Gloria Arroyo leaves VMMC
MANILA, Philippines (5th UPDATE) – Former 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 offense.
Footage taken by ABS-CBN News showed the 65-year-old Arroyo walking hand in hand with her grandson, Nacho Arroyo, outside the hospital before boarding a white van at around 2:30 p.m.
Television footage briefly showed her smiling and waving to supporters as her convoy made its way to her house.
Her legal spokesman, Raul Lambino, said some of the former President's supporters wept tears of joy when the order for Arroyo's release was finally delivered to the Veterans' Memorial Medical Center (VMMC).
"It got quite emotional a while ago when the release order was delivered," he said.
Arroyo's release came on the same day a Pasay City regional trial court allowed her to post bail of P1 million in the electoral sabotage case against her.
Arroyo was arrested at an exclusive hospital shortly after immigration authorities blocked her at Manila airport while trying to leave the country in November.
Arroyo was charged with electoral sabotage, a crime punishable with life in jail, for allegedly conspiring with a feared political warlord to rig the 2007 senatorial elections.
Her successor, Benigno Aquino III, had vowed to have her brought to justice for many acts of corruption he alleged she committed during her nine years in office that ended in 2010.
Arroyo has also been charged with corruption for approving an allegedly graft-tainted contract to set up a national government broadband system as well as siphoning off $8 million in state lottery funds.
Medical treatment abroad?
In an interview, Arroyo's daughter, Luli Arroyo-Bernas, thanked the court for granting her mother's bail petition.
"We thank God and all the people who are praying for her," she said in a television interview, her voice cracking with emotion.
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 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.
Arroyo’s daughter said her mother is set to go to Tagaytay City on Thursday to visit an alternative medical facility.
Arroyo camp caught unawares
Arroyo's chief of staff, Elena Bautista Horn, urged the media to give the former President time alone with the family.
"Let us be considerate enough to give her the chance to make up for lost time with her children and grandchildren and let us help her to continue and support her recuperation from her ailment," she said in a statement.
She said the Arroyo family was caught unawares by the Pasay court's decision allowing Arroyo to post bail.
She also said the Arroyo family made no preparations for the former President's return to her La Vista Subdivision home.
"Hindi rin kami nakahanda sa mga pangyayari ngayong araw...Wala kaming paghahanda. Wala kaming pagkain dito," she said.
She also noted Arroyo already wants to return to work as congresswoman of Pampanga's 2nd District but was prevailed upon to rest.
Meanwhile, visitors of Arroyo flocked her home in La Vista Wednesday night.
Among those seen entering Arroyo’s home were House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez and Cavite Rep. Lani Mercado. -- Reports from Reuters and Agence France-Presse; Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News