Philippine ex-leader gets bail ruling, still held

Last Updated: Wed, Jul 25, 2012 09:23 hrs

A Philippine court on Wednesday granted bail to former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on election sabotage charges after a judge cast doubt on the evidence against her. But she is unlikely to leave detention immediately because of a pending corruption case.

Lawyers for Arroyo immediately posted the 1 million peso ($23,250) cash bail. Pasay City Regional Trial Court spokeswoman Felda Domingo said the court issued an order for her release Wednesday, but cases pending in other courts will prevent her from being freed.

President Benigno Aquino III's spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Arroyo still faces a non-bailable corruption case in the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan. That court also has issued an order preventing her from leaving the country.

But Ferdinand Topacio, a spokesman for Arroyo's husband, said there was a "very high" probability of Arroyo leaving detention Wednesday. He said the anti-graft court had not issued an arrest warrant for her.

Arroyo, who has been suffering from a neck ailment, has been detained at a government hospital since December.

Aquino has promised to prosecute Arroyo and other former administration officials for alleged corruption, which he blames for widespread poverty in the Philippines. Arroyo says she's innocent of all charges against her and accuses her successor of pursuing a political vendetta.

Topacio said the bail ruling was "a triumph of justice ... against a creeping authoritarianism that threatens to envelop our land and turn it into a judicial wasteland."

Government prosecutors last week filed plunder charges against her and nine other former officials for alleged misuse of 365 million pesos ($8.7 million) in state lottery funds. Topacio said Arroyo's lawyers have filed motions questioning the filing of the plunder charges without first informing Arroyo of the criminal investigation results so she could respond to them before an indictment is made.

Arroyo and her husband face a separate graft case related to an overpriced government contract with Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE Corp. for a $330 million national broadband project that was later scuttled because of the scandal. They pleaded not guilty during arraignment in April.

The trial in Arroyo's election sabotage case is scheduled to begin next month. She's accused of ordering the tampering of 2007 elections to ensure victory for her candidates in southern Maguindanao province.

Domingo said Judge Jesus Mupas found that the evidence linking Arroyo to the alleged vote-rigging "is not that strong to deny her bail."

She said the government's only witness against Arroyo, former provincial administrator Norie Unas, has testified that he overheard her give instructions to rig the polls during a meeting with Maguindanao officials led by former Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. Ampatuan is also jailed on a separate case of multiple murder for the massacre of 57 people, including 30 journalists and his political opponents in 2009.

Commission on Elections chairman Sixto Brillantes said the commission will appeal the bail order.

Members of the left-wing New Patriotic Alliance protested the bail order at the gates of the Veterans Memorial Medical Center, where Arroyo is detained.

The granting of bail to Arroyo "underscores the need to file more cases, stronger cases against the former president," said Renato Reyes, the group's general secretary, citing human rights violations, election fraud in the 2004 presidential election and other plunder charges.

Reyes also blamed the Aquino government, saying it rushed to file a weak case.

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