Former Philippine President Out On Bail

by
staff
Former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was granted bail on charges of election fraud and released from the army hospital where she was being held—the latest twist in a high-profile saga seen as a key test of President Benigno Aquino III's promise to fight corruption.

Former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo waves to her supporters as she arrives at her village in suburban Quezon City, north of Manila, Philippines, Wednesday July 25, 2012. Arroyo on Wednesday walked out of a government hospital where she has been detained for nearly eight months on charges of election sabotage after a court found that evidence against her was weak and granted bail.

Former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was granted bail on charges of election fraud and released from the army hospital where she was being held—the latest twist in a high-profile saga seen as a key test of President Benigno Aquino III's promise to fight corruption.

Analysts say her release—which came after a court on Wednesday found that evidence against her was weak—is likely to provide only temporary relief for Ms. Arroyo, who still faces other legal challenges over allegations of graft, including charges of plunder from alleged misuse of state lottery funds. The trial is expected to begin next month.

Ms. Arroyo says she is innocent of all charges and has accused Mr. Aquino and his government of pursuing political vendettas against her.

The latest move adds more drama to a long-running battle between the country's current and former presidents that has riveted the Philippines for months since government officials prevented Ms. Arroyo from leaving the country in a bizarre standoff at Manila's international airport last year.

The Pasay City regional trial court hearing ruled that the charges against Ms. Arroyo on allegations of political sabotage were too weak to deny her bail, and released her on bail of one million pesos ($23,800). She is still blocked from leaving the country, though, and government lawyers are seeking another arrest warrant for her.

"This temporary freedom...just a small bump in the road for the Aquino administration," said J. Prospero de Vera, vice president for public affairs at the University of the Philippines.

Mr. Aquino has made fighting corruption a cornerstone of his administration, which has drawn praise from foreign investors who believe cleaning up graft is a prerequisite to getting the country's long-suffering economy back on track. Mr. Aquino won one major victory earlier this year when the Philippines Senate voted to dismiss the chief of the country's Supreme Court for masking millions of dollars in assets, in a highly charged impeachment trial.

Apart from charges of plunder, or high-level corruption, Ms. Arroyo also is facing charges of graft over an aborted government contract, when she was president, with China's ZTE Corp. from 2007 that allegedly was overpriced and involved kickbacks. She has pleaded not guilty.

"The government will not go slow in prosecuting [Ms. Arroyo] for the abuses and excesses of her nine-year misrule," said Franklin M. Drilon, a Philippine senator who served under Ms. Arroyo's administration and is serving under the current government. "This is not vindictiveness. This is about justice and holding public officials accountable for their actions," he added.

Ms. Arroyo, 65 years old, has been held for eight months in the Veterans Memorial Medical Center, a military hospital. She has a degenerative bone condition, and exited the hospital wearing a neck brace. Elena Bautista-Horn, a representative for Ms. Arroyo, said the former president "needs close medical attention and supervision" and is enjoying "precious moments with her family" now that she is out on bail.