The Philippine president Wednesday offered to fly in foreign doctors for his predecessor but refused to lift a travel ban against her, expressing concern that she might never return because of corruption complaints.
President Benigno Aquino III said his administration will pay for former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to get a bone biopsy in the Philippines. She is fighting the travel ban in the Supreme Court, saying her rights are being violated because she has not been formally charged with a crime.
Aquino, who has long accused Arroyo's administration of corruption, told reporters at a televised news conference that allowing her to leave the country would be an unacceptable risk.
"We also wish for the immediate recovery of Mrs. Arroyo, but let me ask you _ if we allow an accused with a pending non-bailable case to travel to countries without extradition treaties with the Philippines to seek medical care for an ailment that can be addressed sufficiently in our own hospitals, is justice prevailing?" Aquino said.
"In case she chooses not to return, how can we compel her to answer the charges?" he asked.
Arroyo has had three surgeries on her cervical spine while facing complaints of electoral sabotage and plunder during her nine years in office. Aquino's justice secretary turned down her request to leave the country to get treatment on Tuesday.
Arroyo's spokeswoman Elena Bautista-Horn said Arroyo is thankful for the government's offer but will still pursue her court petition.
"We will pursue our Supreme Court petition because if we agree to the offer, it's like saying it's okay for them to curtail her right to choose where to be treated," Horn said in a telephone interview.
Horn said she could not categorically say that the offer is being rejected because they have not discussed its details.
Arroyo has denied any wrongdoing. She and her husband, who is also named in the complaints, sought to overturn the travel ban at the Supreme Court. A court spokesman said the case may be decided next week.
In a statement released through his lawyer, Arroyo's husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, called Aquino's administration "a bunch of schoolyard bullies." Arroyo's camp released photographs to newspapers of the 64-year-old ex-leader looking frail and wearing a head-and-neck brace.
Arroyo stepped down last year and was then elected to Congress but remains hounded by allegations of corruption and electoral cheating. Aquino, a former senator and son of former President Corazon Aquino, has made the prosecution of corrupt officials a cornerstone of his administration.
The Arroyos are facing complaints of electoral sabotage for alleging tampering with the results of 2007 congressional polls. She is separately accused of illegally using government funds for her election campaign in 2004.