MANILA, (Reuters) – A Phillipine court today issued an arrest warrant for former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on charges of electoral fraud, which carry a life sentence, just hours before she was planned to fly out of the country for medical treatment.
The arrest warrant came just after the government lost its motion asking the Supreme Court to reverse its ruling that put on hold a travel ban on the former leader.
“That is the real triumph of justice,” said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, whose government has long accused Arroyo of corruption during her time in office from 2001-2010, though it had not formally charged her.
Arroyo, 64, is currently in hospital and there was no word on when police might serve the warrant.
She already made one attempt to leave for medical treatment this week but the government stopped her at the airport believing she was trying to avoid investigation and possible prosecution.
Both military and police leaders promised to maintain law and order, dismissing rumours of unrest within their ranks.
The winner of the 2010 election, President Benigno Aquino, campaigned 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 the 2010 presidential election.
Arroyo, who denies all charges against her, also faces allegations of fraud over the 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 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 herself has not been seen 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, but she and her husband were turned back.
She has since been at a private hospital in Manila.
“We will not object to a hospital arrest. We will not insist on bringing her to any detention facility,” de Lima said.
Dozens of police officers had ringed the hospital on Friday before the warrant was issued. Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo said they were there to ensure the safety of Arroyo.
The Pasay City court also set on Monday morning a hearing on a separate petition to issue a hold departure order, which could permanently prevent Arroyo from leaving the country.