Gloria Arroyo: Killing her softly

Gary Olivar
A close look at the plight of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who celebrates her 67th birthday this Saturday, April 5

To get to the present involuntary residence of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a former president of the Republic of the Philippines, you turn right from the main gate of the Veterans medical center in QC and follow a long road that circles to the back of the sprawling compound. It takes you through several well-manicured golf fairways, past the tidy bungalow quarters of the hospital’s senior executives, until you come to a nondescript little road pressed up against the edge of the golf driving range.

Turn left at that corner, past a couple of roadblocks, to a small parking lot, then you walk past a makeshift tent where PNP soldiers may be watching TV, up to a very long hospital wing that always seems to be deserted. Sign in at a reception desk, manned by uniformed armed guards who are friendly but reserved, always on the alert. Your name should already be in the logbook, based on the clearance from Camp Crame you should have requested at least two days earlier. It’s evident that the administration is taking no chances with this dangerous grandmother of 6.

Mrs Arroyo’s quarters comprise a receiving/dining room, her bedroom, a small toilet, kitchen, pantry, and bed space for her staff. It is brightly lit and air-conditioned, and she has made it as homey as possible, with family pictures everywhere and a small altar to the Blessed Virgin in a corner. And yet – knowing that she’s only allowed one hour a day to take in the sunshine outside – you can feel how confining the space really is. This is where she’s spent the last 4 years, and most likely the next 2 years as well, in this the golden age of daang matuwid, of Benigno S. Aquino III (B.S.).

If you remember Mrs Arroyo from her years at the Palace – bright-eyed, alert, smart as a whip, exuding poise and self-confidence – you may be in for a shock when you see her again. She’s lost a lot of weight and is now down to less than 80 pounds, in part because the metal plate at the back of her neck can block her eating as well as breathing “tubes”. She moves her head only with difficulty. I’ve seen her nearly choke on her food at times, and heard her cry out whenever the stress on her spine causes deferred pain elsewhere in her body. Hearing those involuntary cries from such an indomitable lady is a painful experience too.

But the key word is “indomitable”. For all her present suffering, Mrs Arroyo retains her usually high spirits, her curiosity about what’s going on outside, her endless attention to the smallest details – from how her lawyers are defending her, to how the dining table has been set. She is hooked on movie DVDs, revels in the latest gossip about local entertainment celebrities, and dotes on her grandchildren – something she never had time for as president. She is now writing her memoirs, and those involved with her on this project can vouch that she is still no less a slave-driver than when she was running the country.

The other way to describe her is as a “woman of faith.” It goes beyond her convent-school upbringing and the habits she learned there, such as daily Mass (a privilege recently denied her by this administration, around  the same time they were bribing legislators to pass the RH bill). She once confided to visitors her belief that her current travails are simply an early entry into purgatory, which then means she’ll have to spend less time in purgatory when the real version comes around. If it’s true that B.S. has been saying that he wishes she would just die and go away, I’m afraid that he’s likely to be disappointed. Dead or alive, she’ll be around to haunt him for as long as he deserves.

The history of  Mrs Arroyo’s persecution is a depressing litany of institutions being corrupted by a non-entity of a president. These days he’s swinging away at the Sandiganbayan, specifically the 3 out of 5 justices who earlier turned down bail for Mrs Arroyo, and then denied her even a short 4-day birthday furlough. (Editor’s Note: The court on Wednesday, April 2, granted the family’s request to spend 3 days with her, from April 4-6, to celebrate her 67th birthday.) 

If a Supreme Court TRO can be openly defied, if congressmen and senators are brazenly bribed with billions of pesos, for the sake of one man’s vindictive agenda – what do you think he will stop at, just to get his way again with the Sandiganbayan justices? Where might they be persuaded to draw the line against his importunings and his bullying?

Indeed, the story of how B.S. clawed his way out of well-earned obscurity into the presidential limelight – on the strength of nothing more than misappropriated goodwill, misappropriated achievements, and misappropriated funds – ought to remind us of the damage that can be done to a credulous public by cynical politicians of the yellow variety. For once, we should heed the advice of B.S. who recently asked us – with absolutely no irony intended – not to elect an “ampaw” president in 2016.

But the elections are still two long years away. In the meantime, a former president languishes behind bars, in danger of being forgotten by people who still believe the worst things about her despite a mounting mountain of legal evidence to the contrary.* What we do with those beliefs in the face of such evidence will be a litmus test of whether or not we have earned the right to be led by better people –from the executive, to the legislative, to the judiciary – in the future. –


Gary Olivar earned graduate degrees from UP and Harvard and went on to a career in banking and telecoms in the Philippines and abroad. He served as the economic spokesperson of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

*Readers interested in discussing that mountain of legal evidence in any of her cases can email the author at

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