It was quite a busy week in the Philippines: President Benigno Aquino delivered his 3rd State of the Nation address and went on about the "improvements" that have taken place under his two-year old administration the "talent search" for a new Chief Justice kept many Filipinos distracted and entertained and the poke-and-prod between the Philippines and China raged on over disputed territory west of the Philippines.
While the latter three topics were hogging headlines, another development almost slipped by unnoticed. Almost.
Former president Gloria Arroyo, who had been in custody since December last year on electoral fraud charges, was granted bail, and released. Her arrest was considered one of the biggest triumphs of President Aquino's anti-corruption campaign which made it a major goal to hold personalities from the previous administration (Arroyo's) accountable for alleged wrongdoings.
Many Filipinos are still uneasy and have questions as to exactly how Arroyo was taken into custody in the first place (that was a whole other action-packed segment in Philippine political drama that is discussed in a previous blog) - but her release came as a shock to all. Even to the Arroyo family itself.
The Arroyo children said they weren't expecting it at all. They had long felt victimised by what they saw as the current administration's "bullying" and thought they didn't stand a chance for being treated fairly by the courts. But Aquino's motto of "nothing is impossible" seems to have carried over to include even his opponents. A lower court judge who was presiding over the electoral fraud case against Arroyo and her allies decided there wasn't enough evidence to keep her in custody. So, though the charges against her have not been dismissed, Arroyo was allowed to go home. And the fact that she did just that - go home – baffled many. She had spent the last seven months detained in a military hospital instead of jail because she claimed to be too sick to be incarcerated anywhere else. (A move many other prominent Filipinos have taken so as not to be locked behind bars.) Now that she was granted bail, instead of possibly transferring to a private medical facility, she headed to her family home.
Her children expressed their thanks to the court and said they were glad to finally be able to gather again as a family in their own dwelling. It was reported that the Arroyo grandchildren even spent the night with their newly-freed grandmother. The president's spokesperson said they too were stunned by her release but were going to accept the court's decision.
The following morning, small groups of pro- and anti-Arroyo demonstrators gathered in front of the country's anti-graft court which had a plunder case against Arroyo before it. In another unexpected move, the court suspended proceedings until the Ombudsman made a decision on Arroyo's plea to have the charges against her dismissed.
The Ombudsman has yet to rule, but it also has yet to order a warrant for her arrest on the plunder charge. Perhaps, many Filipinos wonder, another case brought against the former president with insufficient evidence? The administration has been seen to be rushing to compile cases against Arroyo – and in its haste, it could have gotten sloppy.
But Mrs Arroyo is eager to get back to business. She has been juggling trips to her doctors for continued physical therapy with a visit back to her home province north of Manila. she is, after all, still its congressional representative.
For the moment, she can breathe a sigh of relief. She is home, the cases against her don't seem to be getting very far and at least for the moment, ordinary Filipinos aren't too focused on seeing her behind bars - distracted as they are by everything else going on around them.