MANILA, Philippines – The daily cost of detaining former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the government-run Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) is enough to feed about 21 Filipinos per day.
This is based on the lowest rate for a regular solo room at VMMC (P700), and the minimum P32 a day that a Filipino needs (according to data from the National Statistical Coordination Board) to buy nutritious food.
Given these conservative estimates, the Philippine government is likely to have spent P44,800 so far to keep Arroyo in VMMC since December 9, 2011. This excludes the security needs, among other things, of the former president.
The most expensive solo room at VMMC, based on a phone inquiry, costs P1,200. Going by this rate, the daily cost of Arroyo’s VMMC detention can feed at most 37 Filipinos a day.
Arrested for electoral sabotage, Arroyo is detained in a 150-square-meter presidential suite, which the VMMC earlier said Arroyo could use for free. The hospital, however, said it would include utilities and other miscellaneous fees in Arroyo’s bills, which the government has said, it would shoulder.
On Thursday, February 9, Judge Jesus Mupas of the Pasay Regional Trial Court (RTC) extended Arroyo’s stay at the VMMC, citing her need for close medical supervision. The court, however, required Arroyo’s camp to submit a monthly report on her medical condition and the costs she has incurred.
Malacañang itself on Friday, February 10, did not raise a howl at the Pasay RTC’s decision to keep Arroyo in the hospital.
“We respect the decision of Judge Mupas for the continued stay of CGMA (Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) in the hospital, having relied on the medical opinion of her attending physician and with due accord to her position as former president,” presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.
Arroyo’s hospital detention has been the subject of 2 recent hearings on Arroyo’s case at the Pasay RTC. Earlier, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) filed a motion to transfer her to a regular jail.
At the Pasay RTC hearing on February 3, orthopedic surgeon Dr Antonio Sison, who attends to Arroyo, testified that Arroyo could be treated as an outpatient despite her physical therapy needs.
Initially, Sison claimed it is “better” to keep her in a regular hospital due to her daily physical therapy requirements, which include heat therapy and electrical stimulation.
Upon questioning by the prosecution, however, Sison said portable machines are available for Arroyo’s physical therapy for what is, in layman’s terms, osteoarthritis.
In an interview with reporters after the hearing, however, Sison said Arroyo still has “different medical conditions,” making her case more complicated than other people think. He did not give specifics.
He also cited difficulties, in terms of security, in transporting her to the hospital for daily treatment.
‘Among the select few’
For his part, Arroyo’s lawyer Benjamin Santos said Arroyo is entitled to special privileges – even in detention – due to her stature as a former president and a “visible national symbol” associated with the presidency, according to a report in The Philippine Star.
“As the case of former President Joseph Estrada clearly shows, the house arrest or separate and alternative preventive detention of a former chief executive is well justified and in full accordance with the equal protection constitutional guarantee,” Santos said in a supplemental comment on the Comelec motion to move her to a regular jail.
“Former President Arroyo thus belongs to a unique class, and the accused is among the select few,” the same supplemental comment says.
In a phone interview with Rappler, lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, legal spokesperson of former First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, said “it’s better to err on the side of caution” on the former president’s hospital detention.
“Even Malacañang has no objection,” he pointed out.
Topacio added that the government should not complain about the costs of Arroyo’s hospital arrest. “She was already in St Luke’s where she was paying her hospital bills. It was the idea of government to put her in a (public) hospital,” he said.
“If they’re having a hard time,” Topacio said in a mix of English and Filipino, “we can pay the bills.” – Rappler.com