Philippines' Arroyo posts bail on fraud charges, leaves hospital

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 25, 2012 4:20 AM
Philippines' Arroyo posts bail on fraud charges, leaves hospital

MANILA (Reuters) - Former Philippines president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a key target in the government's anti-corruption fight, was granted bail on election fraud charges on Wednesday and walked out of an army hospital where she had been detained since December.

But Arroyo could soon be back in detention with government lawyers seeking another arrest warrant from the anti-graft court, Sandiganbayan, over charges of plunder Over alleged misuse of state lottery funds, a non-bailable criminal offence.

Arroyo is also facing a graft charge over an aborted $329 million national broadband deal with China's ZTE Corp. in 2007. She denies all the charges.

Arroyo's corruption trial is central to President Benigno Aquino's pledge to tackle endemic graft that threatens to take the shine away from an economic revival and investment rebound in the Philippines.

"The fight against corruption continues," Aquino's spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters after Arroyo was granted a 1 million pesos ($23,800) bail. "This will not dampen our resolve to file and continue to institute corruption cases against responsible officials."

The Philippine's anti-graft court on Tuesday issued a travel ban, the third such order that will prevent Arroyo leaving the country for treatment for a spinal problem.

The 65-year-old Arroyo, president from 2001 to 2010, walked out the hospital wearing a neck brace and gray dress, and was driven home in a white van.

Television footage briefly showed her smiling and waving to supporters as her convoy made its way to her house.

A regional trial court granted her bail on the electoral fraud case because it found the evidence against her to be weak, based only on the testimony of a single witness. But the bail petition of other accused -- Andal Ampatuan, former governor of the southern province of Maguindanao, and election official Lintang Bedol -- were denied.

Ampatuan is facing 57 murder charges for his role in what was the country's worst politically-motivated killings in 2009, when relatives of his political rival, civilians, and about 30 journalists were brutally killed.

Arroyo has already posted bail on three counts of graft charges over allegations she and her husband got $30 million in kickbacks from the ZTE broadband deal.

"We thank God and all the people who are praying for her," the former leader's daughter, Luli Arroyo-Bernas said in a television interview, her voice cracking with emotion.

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She insisted her mother was innocent and that the bail decision showed "there's still hope that justice can prevail in the country".

Arroyo's family and lawyers said the former leader would seek further treatment for her ailment, and may consider going overseas. She underwent a spine surgery last year.

"We will bring her to an alternative treatment facility," said Arroyo-Bernas. "We'll do everything possible to make her well again."

Many fear she might escape prosecution once she leaves detention. In November 2011, she attempted to leave for Hong Kong for treatment but was stopped at the airport by government agents. Days later, she was arrested on election fraud charges.

Arroyo, a sitting member of the lower house of Congress, will have to get permission from three separate courts before travelling abroad.

(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Rosemarie Francisco and Michael Perry)