Palace Needs 2nd Opinion On GMA

MANILA, Philippines --- Refusing to take the word of the doctors of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo that she needs medical treatment abroad, Malacañang insisted that Arroyo's condition needed independent verification.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said yesterday Palace officials have yet to discuss who will do the verification.

Arroyo was brought to the Makati Medical Center (MMC) last Monday for further tests on a blockage in her neck caused by a displaced titanium implant in her spine.

Her physician, Dr. Roberto Anastacio, said she needs surgery to remove the risk.

Anastacio said there are competent doctors in the country to perform the procedure, but the facilities and equipment for it are found only in the United States and in Europe.

Valte disagreed. "We have physicians who are capable of performing the particular surgery that may be required so there are differences in medial opinion that have to be settled," she said.

When Health Secretary Enrique Ona assessed Arroyo's condition while she was still under hospital arrest he concluded that she can be treated in the country.

Valte also said she would not speculate on whether the court will agree with the recommendation of Arroyo's doctors.

"We have not received news of any moves by the camp of the former President to ask for travel authority," she said, noting that there is a hold departure order (HDO) against Arroyo.

"Let us just wait until they actually have a definitive move to ask for travel authority," she said.

Valte downplayed speculations that the government has a weak electoral sabotage case against Arroyo as shown by the granting of bail to her co-accused, former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Benjur Abalos Sr.

"It's only a petition for bail. The decision to grant bail is not a judgment on the merit," Valte said.

Gabriela partylist Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan and Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello agreed with Malacañang that every possible medical option should be exhausted here in the country before allowing Arroyo to be treated abroad.

"Her doctor has that opinion. But, like a medical situation, we should also a second opinion and other specialists are saying that the operation can be done here in the Philippines. If there should be complications, these can occur here or abroad," Ilagan said.

"I listened to an official of the Philippine Surgeons Society who said GMA (Arroyo's initial) does not have to go abroad. The trouble with GMA is that for a supposedly sick person, she travels a lot, then rushes to the hospital when she experiences problems she's stubborn," Ilagan said.

Bello said the Health secretary should be the one to determine if there is really a need for Arroyo to be treated abroad.

"I think the facilities and expertise to treat her are in the Philippines. But I will defer to the opinion of the Secretary of Health in this matter," he said.

Ilagan said the Health chief would be the best judge but added: "The DoH Secretary is just one opinion. Specialists and their collective opinions are the final say."

Youth against Corruption and Poverty (YACAP) party-list Rep. Carol Lopez, said "we cannot be so harsh and inhumane as to deny her the right to seek the proper medical treatment, so long as they secure court approval after establishing the absolute necessity for the said treatment."

Batangas Rep. Hermilando Mandanas urged the Aquino government and the court to allow Arroyo to be treated abroad.

"Same was allowed by Marcos when Ninoy Aquino needed medical attention in the US," Mandanas said.

Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas, chairman of the House committee on public accountability and good government, said he would rally behind the House leadership's decision on the issue.

"I will support whatever the Speaker will decide to do on the matter," he said.

This week the House opposition bloc will file the resolution urging the Executive and the Judiciary to grant Arroyo permission to leave the country.