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Rushed

As I write this, it seems that everything is over but the shouting. A warrant of arrest has been issued against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and unless Pasay Regional Trial Court Judge Jesus Mupas allows it, or maybe even the Supreme Court, she will no longer be able to seek medical treatment abroad for her bone condition (discovered after her operation), which apparently cannot be treated here for lack of local medical expertise.

What is my basis for the statement that there is no local medical expertise available? I heard it from St. Luke’s Hospital’s president Jose Ledesma during the 21st annual convention of the Association of Health Maintenance Organizations of the Philippines, where he was keynote speaker, and I was a plenary speaker.  So at least 200 other people (my estimate of the attendees) heard it too. After he made that statement during a Q&A period, I asked him in public when the condition was discovered, and he answered that it was discovered after the operation(s). I then pressed on and asked whether that meant that Arroyo really needs to seek the required treatment abroad—but he in effect clammed up, and said that it had become a political issue.

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It is unfortunate that when Arroyo claims that her condition is life-threatening, what is thrown back at her by the Department of Justice  are the certifications of her doctors (attending physician and surgeon) that she will recover from her operation within three to six months. Ergo, administration officials claim, there is no life-threatening situation.  Excuse me, recovering from an operation is not the same as facing a life-threatening (or a quality-of-life-threatening) condition.

But of course, all the above was really not the issue. The issue was whether, absent formal charges filed in court against her that would result in a warrant for her arrest or a hold departure order, she had the right to travel for whatever reason. And again of course, the answer to that has to be a resounding yes.

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In any case, the denial by the Supreme Court of the government’s motion for reconsideration on the TRO is to all intents and purposes moot and academic, given the formal charges filed against her.

Doing some Monday-morning quarterbacking, it is clear that the intransigence of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima was because she was desperately waiting for the Commission on Elections to do what she couldn’t do, which was to file charges of “electoral sabotage” against Arroyo, apparently based on the report of the Comelec lawyers who, jointly with the DOJ, conducted a fact-finding investigation and then a preliminary investigation. And the Comelec finally came through. As of this writing, Judge Mupas, to whom the case was raffled, has apparently issued a warrant of arrest against her.

“Electoral sabotage,” although introduced only in the election automation law of 2007, is a very serious charge, a capital crime, actually, because it carries with it a penalty of life imprisonment—and therefore non-bailable when evidence of guilt is strong. So, it is entirely possible that if arrested, the former president would go straight to detention, or at least be under hospital or house arrest. And presumably, there will be much celebration on President Aquino’s side of the fence, because it has been reported that the latter vowed that Arroyo would be in jail by the end of the year. (I must report though that while I have read accounts where members of the Arroyo camp claim that P-Noy made this vow, I have not found any quotes attributable to P-Noy, or news reports to the effect that he made this promise.)

What I find disturbing, however, is the rush by the Comelec to file charges, particularly since it is supposed to be an independent constitutional body, not a Malacañang lackey. Consider the following timeline:

On Aug. 15, 2011, in a five-page joint order signed by De Lima and Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes, the DOJ and the Comelec created the joint preliminary investigation committee and the joint fact-finding team regarding the allegations of electoral sabotage against Arroyo and others. I don’t know what that order contained, but on the face of it, creating the two bodies at the same time must carry with it the assumption that the fact-finding team was going to find facts that would lead to a preliminary investigation.

On Oct. 21, 2011, according to De Lima, the fact-finding team was to have submitted their report, forwarding it to the joint preliminary investigation committee. I was unable to secure a copy of the fact-finding team’s report, but from the news reports, it seemed to me that everything was hearsay, until Oct. 11, when former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr.’s chief aide, Norie Unas, revealed that he had overheard Arroyo ordering Ampatuan to deliver a 12-0 vote for the administration candidates in 2007. That was the only eyewitness account (and Ampatuan has just called Unas a liar and denied that the conversation took place).

On Nov. 14, or five days ago, the joint preliminary investigation committee completed its investigation.

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On Nov. 16, per the Comelec chair, he received a copy of the report of the Comelec lawyers involved in the investigation, and its recommendations. Note: Only two days elapsed between the time of completion of the investigation and the recommendations.

On Nov. 17, the Comelec en banc voted to file charges against Arroyo, with two commissioners refusing to sign because they had not read the report.

Does that sound rushed or not?

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