Monday, November 28, 2011

Philippines’ Ex-President Is Arrested on Fraud Charges

MANILA — The former president of the PhilippinesGloria Macapagal Arroyo, was arrested in her hospital room on Friday on charges of election fraud, her lawyer said, after days of dramatic struggle with the government over whether she would be allowed to leave the country for medical treatment.
Pat Roque/Associated Press
A senior police official announced details of the arrest warrant outside the hospital near Manila where Mrs. Arroyo will remain.
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Dennis M. Sabangan/European Pressphoto Agency
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
Police officers at the hospital said that Mrs. Arroyo would not be taken to the police station and would be held in custody in her hospital room, one of her lawyers said.
Mrs. Arroyo, 64, says she suffers from a bone ailment that requires medical treatment unavailable in the Philippines.
But government officials have blocked her from leaving, saying they feared the former president, who has denied any wrongdoing, might be seeking to flee the country to avoid facing possible court cases over election fraud and corruption.
The very public drama began last week when the government of President Benigno S. Aquino III denied her request to travel and offered to bring foreign specialists into the country to treat her.
Mrs. Arroyo then sought a decision from the Supreme Court. The court ruled in her favor, saying that she was free to go. But the government ignored the court’s ruling and officials turned her and her husband away at the airport, where she arrived in a wheelchair and wearing a head and neck brace.
Then on Friday, election fraud charges were filed in the Pasay City Regional Trial Court in Manila. A Supreme Court spokesman, Jose Midas Marquez, said that nullified the Supreme Court’s ruling that Mrs. Arroyo could leave the country.
Earlier in the week, Ferdinand Topacio, the lawyer for Mrs. Arroyo’s husband, said in a television interview that he was so confident that his clients would return if allowed to leave that he would have one of his testicles removed if they did not.
After the arrest warrant was issued on Friday, Edwin Lacierda, a presidential spokesman, said: “The order in the Pasay court has allowed Attorney Topacio to save his family jewels.”
Friday’s charges stem from allegations that Mrs. Arroyo, who left office last year and was subsequently elected to Congress, tampered with the results of congressional elections in 2007. A conviction could result in a sentence of 40 years to life in prison.
Mrs. Arroyo also faces separate accusations that she diverted government money for use in her campaign. The corruption complaints are under investigation and could result in formal charges.
Mr. Aquino, her successor, was elected in 2010 on an anticorruption platform. He has said repeatedly that Mrs. Arroyo should publicly address the widespread accusations of corruption and vote-rigging against her.
Mrs. Arroyo had herself supported the trial and prosecution of her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, on corruption charges. He was sentenced to life in prison, but she later pardoned him.
Raul Lambino, a lawyer for Mrs. Arroyo, said that he expected the case to be dismissed quickly because, he argued, the regional trial court where the charges were filed does not have jurisdiction over a former president. A special high-level court, known as theSandiganbayan, is supposed to handle charges of corruption against senior government officials, he said.
“They filed these charges in this court simply as a matter of expediency in order to obtain the arrest warrant,” Mr. Lambino said. “We are confident that the higher court will dismiss this action swiftly. This is a clear violation of the president’s human rights by this government.”
The former president’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, issued a statement saying his wife had been “railroaded” with invalid charges filed in haste in the lower court in order to block her from traveling overseas. “This is a sad day for due process,” he said in a statement.
Mr. Lacierda, the presidential spokesman, dismissed the criticism, saying, “It’s always a sad day when they lose.”

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