Arroyo scraps new attempt to leave Philippines

AP News
Posted: Nov 16, 2011 10:27 PM
Arroyo scraps new attempt to leave Philippines

Former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said Thursday she's pausing _ but not dropping _ attempts to go abroad for medical treatment, after authorities stopped her because she is under investigation for corruption.

In a high-profile drama keeping the Philippines on edge, the government ignored a Supreme Court order to allow the former president to travel and blocked her at the airport Tuesday. Her allies accuse her successor Benigno Aquino III of violating her rights and steering toward a constitutional crisis.

After initially saying she will try to leave Manila again Thursday, Arroyo's spokeswoman Elena Bautista-Horn said the former president was still weak but will try later.

"We will stand by Arroyo's constitutional right to travel," she said.

Aquino was overwhelmingly elected last year on promises to rid the Philippines of corruption and wants to start with Arroyo. Throughout her 9-year tumultuous presidency, she consistently ranked as the most unpopular leader since Aquino's mother ousted late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in a 1986 "people power" revolt.

"If he succeeds in putting Arroyo on trial in a fair and transparent way, it will be a big step in the program to root our corruption in our society," respected columnist Randy David wrote in Thursday's Philippine Daily Inquirer.

If Aquino fails, "his campaign to put the government on a straight path will be derailed even before it has taken off."

Arroyo stepped down last year and immediately faced at least half a dozen complaints acusing her and her husband of tampering with election results, diverting state funds for her campaign effort and benefiting from foreign contracts.

She has denied any wrongdoing. In an apparent bid to seek legal protection, Arroyo was elected to the House of Representatives while the Department of Justice started investigating her. Aquino said he expects formal charges against Arroyo to be filed the before the year's end.

In the meantime, Arroyo got sick and said she needs treatment abroad that isn't available in the Philippines. Aquino chafed, saying she wants to dodge justice and may never return. He offered to have foreign doctors of her choice treat her in Manila but she refused.

Arroyo has had three surgeries on her cervical spine but says they failed to make her better. She said she needs a bone biopsy to find out what's wrong. Her lawyers distributed photographs of the 64-year-old wearing a neck and head brace.

The government imposed a travel ban on her, saying if she leaves now before arraignment, the cases against her cannot move forward. Arroyo appealed to the Supreme Court and last week secured a temporary restraining order, allowing her to travel.

In the dramatic airport showdown Tuesday night that was televised nationally, Arroyo, in a wheelchair and a surgical mask covering her face and the contraption over her head, tried to board a plane only to be turned back by immigration officials.

"This is all high drama. They want the public to sympathize with them," Aquino's spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

"They are very mean. They are very cruel," responded Arroyo's husband Jose Miguel Arroyo. "I feel sad. I feel mad. How can they refuse to follow the Supreme Court order? That is tyranny."

The Supreme Court set oral arguments on Arroyo's petition to travel for Friday.