Whiplash: The Arroyo arrest

The former president’s lawyers are all over the media, decrying the rapidness of her hospital arrest.

The roller-coaster ride began on Tuesday.  

Late in the afternoon, the Supreme Court spokesman was live across both television and radio announcing that a temporary restraining order had just been issued on a government travel ban against former president Gloria Arroyo.

The justices had voted eight to five to allow her to go abroad for medical treatment. Arroyo has a bone disease complicated by hyperparathyroidism, and has been in and out of hospital for months.  

Shortly after the Supreme Court announcement, Arroyo appointed a legal representative to handle any matters in her absence, and paid the nearly $40,000 bond that were two of three conditions for her departure.  

The third was that she check-in with the Philippine embassy at her destination. 

The travel ban was first put in place by the justice department pending investigations into allegations of corruption and electoral fraud during her presidency.  

But Arroyo hadn’t been formally charged with anything yet.  

The irony is the only reason the government was even able to issue such a limitation on her movements was by an order she herself had authorised when she was president.

And back then, there were already questions as to the order’s constitutionality.  

Word then spread that Arroyo and her husband would be heading to the airport to get on a flight to Singapore that very evening.

The quick movement of events had many Filipinos’ heads spinning. Especially those in government.  

The Supreme Court had clearly done all it could to accommodate her wishes, many speculated.  

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who was the commissioner of human rights under Arroyo, then held her own press conference and very plainly stated her disgust at the high court’s decision … even saying that it was “bought” as all eight judges who effectively voted in Arroyo’s favour were appointed to their positions by the former president.

De Lima then explained that as the Supreme Court seemed to have taken the battle to the media before her office had even received the paperwork – she would do the same.

Then, she adamantly expressed that she was ordering immigration officials at the airport, via the media, to make sure Arroyo didn’t get on a plane. 

As far as the viewing public was concerned, it was a declaration of “war” – and ahead lay possibly a more exciting bout than the Pacquiao-Marquez boxing match that disappointed most of the sporting fans in the country the week before.

Next on air was the president’s spokesman. He was clearly angry and seemed on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

He was stunned, he said, at the high court’s decision and the Arroyos’ Machiavellian manoeuvres. “When will the lying stop?”, he wailed at glued audiences.

As far as the government was concerned, Arroyo wasn’t as ill as she was making out to be … and she was using her poor health as a means to escape future prosecution.  

By early evening, an ambulance carrying the former president made its way to the airport where a crowd had gathered.

A visibly weak Arroyo, wearing a neck and chest brace, was then lifted out of the ambulance and into a wheelchair. All broadcast live on TV.

A stunned nation watched. The government spokesman continued with his angry tirade on news channels.  

After a nearly two-hour stand-off inside the airport terminal, the Arroyos came back out again and returned to hospital. A victory for the government.

But things were far from settled.  

Over the next three days, a legal tug-of-war ensued. Every step broadcast and followed by a gripped nation.  

Some even feared a constitutional crisis would break out. The judicial and executive branches of government were at loggerheads while the current president was busy entertaining Hillary Clinton and dealing with foreign matters.  

By Friday, Arroyo’s lawyers said they were sure the Supreme Court would win out and she would be on another flight out of the country.

Reports leaked that the justice department had met overnight with election commissioners and were rushing to prepare formal criminal charges against her for electoral fraud.

The local press was camped outside Arroyo’s hospital … waiting for her to make her way back to the airport.  

By midday, the government had managed to file a case for electoral sabotage in a lower court.

The judge had been asked to issue a hold departure order against Arroyo. All this while the Supreme Court was again deliberating on its earlier decision.

Which the magistrates, again, voted to uphold. By the time that came out though, it was moot.  

Arroyo’s fate lay in the hands of a lower court judge – would he grant the plaintiff’s petition to stop her from leaving the country?

Suddenly, the wheels of justice were moving faster in the Philippines than anyone can remember.

And the lower court judge did more than issue a hold departure order.  

By 4.30pm word was out that he’d ordered Arroyo arrested. It caught everyone by surprise. He was expected to stop her from leaving, but arresting her was a whole other matter.  

At this point, media was circling the hospital keeping an eye on all exits. Like sharks waiting for their dinner.  

Arroyo’s camp had gone silent seemingly stunned at the government’s bold actions. Most people we spoke to didn’t know what to make of anything anymore.

The week had not played out as anyone had expected.  

Suddenly, it seemed one of the most unpopular figures in Philippine politics would get her “comeuppance”, and many cried out “karma”.  

A group of anti-Arroyo protestors had made their way from a rally outside the Supreme Court to the airport.  

They were planning a human barricade to stop her from leaving until they got word that she now faced arrest.  

By 7pm, the arrest was executed and police held its own press conference at the hospital lobby.           

Guards would be posted outside Arroyo’s hospital door and mug-shots would be taken in the morning.  

Arroyo’s lawyers cried foul and said the battle was always personal. The current president had campaigned that he would fight corruption, and holding Arroyo responsible for allegations made against her were a primary concern.  

In the meantime, Arroyo supporters in congress were planning to file a motion to impeach the current president over the whole palaver.  

The justice secretary was attacked in the press and called an “arrogant, spoiled brat” for going against the Supreme Court, and numerous political analysts saw it as the demise of democracy.  

Through it all, the nation watched … and was treated to a merry-go-round of press conferences by the high court, the government, and Arroyo’s camp.

There wasn’t even time to blink as the circus had come to town and the next death-defying act threatened to eclipse the last.  

“Karma” was the word of the moment. “She’s only getting what she deserves,” many said. 

Arroyo is currently the most reviled personality in the Philippines … and though her lawyers released pictures of her in a weakened state as a way to gain sympathy, it seems to have had the opposite effect.  

It’s easier for many to believe she is trying to simply manipulate public opinion than it is for them to feel sorry for her.  

So where do things stand beyond the unfolding legal battleground?  

The government has promised Arroyo fair treatment … Arroyo’s lawyers say she is being unjustly persecuted.

Public opinion is split, with some thinking the government is being vindictive and just trying to make up for the fact that it’s taken this long to even prepare a case against her, and others feeling Arroyo brought this on herself. 

The only thing for certain is that as another week begins, it doesn’t look like the roller-coaster ride is over for the Philippines.

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