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Arroyo Pleads Not Guilty to Philippine Election Fraud

Former Philippine President Gloria Arroyo pleaded not guilty to charges of election fraud, paving the way for the second trial of one of the country’s top leaders on corruption allegations within a decade.

A Pasay City court set the pre-trial of Arroyo, 64, for April 19. Authorities escorted the former leader early today from a state-run hospital where she was detained while being treated for a spine ailment.

President Benigno Aquino had vowed to bring Arroyo to trial as part of what he says is an anti-corruption campaign. Arroyo’s trial will take place in a fair and impartial justice system, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in an e-mailed statement today, as he urged Filipinos to observe the process.

Lawmakers impeached Arroyo appointee and Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona in December after he ruled more than 20 times in Arroyo’s favor, according to court records. Corona is on trial in the Senate.

‘Vilification Campaign’

“Despite the continuous and massive vilification campaign against me and my family, I have always said that I will dispute all charges in the proper forum,” Arroyo said in a mobile text message sent by her spokeswoman Elena Bautista-Horn after her arraignment, in which she waived the reading of the charges. Arroyo emerged from the courtroom smiling and wearing a neck brace and posed with court employees for photos.

The Supreme Court, where 12 of 15 judges were named by Arroyo, had given the ex-president permission to travel overseas on Nov. 15, even though the government had banned her from leaving the country. Police arrested Arroyo in a Manila hospital on Nov. 18 on orders from the trial court, which blocked her attempt to leave the country to seek medical care.

Prosecuting former presidents is not uncommon in the Philippines. Arroyo’s predecessor, Joseph Estrada, was ousted in 2001 and later jailed for corruption.

Estrada, convicted of the charge of plunder and sentenced to life imprisonment in September 2007, was freed from six 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 Marcos has never been jailed.

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