The Philippine government blocked former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her husband from leaving the country on Tuesday and said it will appeal a Supreme Court order that allowed them to travel abroad for medical treatment despite corruption allegations.
Accompanied by her husband and son, Arroyo arrived at the Manila airport in an ambulance and was wheeled into a departure hall wearing a face mask and a neck brace.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the former first couple, being investigated for alleged corruption and electoral cheating, would be treated with dignity but "we will be firm in our decision not to allow them to leave the country."
"This is all high drama. They want the public to sympathize with them," he said.
The Arroyos were ushered into a VIP lounge while their lawyers, armed with the Supreme Court decision that overruled a travel ban imposed earlier by President Benigno Aquino III, tried to persuade immigration officials to allow them to board a flight to Singapore.
After about two hours, Arroyo lawyer Raul Lambino said the officials had prevented the former president from leaving.
"They weren't able to board the airplane," he said, accusing the government of inflicting "inhumane, cruel punishment" on his client.
Arroyo and her husband later left the airport in the ambulance and headed to a hospital where she was to be checked for stress, said an ally, Rep. Edcel Lagman.
"They are very mean. They are very cruel," husband Jose Miguel Arroyo said of the government. "I feel sad. I feel mad. How can they refuse to follow the Supreme Court order? That is tyranny."
The government's refusal to comply with the order put the Aquino administration on a collision course not only with the Arroyos and their allies but also with the highest court.
Aquino last week refused to let Arroyo travel, saying she might never return because of the corruption investigation and the formal charges he expected would be filed against her by the end of the year.
But the justices voted 8-5 on Tuesday to issue a temporary restraining order allowing Arroyo to seek treatment for a bone ailment, court spokesman Midas Marquez said.
"They are free to exercise their constitutional rights," Marquez said, adding that the government could be cited for contempt.
He said the Arroyos complied with court conditions for travel by posting a bond of 2 million pesos ($46,000) and appointing legal representatives to receive any court summonses. They were also ordered to report to Philippine embassies or consulates in countries they visit.
Aquino has promised to uproot corruption by prosecuting former officials suspected of high-level graft.
Arroyo, now a member of Congress, is under investigation by the Justice Department on allegations of plunder and election sabotage during her 2001-2010 presidency. She has denied any wrongdoing.
The government cited her possible flight from justice because the countries she said she wanted to visit have no extradition treaties with the Philippines. They include Austria, Spain, Singapore and Germany.
Arroyo, 64, has undergone three spinal surgeries. She is also suffering from a parathyroid ailment, her doctors say.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the government will appeal the Supreme Court's decision. She said the restraining order cannot be implemented once a motion for reconsideration has been filed, but Marquez denied this.
Associated Press writers Hrvoje Hranjski and Teresa Cerojano contributed to this report.