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Philippines Arrests Arroyo in Hospital on Poll Fraud Charges

Philippine police arrested former President Gloria Arroyo in a Manila hospital on charges of election fraud, preventing her from again attempting to leave the country after the top court granted her permission to do so.

Arroyo was served the arrest warrant privately in her room at St. Luke’s Medical Center where she’s being treated for high-blood pressure, police Senior Superintendent James Bucayo said in a televised briefing today. She will be detained once her condition improves, he said.

President Benigno Aquino gave instructions to treat Arroyo, 64, with “utmost respect” and ordered that the former chief executive can be held either in the hospital or at home, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said in a separate briefing.

The arrest is the latest development in Aquino’s efforts to keep Arroyo in the country to face corruption charges as she fights to seek medical treatment abroad. The Supreme Court, where 12 of 15 judges were named by Arroyo, gave the ex-president permission to travel overseas on Nov. 15.

This is a “small victory but the real test is whether the government can score a conviction,” political analyst Benito Lim of the University of the Philippines said by phone today. “Eventually, this will reach the Supreme Court and Aquino must be trying hard to find a way to overcome the fact that the judiciary is loaded with Arroyo appointees.”

Fraud Charges

The Commission on Elections earlier today filed charges of electoral fraud against Arroyo before the Pasay court. With the arrest warrant, Arroyo can no longer leave the country, Supreme Court spokesman Midas Marquez said.

Aquino, who won office last year on an anti-corruption campaign, said in October that charges against Arroyo will be filed this month. Former president Arroyo faces allegations she pocketed more than a billion pesos ($23 million) from a government contract in 2007 and that she and her husband Jose Miguel rigged past 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.

Estrada Arrest

Prosecuting former presidents is not uncommon in the Philippines, with Arroyo herself having led the indictment, arrest and imprisonment of her predecessor, Joseph Estrada. Estrada, convicted of plunder and sentenced to life imprisonment in September 2007, was freed from years of house arrest after Arroyo pardoned him that same year.

The late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda also faced corruption charges after he was toppled by a street uprising and his family was forced into exile in 1986. Imelda has never been jailed.

Aquino has said his predecessor’s problems with her parathyroid glands don’t require treatment abroad and offered to fly in specialists for Arroyo.

If Arroyo were out of the country, she would be unable to enter her plea once indicted by the state, Tomas Prado, national secretary of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, said this week. “Without arraignment, there can be no trial.”

The Supreme Court had blocked some of Aquino’s 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, was Arroyo’s chief of staff.

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