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Court showdown set over Arroyo

/ 12:20 PM November 18, 2011

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government, the judiciary and ex-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo were set for a court showdown Friday as she sought to travel abroad for medical treatment while under investigation for corruption.

As the ailing Arroyo again said that she intended to defy a travel ban imposed by the government, the Supreme Court was to hold a special hearing to tackle the case, which has developed into a political crisis.

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The 11:00 a.m. (0300 GMT) session would discuss the travel ban and Arroyo’s bid to have it lifted, said court spokesman Midas Marquez.

“It is possible that the court will rule on these issues today,” Marquez said in a television interview.

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The same court on Tuesday ordered President Benigno Aquino III’s administration – which wants to put Arroyo on trial on allegations of graft and election fraud – to allow the ex-president to travel overseas for treatment.

It ruled the travel ban unconstitutional because Arroyo and her husband had not yet been charged with any crime.

But the government defied the court and she was prevented from boarding her flight to Singapore later that day. Arroyo then checked into a Manila hospital.

She had been driven to the airport in an ambulance, wearing a neck brace to support her spine, which she says is weakened by a rare bone disease.

The standoff provoked Supreme Court threats to throw government officials in jail for contempt for refusing to allow Arroyo to fly.

Marquez said the 15-member tribunal was also expected to address the issue of the Aquino government’s defiance at Friday’s hearing.

About 100 protesters from a small leftist party gathered outside the Supreme Court in the late morning Friday, disrupting traffic as they demanded that the court and government stop Arroyo leaving the country, an AFP photographer saw.

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“Don’t let Gloria flee,” one of their placards read.

“Make her pay,” read another.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has said the government was not violating any law and that Arroyo must be stopped from fleeing possible prosecution.

State prosecutors are evaluating evidence in several complaints of large-scale corruption as well as election fraud against Arroyo and husband Jose Miguel Arroyo, de Lima added.

Arroyo’s spokeswoman Elena Bautista Horn said the former president may attempt to leave the country again Friday.

“If the doctors allow it, it’s an option,” Horn told GMA television.

“We will hold them [the government] responsible if something bad happens to my boss,” Horn added.

She also expressed fear that the Aquino government would rush the filing of criminal charges against Arroyo in court to justify its bid to have the Supreme Court uphold the travel ban.

Arroyo, 64, ruled the country for more than nine years until last year, when she won a seat in the lower house of parliament.

Her arch-critic Aquino won a landslide presidential election on an anti-corruption platform and has vowed to bring Arroyo to justice, but has faced repeated setbacks to his campaign.

In one of the most high-profile blows, the Supreme Court ruled in December last year that a “truth commission” Aquino set up specifically to investigate Arroyo was unconstitutional.

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TAGS: Arroyo travel, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Politics, Supreme Court
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