Senate places Gonzales under ‘medical arrest’

() - September 22, 2005 - 12:00am
In a double whammy yesterday, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales was cited for contempt while also suffering a hypertension attack and hypoglycemia during grilling before the Senate.

Faced with tough questions that could tie liability for certain government lobbying contracts back to President Arroyo, Gonzales suffered a hypertension attack while under questioning by the Senate Blue Ribbon committee.

Gonzales’ blood pressure shot up while his blood sugar dropped, prompting the Senate to allow him to be placed under "medical arrest" following the committee’s decision to cite him for contempt.

Escorted by personnel of the Office of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms (OSSA), Gonzales was brought to the Philippine Heart Center on East Avenue in Quezon City before 6 p.m.

Dr. Mariano Blancia Jr., head of the Senate Medical and Dental Services, said Gonzales suffered a bout of dizziness after his blood pressure was measured at 160/90.

"He had chest pains," Blancia said of Gonzales. "The fact is that he has diabetes and that can trigger some acute conditions, like coronary (problems)."

Blancia added that he will coordinate with the OSSA before referring Gonzales to a government hospital equipped to provide the national security adviser with the appropriate medical attention.

Gonzales’ condition spared him from spending the night at the OSSA detention area located at the ground floor of the Senate at the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) building in Pasay City.

He is facing questioning over a $1-million contract signed with US lobbying firm Venable LLP.

During a break in the hearing, Gonzales ate bananas instead of taking his medicine after he was granted time to rest while senators went into a closed-door session.

Other Senate witnesses cited for contempt and detained were: Ador Mawanay, a witness in the alleged money-laundering activities against Sen. Panfilo Lacson; pyramid scheme queen Rose Baladjay; and the executives of Standard Chartered Bank.

Meanwhile, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who has called for a separate inquiry on the Venable deal, said she has no problem with the decision to rush Gonzales to the hospital for "humane reasons until his blood pressure stabilizes."

"After that, he may then be detained at a place designated by the Senate," Santiago said.

Gonzales should avail of his rights under the 1987 Constitution and the Senate’s own Rules of Procedure governing inquiries in aid of legislation, she added.

"For one thing, he could make a prepared statement for the record and file it with the committee secretary 24 hours in advance of the next hearing," she said.

Santiago was not present at yesterday’s Blue Ribbon Committee hearing, though she did say Gonzales could invoke his right against self-incrimination at the Blue Ribbon hearings.

"(Gonzales) can refuse to testify. He has to wait until the question is asked, then he can invoke the privilege. It is the committee, by a majority vote of the members present, that shall determine whether the right has been properly invoked," she said.

Santiago is not a member of the Blue Ribbon committee. However, as head of the Senate foreign relations committee, she is scheduled to conduct her own committee hearing on the Venable contract "from a foreign policy perspective."

Meanwhile, in the House, minority bloc lawmakers reacted vehemently to Gonzales’ statement that the opposition was plotting against the President.

"Gonzales is hallucinating. He is lying," Iloilo Rep. Rolex Suplico said. "Kawawa naman ang Pilipinas kung wala tayong makukuhang ibang National Security Adviser (The Philippines is in a sad state if we cannot get another National Security Adviser)."

House Minority Leader Francis Escudero of Sorsogon City denied Gonzales’ accusations: "It’s not true. I think Gonzales is just trying to get back at us for hitting the Venable LLP deal."

"If he has any evidence, he should show it," Escudero said. "If not, he should stop making wild accusations. Unless, of course, this is part of the grand plot to destroy the opposition." — Christina Mendez, Delon Porcalla

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