President to let Estrada go to US

By Juliet Labog-Javellana, Michael Lim Ubac and Philip C. Tubeza
Inquirer News Service

'For humanitarian reasons'

MALACAŅANG will not pose any objection to jailed ex-President Joseph Estrada's being allowed to seek medical treatment in the United States, according to one of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's most trusted aides.

Housing Secretary Michael Defensor, who acts as the President's emissary to Estrada, said that "for humanitarian reasons" the President would be amenable to Estrada's being allowed to undergo knee surgery in the US.

But since it will be the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court that will make the decision, the prosecution and defense teams should take the necessary steps to seek the permission of the court that is trying Estrada for plunder, Defensor said in a phone interview.

He suggested that the two panels should even now make the arrangements out of court to make a joint filing with the Sandiganbayan.

Defensor said the President will even agree to provide security escorts for Estrada "not only to ensure that he will come back but also to protect him."

Defensor is the second Palace official in as many days to indicate that the idea of allowing Estrada to leave for abroad was being considered.

Presidential chief of staff Rigoberto Tiglao told the Inquirer on Friday that he "personally" thought it might not be "a bad idea for unity in the country."

The President herself has said the decision would be up to the Sandiganbayan but that she herself believed that Estrada deserved "humane treatment."

Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo the other day accused Malacaņang of having offered to send Estrada for treatment to the US as part of the President's "reconciliation plan."

Ms Macapagal this week issued a call for "total reconciliation" with Estrada and other anti-government forces.

Estrada immediately denied that he had struck a deal with Malacaņang.


Reacting to Ocampo's charges, some senators Saturday said any offer made by the President would be illegal as it would mean an encroachment by the executive branch of government into the jurisdiction of the courts.

Administration Senator Francis Pangilinan said the President had no authority to even make such an offer.

"The efforts of President Macapagal in pursuing national reconciliation should never undermine nor compromise the independence of the courts and the prosecution service," he said.

Pangilinan said that pending cases such as the Estrada plunder case "should be disposed of and motions decided upon on the basis of existing law and jurisprudence and no other reason."

In separate interviews, opposition Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Senate President Franklin Drilon and administration Senator Manuel Villar advised Malacaņang to observe prudence in its moves to reconcile a highly divided country.

Drilon and Pimentel said the jailed ex-President can only go abroad if permitted by the Sandiganbayan.

"Because the case is pending, only the Sandiganbayan can make that ruling," said Drilon.


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