Diplomats alerted Palace about GMA asylum bid

Rappler.com
Now that Mrs Arroyo is under hospital arrest, advocacy writer John Silva has decided to reveal his secret

MANILA, Philippines – Now it can be told. Diplomatic sources indirectly passed on to the Aquino administration information that former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was seeking political asylum in the Dominican Republic late last year.

A friend of advocacy writer John L Silva told him, “Do what you must with it…,” knowing full well Silva’s advocacies on good governance. The diplomat was sympathetic because he believed the former president should not leave the country.

In a memo to Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad sent Nov 6, 2011 and which he has finally released to advocacy groups, Silva warned the Aquino administration about plans of the former president to flee. At the time, she was being investigated by the justice department for alleged electoral sabotage in 2007.

According to Silva’s memo, Hans Dannenberg Castellanos, Dominican Republic envoy to India, invited diplomatic friends for dinner at the Museum Café in Makati on Oct 25, 2011.

During that dinner he told 3 people that he was using the car of the former president, was in possession of her passport, and had been informed of her desire to apply for political asylum.

Castellanos had “conflicted feelings about the request,” Silva told Abad.

Gratitude towards the president

The 3 people whom Dannenberg shared the sensitive information with that night included someone working at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) then, a Costa Rican who works for the World Bank, and a Filipino. Their names were not disclosed.

Silva said in his memo, “I relayed the information to Mr Tony Cojuangco who suggested that he would secure a meeting with DFA Secretary [Albert] Rosario to confirm his story.” (Silva and Cojuangco, a cousin of President Benigno Aquino III, had worked together in the past, when Cojuangco funded the National Museum which Silva helped manage.)

Silva continued, “I sent back the response the following day through my ADB friend but by that time, the Ambassador was not interested in having a meeting. He cited his gratitude towards the former president.”

Earlier investigations by Move.PH at the time established close relationships between the New Delhi-based ambassador and Arroyo. He is also the Dominican Republic’s representative to the Philippines. (Rappler was not yet launched then.)

In previous visits to the country, Mrs Arroyo organized a luncheon for him in June 2011 with businessmen and investors after Arroyo had returned from a visit to the Dominican Republic in May 2011. On his Facebook page, the envoy also posted photos of him with Arroyo taken in her La Vista residence in Quezon City. That page has since become private.

FAMILY. Former President Gloria Arroyo poses with the family of the Dominican Republic envoy. Photo was posted on his Facebook page in 2011.

The information from Dannenberg about Arroyo’s seeking political asylum was shared and confirmed thrice with Silva by both the ADB diplomat and the Filipino. No confirmation was obtained from his World Bank friend who had already returned to India where he is posted.

The Arroyo camp had dismissed allegations that the former president was seeking asylum.

End corruption

Silva told Abad, “I took their revelation seriously and felt they entrusted this information to pass on and add to the weighing decision on President Aquino and the Justice Department’s on allowing the former president to leave the country.”

In our story as Move.PH on our Facebook wall, we found out that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima was warned too about Arroyo’s plans as early as the first week of November 2011. “The Arroyos may be shielding their actual intention to flee from the cases. They are resorting to other remedies for cover-up,” De Lima was quoted as saying at the time.

She was secretive about what she knew, only telling reporters that the government was verifying reports about the asylum status Arroyo was seeking.

In his memo to Abad, Silva wrote, “Like many others, I am looking at President Aquino to finally end corrupt practices and get on with the country’s improvement. It is therefore in my (our) interest to help him by sharing this information because the country’s improvement rests on its ability to mete justice.”

Good intentions

Silva’s source from the ADB had been assigned to the Philippines for over 5 years, loves it and “felt the revelation was his way of helping the country.”

Silva wrote, “The Filipino friend confirms the conversation as well with the same feelings. I have known both for five years and they have no axe to grind.”

Knowing the integrity and forthrightness of his sources, Silva said he was convinced that the Ambassador’s remarks were true. “I would urge President Aquino not to allow the former president to leave the country.”

Arroyo is now under hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center, following a dramatic attempt to leave the country.

What happened before

The Supreme Court, voting 8-5 on November 15, issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) that originally paved the way for her departure from the country. This was after the Department of Justice issued a watch list order.

Corona, who was among those who voted in Arroyo’s favor, arrived 5 days before the voting from a vacation in the US. This was cited by the prosecution in its impeachment complaint against Corona.

Arroyo, the incumbent representative of the second district of Pampanga, sought an “allowed departure order” from the justice department to allow her to consult specialists on metabolic bone diseases in the US, Singapore, German, Italy, Spain, and Austria. She underwent spine surgery thrice in 2011.

But De Lima cited “discrepancies” in the former president’s claims about her planned departure. Arroyo changed her travel itinerary several times, according to De Lima. She also included in her plan her intention to attend forums in New York and Switzerland.

The TRO issued by the DOJ was, however, trounced and rendered moot and academic by an arrest warrant issued by a Pasay regional trial court.

Now that the former president is kept under hospital arrest, following no objections from Malacañang, Silva felt it was time to let out his long-kept secret. – Rappler.com