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Doctors’ honesty prevails over legal antics

/ 04:07 AM November 28, 2011

Several days ago, this column asked if former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was faking her illness so that she would be allowed to leave the country purportedly to seek medical treatment for her condition abroad. Before the weekend, the answer came from Arroyo’s doctors themselves testifying before the Pasay Regional Trial Court: No, she is not that sick, and yes, her lawyers and spokesmen are faking it. In fact, GMA (Arroyo) is fit to leave St. Luke’s Medical Center anytime, according to Dr. Mario Ver, her orthopedic surgeon.

GMA’s lawyers tried to prevent the doctors from testifying on her medical condition, but the judge wanted to hear the truth. The lawyers had earlier prevented her doctors from revealing her true state of health, even as they filed a motion with the RTC that she should remain under hospital arrest as her condition remains unstable.

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After the doctor’s testimony, however, they were forced to change their tack. They withdrew their earlier motion for a hospital arrest and asked the court to allow her to be placed under house arrest, instead of confining her in a detention cell.

In the end, the integrity of the doctors prevailed over the legal maneuverings of the lawyers. The doctors would do everything within their power to bring her back to health; the lawyers would do whatever it takes to keep her out of jail.

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The issue before the court now is where to detain her: in a detention cell like everybody else accused of a crime, or in her house, meaning she can live almost normally while her case is being tried except that she cannot leave her house.

Malacañang has said that it would not object to a house arrest, in deference to her stature as a former president and to her medical condition. But angry militant groups insist she should be confined in a detention cell (a cell has already been prepared for her) just like former President Joseph Estrada was.

After he was deposed as president and GMA replaced him in Malacañang, Erap (Estrada) was confined in various cells—in Camp Crame, in a military camp in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City, and in another military camp in Tanay, Rizal, before he was finally allowed, at his request, to stay at his vacation house in Tanay, right next to the military camp. GMA finally pardoned him after being imprisoned for six-and-a-half years.

Then and now, the Supreme Court has been very accommodating to GMA. When she deposed Erap, the Supreme Court then headed by Chief Justice Hilario Davide, in a decision penned by Justice Reynato Puno (whom GMA appointed chief justice to succeed Davide), said that Erap had “constructively resigned” as president, thereby creating a vacancy which Vice President GMA then occupied.

The concept of “constructive resignation” is an invention of the high court. It means that an official is “deemed” to have resigned although there is no resignation, written or oral, at all. In the case of Erap, it was necessary that he be declared “resigned” because none of the conditions for replacing the president enumerated in the Constitution had been fulfilled.

Erap’s “resignation” was interpreted from a diary which was never presented to the Court or to the Senate which tried the aborted impeachment case against Erap. Yet it was used as an excuse to depose a president who was elected with the biggest majority in the history of the Philippines.

Now militant groups say GMA should be treated as she treated Erap when she was in power. That is justice, they say.

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But there is bad news for the Aquino administration on the electoral sabotage case against GMA, for which the Pasay RTC issued a warrant for her arrest and prevented her from escaping. A former Ateneo law professor, Alan Paguia, said that the Electoral Sabotage Law is “unconstitutional.” Here’s why:

Paguia says that (1) the law violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution “due to unreasonable classification,” and (2) it encroaches on the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan.

The Electoral Sabotage Law enumerates the acts and persons who may be guilty thereof: Any member of the board of election inspectors (BEI) or board of canvassers (BOC) who tampers, increases or decreases the votes received by a candidate or those who conspire or connive with them.

The first two acts that constitute electoral sabotage are:

“1. Tampering, increasing or decreasing the votes received by a candidate in any election, and such acts are perpetrated on a large scale or in substantial numbers.

“2. Refusal by any member of the BEI or BOC, after proper verification and hearing, to credit the correct votes or deduct such tampered votes, and such act perpetrated on a large scale or in substantial numbers.” There are seven other acts in the enumeration (Acts 3 to 9).

Paguia says that the first two acts do not constitute electoral sabotage as they do not fall under any of the instances under acts 3 to 9.

“The law expressly provides that the ordinary election offense shall constitute Electoral Sabotage only under the latter instances (Sec. 42, RA 9369),” he said. “The law appears tainted with unreasonable classification.”

On jurisdiction, Paguia says that under the Constitution, the Sandiganbayan, not the RTC, has jurisdiction over electoral sabotage cases. Although the Omnibus Election Code provides that the RTC shall have original jurisdiction over electoral sabotage cases, the Legislature cannot vest jurisdiction over electoral sabotage on the RTC. “The exercise of ordinary legislative authority,” Paguia says, “is not a valid mode of amending the Constitution.”

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TAGS: Arroyo Health, Arroyo Travel, Constitution, DOJ Circular 41, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, judiciary, justice, Supreme Court
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