Philippines ex-president Arroyo granted bail

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had been detained in a military hospital in Manila since December on election fraud charges.

Gloria Arroyo could be back in detention if government lawyers gain another arrest warrant over graft  [Reuters]
Gloria Arroyo could be back in detention if government lawyers gain another arrest warrant over graft [Reuters]

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the Philippines’ former president, has been granted bail after being in detention in an army hospital for several months over election fraud charges.

Arroyo, a key target in the government’s anti-corruption crusade, was granted bail on Wednesday by a regional trial court after it found the evidence against her to be weak, based only on the testimony of a single witness.

She had been in detention since December.

The 65-year-old Arroyo, president from 2001 to 2010, walked out the hospital wearing a neck brace and gray dress, and was driven home in a white van.

Television footage briefly showed her smiling and waving to supporters as her convoy made its way to her house.

But Arroyo could soon be back in detention as government lawyers seek another arrest warrant from the anti-graft court, Sandiganbayan, over charges of plunder.

She is accused of misuse of state lottery funds, a non-bailable criminal offence, but she denies all the charges. 

The former president is also facing a graft charge over an aborted $329m national broadband deal with China’s ZTE Corporation in 2007.

Arroyo’s trial is central to President Benigno Aquino’s pledge to fight endemic corruption that threatens to take the shine away from an economic revival and investment rebound in the Philippines.

“The fight against corruption continues,” Edwin Lacierda, Aquino’s spokesman, told reporters after Arroyo was granted a $23,800 bail.

“This will not dampen our resolve to file and continue to institute corruption cases against responsible officials.”

The Philippine’s anti-graft court on Tuesday issued a travel ban, the third such order that will prevent Arroyo leaving the country for treatment for a spinal problem.

Denied bail

The court, however, refused to grant bail to the former governor of the southern province of Maguindanao, Andal Ampatuan, and Lintang Bedol, an election official.

Ampatuan is facing 57 murder charges for his role in what was the country’s worst politically-motivated killings in 2009, when relatives of his political rival, civilians and about 30 journalists were brutally killed.

Arroyo has already posted bail on three counts of graft charges over allegations she and her husband got $30m in kickbacks from the ZTE broadband deal.

“We thank God and all the people who are praying for her,” the former leader’s daughter, Luli Arroyo-Bernas, said in a television interview, her voice cracking with emotion. 

She insisted her mother was innocent and that the bail decision showed “there’s still hope that justice can prevail in the country”.

Arroyo’s family and lawyers said she would seek further treatment for her ailment, and may consider going overseas. She underwent a spine surgery last year.

“We will bring her to an alternative treatment facility,” said Arroyo-Bernas. “We’ll do everything possible to make her well again.”

Many fear she might escape prosecution once she leaves detention. In November 2011, she attempted to leave for Hong Kong for treatment but was stopped at the airport by government agents. Days later, she was arrested on election fraud charges.

Arroyo, a sitting member of the lower house of Congress, will have to get permission from three separate courts before traveling abroad.

Source: News Agencies

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