Arrest warrant issued for Philippines' Arroyo

Court order comes just hours after country's supreme court rules that ex-president is free to go overseas for treatment.

    An arrest warrant has been issued for the former Philippine president, Gloria Arroyo, amid a legal battle to decide whether the former president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, is free to travel abroad.

    The country's supreme court ruled on Friday that Arroyo should be allowed to go overseas, but just hours later a lower court issued an arrest warrant for her on the basis of vote-tampering charges filed earlier in the day by the country's Commission on Election.

    Al Jazeera's Marga Ortigas, reporting from Manila, the capital, said: "The arrest warrant has been successfully served and Arroyo is now officially under police custody, but will be allowed to stay in hospital, with a guard stationed outside her door from now on."

    The election-fraud charges, which carry a penalty of 40 years imprisonment, were formally filed at the Pasay Regional Trial Court in Manila.

    Sixto Brillante, the Elections Commission chairman, confirmed that he had also asked for a court order barring Arroyo's travel.

    Travel plan foiled

    Arroyo tried to leave the country with her husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, on Tuesday, saying she was seeking medical treatment abroad for a bone ailment, but was stopped at the Manila airport because she was still under investigation.

    She has denied any wrongdoing and says she does not intend to flee justice..

    The supreme court had found the government's travel ban unconstitutional because Arroyo and her husband had not yet been charged with any crime.

    But the government defied the court and she was prevented from boarding her flight to Singapore. Arroyo then checked into a hospital in Manila.

    She had been driven to the airport in an ambulance, wearing a neck brace to support her spine, which she says is weakened by a rare bone disease.

    The confrontation prompted supreme court threats to throw government officials in jail for contempt for refusing to allow Arroyo to fly.

    Government's defiance

    In giving their ruling on Friday, the supreme court judges said that their earlier decision that overturned the government's travel ban on her remained in effect.

    "Until another court issues an order, the TRO holds," Midas Marquez, a court spokesman, said, referring to the temporary restraining order handed down on Tuesday.

    The judges also ordered Leila de Lima, the justice secretary who had ordered Manila airport officials to stop Arroyo from boarding her flight, to explain why she should not be in thrown in jail.

    "Justice Secretary de Lima ... [has] 10 days to show why she should not be held in contempt of court," Marquez said.

    He noted that the offence was punishable by six to 10 months in prison.

    However, de Lima insists the government did not violate any law and that Arroyo must be stopped from fleeing possible prosecution.

    State prosecutors were evaluating evidence in several complaints of large-scale corruption as well as election fraud against the Arroyo couple, de Lima said.

    Fresh attempt

    Arroyo said through a spokeswoman that she may attempt to leave the Philippines again on Friday.

    "If the doctors allow it, it's an option," Elena Bautista Horn Horn told GMA television.

    "We will hold them [the government] responsible if something bad happens to my boss."

    Arroyo, 64, ruled the Philippines for more than nine years until last year, when she won a seat in the lower house of parliament.

    Benigno Aquino, the current Philippine president, won a landslide presidential election on an anti-corruption platform and has pledged to bring Arroyo to justice, but has faced repeated setbacks to his campaign.

    In one of the most prominent blows, the supreme court ruled in December last year that a "truth commission" that Aquino set up specifically to investigate Arroyo was unconstitutional.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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