Former Philippine President Gloria Arroyo plans to fly to Singapore tomorrow to consult doctors, in a further test of the government’s resolve to defy a Supreme Court order allowing her to seek treatment overseas.
Arroyo, 64, and her husband Jose Miguel, under investigation for electoral fraud, were prevented from leaving the country last night at the direction of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. The couple decided not to attempt to fly out today, Arroyo’s spokeswoman, Elena Bautista-Horn, said by phone.
The Supreme Court voted 8 to 5 yesterday that Arroyo should be presumed innocent of charges that she rigged elections and allowed to travel. President Benigno Aquino, who won office last year with an anti-corruption campaign, said his predecessor’s problems with her parathyroid glands don’t require treatment abroad and offered to fly in experts for Arroyo.
The Philippines faces an “extraordinary situation” with Aquino’s legacy at stake, Florin Hilbay, a constitutional expert at the University of the Philippines, said in a phone interview today. “Justices of the Supreme Court also risk being impeached for what some people think is their manifest partiality.”
If Arroyo were out of the country, she would be unable to enter her plea once indicted by the government, Tomas Prado, national secretary of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, said by phone today. “Without arraignment, there can be no trial.”
“This intention to immediately leave the country -- that is puzzling,” de Lima said yesterday.
The nation’s top court will hold a special session on Nov. 18 to discuss the Arroyo case, including the government’s plea for reconsideration of the restraining order, court spokesman Midas Marquez said today in Manila. “The order is immediately executory,” he said, referring to Arroyo’s travel. “The court is concerned with the compliance.”
Twelve of the Supreme Court’s 15 justices were named by Arroyo and the court has blocked some of Aquino’s anti-graft efforts. In October 2010, it ruled he couldn’t fire officials Arroyo appointed shortly before her term ended and two months later struck down a presidential order creating a “truth commission” to investigate her.
Chief Justice Renato Corona, who voted to lift the travel ban yesterday, was Arroyo’s chief of staff.
Arroyo plans to sue de Lima and immigration and airport officials for contempt for failing to comply with the court order, her husband said in comments broadcast by GMA News TV yesterday. No charges have so far been filed.
Aquino, who was scheduled to fly to Bali today for a summit of Association of Southeast Asian Nations leaders, delayed his departure until tomorrow to attend to the Arroyo case, his spokesman, Ricky Carandang, said in Bali today.
The 51-year-old Aquino wants to make sure “decisions are correct and they are executed properly,” Carandang said.
“This is inhuman,” Bautista-Horn told ABS-CBN News Channel. “Politics prevailed” in Aquino’s decision to block Arroyo’s medical trip and “this will set the tone for the rest of his term.”
Aquino, who was elected in May 2010, said in October that charges against Arroyo will be filed this month. The former president faces allegations she pocketed more than a billion pesos ($23 million) from a government contract in 2007 and that she and her husband rigged the 2004 and 2007 elections.
The Philippine police filed a plunder complaint in September against Jose Miguel before an anti-graft body for the alleged irregular sale of helicopters. Arroyo’s eldest son, Juan Miguel, and his wife face tax evasion cases.
Arroyo, who wore a neck and back brace and a face mask at the airport last night, was mobbed by the media as aides pushed her wheelchair.