POSTED: 7:38 a.m. HST, Dec 9, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 7:49 a.m. HST, Dec 9, 2011
MANILA, Philippines >> Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was transferred to a military hospital Friday to be detained on electoral fraud charges in the next chapter in the Philippines’ political drama pitting her against a popular, reformist successor.
The night before she was moved from the private hospital suite where she was arrested while undergoing treatment for a bone ailment, Arroyo told a TV station that the charges against her are all “demagoguery.”
“It is sad that our leaders now are more concerned with destroying reputations and black propaganda and prejudgement,” Arroyo told GMA TV network. “All I can say is that I have peace of mind because my conscience is clear. As I have said, during my presidency, my sole purpose was to serve.”
Under court orders, Arroyo was taken to the same two-bedroom, 1,615-square-feet (150-square-meters) hospital suite where her predecessor Joseph Estrada was confined for three years. Arroyo had helped oust him on corruption charges in 2001, and she quickly pardoned him after he was convicted in 2007.
Associated Press photographer Bullit Marquez, whom Arroyo allowed to take pictures of her shortly before the transfer, described her as looking frail and speaking hoarsely. Her husband said she lost 20 pounds and was down to 93 pounds but appeared relaxed Friday.
She has been seen wearing a head and neck brace most of the time but removed it briefly while Marquez worked. Arroyo was accompanied by one of her sons and aides.
Arroyo was arrested and charged 18 months after stepping down and could spend the rest of her life behind bars if convicted. She denies the charge of ordering the rigging of 2007 congressional elections to favor her candidates.
Arroyo said that her successor, President Benigno Aquino III, resorted to “demagoguery to completely destroy my reputation. Of course, if they destroy my reputation, it would be made to appear that he is doing good.”
“Nevertheless, I still believe in the rule of law,” she added.
Aquino, who was elected overwhelmingly on a promise to uproot corruption, blames Arroyo for a decade of graft and corruption scandals that eroded public trust in government and held back foreign investors.
Arroyo’s arrest last month came days after she was turned away from the Manila airport wearing a brace as she attempted to travel abroad for medical care.
The government refused to let her go, even after the Supreme Court ruled in her favor, because officials feared she may flee from justice.
Arroyo’s arrest set the stage for a prolonged legal battle. It also exposed a rift between Aquino and the Supreme Court, where 12 of the 15 justices are Arroyo appointees who will be deciding whether the charges against the former president are in order.
Aquino early this week accused the justices of standing in the way of his reformist agenda by obstructing Arroyo’s prosecution. Court spokesman Midas Marquez called Aquino’s comments “disturbing.”
Prosecutors want Arroyo detained in jail like any other suspect. She says her health is still fragile after three spine surgeries. Her lawyers have petitioned for house arrest, but a decision was not expected any time soon. In the meantime, a judge has ordered she be detained in the military hospital so she would be in government custody.
In the meantime, Arroyo, 64, the daughter of a former president, was allowed to bring her furniture into the air-conditioned hospital suite.
Given her stature, the court temporarily permitted her the use of a mobile phone and laptop inside the aging hospital, which was built with American funds in 1955 as a gift to Filipino World War II veterans.
Associated Press writer Oliver Teves contributed to this report.