A failed effort by a spokesman to cover up the real reasons behind last week’s hospitalization of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has further eroded her credibility.
The new trouble for the beleaguered 62-year-old started when her office said she would go on self-quarantine in a posh hospital in metropolitan Manila’s Las Pinas City upon arrival home from a three-nation trip early last week.
According to a press release by the presidential office, Arroyo was setting an example of social responsibility amid the threat of swine flu, which has afflicted more than 1,000 people in the Philippines.
But information slipped out to the media that Arroyo actually had her leaking breast implants repaired during her confinement, forcing the president’s spin doctors to go into overdrive.
“The issue is not that [Arroyo] had a breast implant but that they have to lie about such a simple matter,” columnist Neal Cruz lamented in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Cruz said the incident showed that “telling lies is common practice” in Arroyo’s administration, in which a number of her spokespeople and aides have been forced in the past to give half-truths to the public to protect her and her family from scandals.
“The trouble with telling lies [is] you are caught in the web of your own lies,” he said.
Journalist Jarius Bondoc stirred the current controversy when he questioned the government’s “self-quarantine” spin on Arroyo’s hospitalization.
Bondoc said that after arriving from her foreign trip, Arroyo partied all night on Tuesday at the wedding anniversary of a trusted Cabinet man with dozens of people before she checked in at the hospital on Wednesday.
He said that based on a tip by an informant at the hospital, the real reason for Arroyo’s hospitalization was to have her leaking breast implants repaired.
“She had mammoplastic repair of her leaking breast implants done in the 1980s, excision of inguinal [groin] cyst and laser depilation of unwanted hair in that area and the armpits,” he wrote in his column in the Philippine Star newspaper.
Presidential spokesman Cerge Remonde bristled at reporters when asked about Bondoc’s expose. He dismissed it as nonsensical, saying that Arroyo is not an actress fixated with such cosmetic surgery.
“Just look if the president had a breast implant,” he said. “It’s obvious if women have had breast implants. The sexy actresses with boobs, they’re the ones who underwent breast implants. We can’t say the same thing of the president.”
But as more details about her breast implants leaked to the media, Remonde changed his tune and admitted Arroyo had “something” placed in her breast in the 1980s.
“An abscess was removed [from her breast], and something was put in its place,” he said while stressing that during her most recent hospitalization, Arroyo did not get her old implants replaced.
Remonde also insisted that Arroyo’s main reason for checking in at the Asian Hospital was for self-quarantine in accordance with the swine-flu advisory by the Department of Health.
He added that while undergoing self-quarantine, Arroyo took the opportunity to undergo biopsies for lumps in her breast and groin.
“She was given a clean bill of health because the results of the biopsies done on her breast and her groin were all negative,” he said.
Remonde’s failed cover-up was reminiscent of what happened in 2005 when then-press secretary Ignacio Bunye dismissed as part of a destabilization plot the release to the public of wiretapped conversations between Arroyo and a senior elections commissioner allegedly about rigging the 2004 presidential vote.
Bunye said the conversations did not happen and even alleged that the leaked recording was fabricated.
But as more details about the alleged conversations became available to the media, Arroyo addressed the nation on national television and apologized for talking to the elections commissioner while votes were still being counted.
She, however, never admitted that she connived to cheat in the 2004 elections.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel said that while the issue should have been kept private, Arroyo’s aides mishandled the controversy, making a mountain out of a molehill.
“We have fake elections, we have a fake president, now we have fake boobs,” he said. “It’s fake all over.”