(Adds analyst comment in fourth paragraph.)
Nov. 18 (Bloomberg) -- A Philippine local court issued an arrest warrant for ex-President Gloria Arroyo on charges of election fraud, barring her from leaving the country after the Supreme Court this week granted her permission to do so.
Police will execute the warrant issued by the Pasay City court today and arrest Arroyo while she is in the hospital, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said in a televised briefing. President Benigno Aquino gave instructions to treat Arroyo, 64, with "utmost respect" and that the former chief executive can be detained in the hospital or at home, de Lima said.
The arrest order is the latest development in Aquino’s efforts to keep Arroyo in the country to face corruption charges as she fights to seek medical treatment abroad. The Supreme Court, where 12 of 15 judges were named by Arroyo, gave the ex- president permission to travel overseas on Nov. 15.
This is a “small victory but the real test is whether the government can score a conviction,” political analyst Benito Lim of the University of the Philippines said by phone today. “Eventually, this will reach the Supreme Court and Aquino must be trying hard to find a way to overcome the fact that the judiciary is loaded with Arroyo appointees.”
The Commission on Elections earlier today filed charges of electoral fraud against Arroyo before the Pasay court. With the arrest warrant, Arroyo can no longer leave the country, Supreme Court spokesman Midas Marquez said.
Aquino, who won office last year on an anti-corruption campaign, said in October that charges against Arroyo will be filed this month. Former president Arroyo faces allegations she pocketed more than a billion pesos ($23 million) from a government contract in 2007 and that she and her husband Jose Miguel rigged the 2004 and 2007 elections.
The Philippine police filed a plunder complaint in September against Jose Miguel before an anti-graft body for the alleged irregular sale of helicopters. Arroyo’s eldest son, Juan Miguel, and his wife face tax evasion cases.
Aquino has said his predecessor’s problems with her parathyroid glands don’t require treatment abroad and offered to fly in specialists for Arroyo.
If Arroyo were out of the country, she would be unable to enter her plea once indicted by the state, Tomas Prado, national secretary of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, said this week. “Without arraignment, there can be no trial.”
The nation’s top court has already blocked some of Aquino’s efforts. In October 2010, it ruled he couldn’t fire officials Arroyo appointed shortly before her term ended and two months later struck down a presidential order creating a ’’truth commission’’ to investigate her. Chief Justice Renato Corona, who voted to lift the travel ban, was Arroyo’s chief of staff.
--With assistance from Joel Guinto in Manila. Editors: Patrick Harrington, John Brinsley
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