House panel endorses Arroyo house arrest

Angela Casauay
House panel endorses Arroyo house arrest
Iloilo Representative Niel Tupas Jr, chair of the House justice committee, says the anti-graft court will have the final say on the former president's house arrest petition

MANILA, Philippines – Voting 8-1, the committee on justice of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, May 19, approved the resolution endorsing the house arrest for former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo based on humanitarian grounds. 

Iloilo 5th District Representative Niel Tupas Jr, chair of the committee, was quick to stress that the resolution is non-binding and the final say on Arroyo’s house arrest petition still rests with the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan. 

“The resolution will still pass through the plenary but I think the sense of the plenary is to approved the resolution passed by the committee on justice, Tupas said. 

Arroyo, the incumbent representative of the 2nd district of Pampanga, is currently detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center over a P366-million plunder charge. She is suffering from “multiple cervical spondylosis” or the wearing off of the bones. 

She filed a petition for house arrest before the Sandiganbayan in April, arguing that the option is allowed under the law.

The congressmen and congresswomen who voted to adopt the resolution were:

  • Nicasio Aliping, Baguio City 
  • Rodolfo Fariñas, 1st district, Ilocos Norte
  • Ma. Victoria Sy-Alvarado, 1st district, Bulacan
  • Evelina Escudero, 1st district, Sorsogon
  • Andres Salvacion Jr, 3rd district, Leyte
  • Silvestre Bello III, 1-BAP 
  • Maximo Rodriguez Jr, ABAMIN 
  • Samuel Pagdilao, ACT-CIS 

Akbayan Representative Ibarra Gutierrez voted against the motion, saying that a house arrest for Arroyo would be a special privilege since she has the “resources, power, and people to represent [her] case.”

In a statement, Gutierrez said: “No one should be too big, even a former President, to escape accountability and the rule of law. That’s how we prevent impunity, and that’s how justice works.” 

He pointed out that Arroyo is “well-cared for” at the government hospital where she is detained” and “all her rights as a defendant were not the least bit curtailed,” so a house arrest in unnecessary.

According to representatives of the Philippine National Police who faced the committee, the former president, while in detention, is allowed to:

  • hear masses in her hospital suite 
  • get updates on current affairs
  • have at least one hour of sun exposure every morning
  • be visited by relatives and friends every day, except Mondays

Special treatment

Gutierrez said “thousands of ordinary detainees, even those with health condition and are in their old age, are living in hot and cramped box-like cells with very bare necessities.” 

To give Arroyo special treatment, he said, “we are essentially sending out a very bleak message to the public of a skewed sense of justice.”

The committee was voting on two measures. Bello’s House Resolution 1908 eeks to place Arroyo on house arrest, citing humanitarian and medical reasons, while Rodriguez’s House Bill 5686 seeks to declare Arroyo’s house in La Vista subdivision in Quezon City as a “state-run jail facility.” 

During Arroyo’s presidency, Bello was secretary to the Cabinet, while Rodriguez was head of the immigration bureau.

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