Gloria Arroyo's bittersweet homecoming

MANILA, Philippines – What a way to come home.

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, after all, spent the past 8 months under hospital arrest, and was forced to celebrate Christmas as well as her birthday at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City. Her daughter, Luli Arroyo-Bernas, said the ruling surprised her family.

Kaninang umaga ko lang nalaman. Napaiyak ako sa nanay ko, na hindi naman ako dapat ang umiyak sa kanya,” Luli said, her voice cracking as she was in tears. (I only learned about it this morning. I cried in front of my mom, not the other way around.)

Luli said her mother, once dubbed Asia's Iron Lady, did not shed a tear. “'Pag nakita niyang emosyonal na ang pamilya niya, siya ang nagiging malakas para sa aming lahat,” she said in an interview with GMA News. (Once she sees her family is already emotional, she remains steadfast for all of us.)

This, Luli said, was the first thing Mrs Arroyo did: “Nagpasalamat siya sa Diyos.” (She thanked the Lord.)

One of her family's lawyers, Ferdinand Topacio, said the mood was “festive” inside VMMC.

When Mrs Arroyo was officially released, Topacio tweeted in jest: “Everyone singing, 'Please release me, let me go...” He also joked they considered exiting VMMC with raised fists, singing “Bayan Ko,” a song that speaks of freedom and is associated with the Philippines' People Power Revolution. 

Topacio's tweets generated amusement on social media while tension rose outside the hospital.

Chanting vs Arroyo

Near the gate of VMMC along North Avenue, anti-Arroyo protesters had been chanting for nearly 4 hours. Activist leaders took turns in delivering speeches to protest the circumstances that allowed Mrs Arroyo to post bail, principally the “weak” case filed by the Aquino administration against her. They also held President Benigno Aquino III accountable.

Mabuti sana kung matapos ang pagsasampa ng kaso ng election sabotage ay sinundan pa ito ng mas maraming kaso, na kahit pa makapagpiyansa si GMA sa election sabotage, hindi siya makakalabas dahil may iba pang kasong nag-aabang sa kanya, may iba pang warrant of arrest na nakahain laban sa kanya,” activist leader Renato Reyes Jr said during the rally.

(It would have been better if the electoral sabotage case was followed by more charges, that even if GMA was allowed to post bail for election sabotage, she cannot walk free because other cases and warrants of arrest are waiting for her.)

Her supporters, on the other hand, stationed themselves across from the VMMC gate, right in front of the anti-Arroyo protestors.

Blocking Arroyo

Mrs Arroyo, however, eluded these groups of protestors, and took another VMMC gate along Mindanao Avenue.

On her way out, angry protestors blocked her coaster from leaving the VMMC. Activists pressed their bodies on Mrs Arroyo's heavily tinted vehicle, which was stalled for nearly 10 minutes.

Galit yung naramdaman ng mga tao, dahil sa kadami-dami ng kasalanan ni Gloria,” activist leader Clemente Bautista said of one of the Philippines' most unpopular presidents. (The people felt anger because of Gloria's numerous sins.)

Topacio was not spared, after protestors posted anti-Arroyo messages on his vehicle. “Hehehe. Funny 'no,” Topacio tweeted Rappler after an image of his vehicle was shared through Twitter.

Mrs Arroyo arrived in her home in La Vista, a posh subdivision in Quezon City, at around 3:21 p.m. 

In the next few days, other cases will be hounding Mrs Arroyo – particularly a non-bailable plunder charge before the Sandiganbayan. The case, which her camp is questioning before the anti-graft court, will decide if she will have to leave her home again as a prisoner. – Rappler.com



Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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