MANILA (Reuters) – Former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was arrested on Friday for electoral fraud, which carries a life sentence, at a Manila hospital, preventing her departure from the country to seek medical treatment.
President Benigno Aquino and his government have long accused Arroyo of corruption during her two terms in office, from 2001-2010, though until Friday, authorities had not formally charged her.
“She is now under our control, under our custody,” Senior Superintendent Franklin Bucayu, head of the Southern Police District, told a news briefing outside St Luke’s Hospital.
“The arrest warrant has been served. We tried to read her rights but her lawyers waived it because of her conditions. She smiled at us and she was expecting it.”
The arrest warrant had been issued earlier in the day, just after the government lost a bid to reverse a Supreme Court ruling allowing Arroyo to travel abroad.
Arroyo denies any wrongdoing.
Police said Arroyo’s family, her lawyers and some members of her cabinet were at her side in the hospital when the warrant was served. Her photograph would be taken and booking done over the weekend.
“We posted two police officers outside her room and there are more officers down here to protect,” Bucayu said, adding the former president was wearing a neck brace when the warrant was served. “She just nodded and did not say any word.”
Both military and police leaders promised to maintain law and order, dismissing rumors of unrest within their ranks.
“That is the real triumph of justice,” said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
The warrant was served on the 64-year-old Arroyo at 6:30 p.m. (5:30 a.m. ET) at the hospital where she has been since Tuesday night after a failed attempt to leave the country.
The government had stopped her at Manila airport believing she was trying to avoid investigation and possible prosecution.
The Supreme Court had reaffirmed a decision to lift the travel ban on Friday, which could have allowed Arroyo and her husband to take a planned afternoon flight to Singapore, but that was subsequently overridden by the warrant.
President Benigno Aquino campaigned last year on fighting corruption and prosecuting those responsible for it, winning strong support after two administrations that had been dogged by allegations of wrongdoing.
He vowed in particular to pursue Arroyo, although the Supreme Court last year blocked his plans for a special commission to investigate her.
Arroyo had prosecuted her predecessor, Joseph Estrada for corruption. However after he was convicted of plunder and sentenced to life imprisonment, Arroyo pardoned him. Despite the conviction, Estrada was runner-up in a 2010 presidential election.
Arroyo also faces allegations of fraud over a 2004 presidential election and corruption in her administration.
The alleged vote rigging happened in the restive southern Muslim province of Maguindanao, where all 12 pro-Arroyo senate candidates won a clean of sweep of the province at mid-term elections in 2007, at odds with national trends.
“After finding the existence of probable cause, the court issued a warrant of arrest against the accused,” a clerk of Pasay City Regional Trial Court told reporters.
Arroyo has not been seen in public since Tuesday night, when, following the initial Supreme Court decision to lift her travel ban, she had turned up at the airport in a wheelchair and her neck in a brace.
The Pasay City court also set for Monday morning a hearing on a separate petition to issue a hold departure order, which could permanently prevent Arroyo from leaving the country.
(Editing by John Mair and Robert Birsel)
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