President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo - Image Source: allvoices.com
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo – Image Source: allvoices.com

A Manila Bulletin photo showing former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo being hugged by former Vice President Noli de Castro gives credence to reports about the pitiful condition of the once most powerful official of the Philippines.

The photo was taken recently in the compound of the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City where Gloria is being detained on plunder charges filed against her. Still wearing a neck brace, she looked weak, haggard, very sick and morose. Her eyes reflected a vacant gaze, indicating she has been suffering sleepless nights and lingering pain. Gone were her happy face and charming smile.

That she was seriously ill was confirmed by former First Lady Imelda Marcos who recently visited her in her hospital suite. Imelda described Gloria’s situation as “so cruel, so unjust, not human.” Imelda commented, “it is no longer fight for justice; it is fight for life.”

At night, there is no one of her family members or relatives to accompany her as her husband and children stay in the hospital only until 9 p.m., Imelda noted.

Alone in her room, Gloria could be feeling so lonely, abandoned or helpless. In her sleep, she could be having nightmares of the controversies that haunted her when she was president and are still haunting her. She could also be reminiscing her glory days when she was in power.

Gone were the days when she was surrounded by all kinds of people, not a few of them wanted to ingratiate themselves with her or simply wished to be close to her so they could bask under the glory of her power.

That she is helpless these days seems unthinkable. On several occasions, this writer met Gloria up-close. In my capacity then as president of the National Press Club of the Philippines (NPC), there were official events during which we had lunch with Gloria and her coterie of secretaries, undersecretaries and assistants.

Just a hint she needed to call someone, pronto, a cell phone was being handed to her with the “someone” already on the line. Just an incidental mention she wanted to eat “lanzones” or “santol,” the fruits were on her office table in less than an hour. And there were days when some 100 people were on the waiting list for appointment with her at Malacanang.

Now that she is sick and badly in need of company to while away the time, only a handful of people visit her in the hospital. Many of the people who were her “close friends” purposely distanced themselves from her after various charges were filed against her.

These people may have already concluded that Gloria is guilty of the charges, and so they don’t want to be associated with her in any way. They may even be looking at her as if she is suffering from a communicable disease. (I know some of these people, and I notice in news photos that they’re now rubbing elbows with the close aides of President Aquino.)

But there are also people who take pity of her plight and have criticized the way the government is treating her. Surprisingly, these few individuals include retired Bishop Oscar Cruz of Pangasinan, who used to be one of her bitterest critics. The bishop, who visited her recently, also lambasted the government for its treatment of Gloria.

And about a week ago, five bishops — Archbishop Rolando Tirona of the Diocese of Nueva Caceres in Naga City; Bishop Nerio Odchimar of Tandag, Surigao del Sur; retired Archbishop Diosdado Talamayan of Cagayan; Bishop Emilio Marquez of Quezon; and Bishop Ramon Villena of Nueva Vizcaya – jointly officiated a mass for Arroyo in her hospital suite.

The Manila Bulletin reported that in his homily, Villena said the Catholic leaders were there to “encourage and help strengthen” Arroyo’s faith so that she may continue to “fight for truth and justice.”

“They came to show their authentic friendship to someone who is suffering from sickness and injustice and to share their love and compassion to someone who is being harassed and persecuted,” said lawyer Raul Lambino, her congressional chief of staff.

It seems these religious leaders have already forgiven her for whatever  sins she had committed against the nation and are now supporting her in her “fight for truth and justice.”

Truth? What is the truth about the charges against her? Nobody, except God and probably Gloria herself, knows the truth because the cases against her are still being heard in court.

But despite the fact that the courts have yet to decide on the cases, many people appear ready to forgive her. This indicates many Filipinos are soft-hearted. And we cannot blame them because they are Christians who “hate the sins but love the sinner.”

But this is also the very reason why graft and corruption are rampant in our homeland. In his book written some 10 years ago, former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew observed that the Filipinos’ soft-hearted attitude towards crooked people is the principal cause behind the Philippines’ failure to root out graft and corruption. Singaporeans do not hesitate to use lethal injection on convicted criminals. Do you remember the case of Filipina maid Flor Contemplacion?

So in the case of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, should we pity her and forgive her? Or should we allow the wheel of justice to grind and, in the event she is found guilty, demand that she be meted the severest punishment? (Readers’ reactions to this column may be emailed to [email protected])

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My present occupation is Owner and Journalist-Editor of the Filipino Star News, Michigan edition. Former Manila Bulletin Provincial News Editor. President of the National Press Club of the Philippines for five terms.

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