery on her critically damaged spine.

The medical case has been blown out of proportion by the animosity fueling many political decisions involving key opposition figures and the desperation of harassment victims.

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RIGHT TO TRAVEL: Going abroad in full view of everybody by any citizen who has the means to travel and on whom there is no valid legal hold should proceed as a matter of right.

How come the President and his justice secretary now wield the power to decide who can travel and who cannot? Has the Executive taken over the Judiciary?

When Sen. Panfilo Lacson went abroad not too long ago reportedly on a falsified passport to avoid being served a warrant of arrest, how come President Aquino did not raise a fuss? Because Lacson is his ally while Arroyo is his most despised political foe?

And where does it say in the law that the President and his Justice Secretary have the extraordinary power to dictate which doctor a suffering patient may see?

In the Arroyo case, there is no clear showing that barring her departure is “necessary in the interest of national security, public safety, or public health.”

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MERE SUSPICION: To justify this uneven treatment of high-profile travelers, Malacañang and its mouthpieces imbedded in media warn that there is a likelihood that, if allowed to depart, Ms Arroyo would stay out of the country beyond the reach of legal processes.

But while flight is possible among Filipinos who might be charged after departure, that possibility remains pure speculation. We cannot forbid departures on the basis alone of that possibility or the imagined intention of travelers.

It has been pointed out also that because Ms Arroyo had lied before, she cannot be believed when she now vows to return to face charges that may be filed. If that were a valid basis, 99.99 percent of politicians would not qualify for foreign travel.

This calls to mind the parallel plight of travelers who are arbitrarily held at the airport on the basis alone of their appearance (they look like they are not rich enough to travel) or they simply cannot satisfy the curiosity of immigration officers.

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COMPROMISE: I have some suggestions, if the parties do not mind:

1. Malacañang should work it out that the filing of formal charges against Ms Arroyo is expedited so the proper court can issue a valid warrant plus a hold order.

2. Ms Arroyo may agree to manifest in writing that her husband Mike will not travel or depart with her and will stay home until she returns. This is an odd, maybe unfair, arrangement, but it might work as a compromise with Malacañang.

(No offense meant, but Mike Arroyo had been an albatross around her neck when she was president. She might find it wise to unburden herself of him, even if only for a short time while she looks abroad for a cure for her life-threatening condition.)

3. Health Secretary Enrique Ona may want to keep a professional distance from the case, knowing as he does as a doctor the clinical ups-and-downs of patients suffering from life-threatening diseases.

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HARASSMENT?: Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, I am sure, is taking steps to prevent the chamber’s inquiry into business deals of giant conglomerates from becoming tools for harassment.

This is our reply to friends and readers who express fears that Senate inquiries, especially those of the Blue Ribbon Committee, could be exploited and used for shakedowns.

Some of the probes are led by Sen. Sergio Osmena III, a known ally of the Lopez clan that used to control the blue chip Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) and other big businesses that suffered setbacks starting with the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

Osmeña is asking who is behind businessman and former trade minister Roberto V. Ongpin in his major business deals. The senator is scrutinizing the 2008 purchase of Petron and Ongpin’s purchase and sale in 2009 of shares in mining company Philex.

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ONGPIN SIDE: Ongpin said all his transactions and dealings with the banks have been aboveboard. He challenged those accusing him of wrongdoing to present evidence and not engage in media hysterics.

In 2008, the government sold 40 percent of Petron to Sea Refinery, a vehicle owned by a fund managed by the UK-based Ashmore Group. The Development Bank of the Philippines helped fund the deal, which explains why its former president, Reynaldo David, was dragged into the case.

Osmeña said Ashmore is a fund manager but does not necessarily own the funds used. “They’re pretty successful, but they allow anybody to come in and form an independent company,” he said.

“I wouldn’t know,” David replied. “We did due diligence on Ashmore and we asked them to come over, we sat down with them, we did due diligence on them and they passed the test that they were a legitimate buyer. We asked them if they were doing it for someone else, they said no, they were doing it for Ashmore as a fund.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 6, 2011)

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