MANILA, Philippines – A Philippine court on Monday allowed former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to be detained temporarily in an upscale hospital suite on electoral fraud charges while her lawyers battle to get her released.
More than a dozen left-wing activists protested the ruling and demanded the 64-year-old Arroyo be locked up like a common suspect in jail. A special air-conditioned cell complete with a living room and a small kitchen has been prepared for Arroyo at police headquarters.
President Benigno Aquino III’s administration has not opposed a hospital detention and has ordered Arroyo treated with respect.
Arroyo’s lawyer Ferdinand Topacio accused the government of filing the charges with “indecent haste” to ensure she would spend Christmas in jail.
Arroyo denies any wrongdoing during her presidency. Once described as one of Asia’s most powerful women, she became the third ex-Philippine leader to fall into disgrace when she was arrested Friday on charges alleging she rigged 2007 to favour her senatorial candidates.
The election sabotage charge carries a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison.
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Judge Jesus Mupas approved “for humanitarian consideration” a plea by Arroyo’s lawyer Jose Flaminiano to allow her to be detained at the St. Luke’s Medical Center, where she is being treated for a bone ailment.
Arroyo’s legal spokesman Raul Lambino said he petitioned the Supreme Court to temporarily release her while the tribunal determines the legality of the creation of the joint Department of Justice and Commission on Elections committee that filed the charge against her in court.
Former President Joseph Estrada, who was detained for more than six years on corruption charges before Arroyo pardoned him, said she should not be thrown in jail until convicted because she’s a woman and is sick. But she should be moved to a government hospital where authorities would have more security control than in her current hospital suite with hotel-like perks.
“She’s supposed to be an inmate,” Estrada said.
The court did not rule on whether to publicly release Arroyo’s mugshots that were taken in the hospital over the weekend.