By Tarra Quismundo
MANILA, Philippines – Previously honored in state banquets and military salutes, a frail former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was formally booked Saturday in a police registry on charges of electoral fraud, becoming the second Philippine President to be detained on criminal allegations.
Still wearing her neck brace over a hospital gown, Arroyo was hypertensive, “frail-looking” and hooked to intravenous fluids when she underwent the standard detainee booking procedure Saturday afternoon, police said.
“We proceeded to the room of former President Arroyo. We took her photographs, portrait and profile (left and right side) for our mug book reference,” said Senior Superintendent Joel Coronel, chief of the Metro Manila regional Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.
Police also took Arroyo’s finger and palm prints and medical officers checked her condition to see if the Pampanga congressional representative indeed needed to remain detained at the hospital.
“The President will remain under guard and detention here… until such time the warrant will be returned to court and a compliance report shall be submitted to court. And it will be up to the court, again exercising its sound discretion, whether to order the continued confinement of President Arroyo here or transfer her to another detention facility,” Coronel told reporters.
Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, other relatives and friends surrounded the arrested former leader during the two-hour procedure, which started at 1:45 p.m. Saturday.
Contrary to earlier reports that the Arroyo family requested to supply her mug shots, Coronel said police photographers took the former President’s booking shots. He added that police was not aware of any such request.
As Arroyo was “not capacitated to hold anything” at the time of the booking, Coronel said police technicians held up her name plate, on which her name and case number were written.
Commenting on the Arroyo camp’s request to withhold her mug shot from the public, Coronel said police would submit to the court’s decision on the matter.
“I think the appropriate authority which will direct the release of such photographs will be the court, and we leave it up to the honorable court to release it or not,” said Coronel.
Mug shots of former President Joseph Estrada were publicly released when he was booked on plunder charges at the national police headquarters in Camp Crame in April 2001, just a few months after he was ousted.
Arroyo took his place and was later reelected in a controversial election, serving a total 10 stormy years in office until last June.
Arroyo lawyer Ferdinand Topacio appealed to the authorities and the media to keep the Pampanga representative’s mug shots away from public view, saying the photograph would be especially unflattering as “the former President is also a woman.”
“She’s not in her best appearance. Of course, women have their needs, men have their needs,” Topacio told reporters.
Coronel said they will file Arroyo’s booking records – mug shots, finger and palm prints – in court on Monday and said the judge handling the case would decide whether the pictures will be released or not.
He said Arroyo was given due respect as a former President throughout the procedure.
“We took consideration of her present medical condition… she was suffering from severe stress and hypertension last night [Friday, when the arrest warrant was served]. I was informed by our medical officers that she’s not feeling well and, for this reason, we gave her a small latitude, the courtesy and respect accorded to a former President,” Coronel said.
Senior Superintendent Herminigilda Salangad, a police doctor who checked Arroyo during Saturday’s booking procedure, noted that Arroyo was still weak and had elevated pressure that read 140/100 at the time.
“We saw her fragile-looking, suffering from hypertension, she’s on IV fluids and of course on neck braces. She’s slightly dehydrated, thin looking, she’s frail-looking, much thinner than how she looked before,” Salangad said.
Arroyo’s attending physician, Dr. Juliet Gopez-Cervantes, said her patient has been refusing to eat and was given antibiotics because of bacterial infection in her large intestine. She is expected to remain confined in the hospital for several more days or weeks.
She also noted some improvement in the condition of Arroyo’s cervical spine, which underwent operation earlier this year. Doctors are currently monitoring bone growth in her neck area.
Asked if Arroyo’s condition was life threatening, the doctor said: “As a doctor, when you say matter of life or death, there is multi-organ involvement, there is deterioration of the vital signs. That’s an urgent thing that is a matter of life or death. Probably, objectively speaking, if we are talking about that, she is not in that condition as of now.”
“However, we do not know what is in store for her. If this bone that is growing is not strong enough, that anytime it will collapse, if support will be removed, that will be a matter of life or death,” she said.
She added that there was “some risk” in allowing Arroyo to travel but that the former President could bear a flight given proper medical support.
Call me evil, but I don’t really buy the health condition excuse. I mean, given that she’s sick as hell… I don’t believe that she needs to go to another country just to get medical attention. There are a lot of very capable doctors and hospitals in the Philippines. We, Filipinos, are just used to giving people the benefit of the doubt, even bad people. May sakit sya so hindi sya mag-aattempt na tumakas. My gulay! Even Lacson has admitted to being able to hide from the police. And just because she’s in a wheel chair, she couldn’t and wouldn’t do it? Come on, she and her family and allies have led us on several times during her tenure. Do we honestly think that they are not capable of doing that?
Her camp has been making a lot of excuses and requests, which I believe should not be given and provided for. She does not have those privileges anymore. She has wronged a lot of people already; the whole country, in fact. It’s about time she pays her dues.