Ex-president of Philippines arrested for corruption
– barred from leaving country
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was arrested in her hospital room on electoral fraud charges yesterday in a high-profile tug of war set off by her attempts to leave the country ostensibly for medical treatment.
Arroyo became the second ex-Philippine president to face trial, after her ousted predecessor Joseph Estrada was sentenced to life imprisonment on corruption charges and later pardoned by her.
Arroyo denies any wrongdoing and accuses the government of political persecution when it stopped her from leaving the Philippines for overseas medical treatment for a bone ailment. Her lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio, said the government had filed fabricated charges with “indecent haste.”
The Supreme Court earlier yesterday upheld her right to travel, but a lower court where the formal charges were filed later issued an arrest warrant that effectively bars her from leaving.
Arroyo has been recovering in a hospital since her failed attempt to leave the country Tuesday, and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said she will remain confined to her hospital room.
“They are not going to, let’s say, handcuff her and take her out of the room,” de Lima said. “We will not object to hospital arrest.”
In a drama that has galvanized the Philippines, Arroyo, 64, sitting in a wheelchair and wearing a head and neck brace, was turned back Tuesday night from boarding a flight out of Manila. Authorities said she was still under investigation and might become a fugitive.
Her successor and staunch critic, President Benigno Aquino III, was overwhelmingly elected on promises to rid the Philippines of corruption and has said he wants to start with Arroyo.
The former president sought help from the Supreme Court, which issued a temporary clearance for her to travel and reaffirmed it yesterday. But the government ignored the order, saying national interest and uncovering the truth were more important than an individual’s right to travel.
The election fraud charges filed yesterday by the Commission on Election carry a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison. Arroyo legal spokesman Raul Lambino said the case against her “is a high form of injustice.”