New Internationalist

Arroyo arrested but problems persist


Former president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, has been arrested on charges of election fraud, a non-bailable offense here. As I write this, she is under hospital arrest, in one of the most expensive private hospitals in the country.

The nine-year reign of Arroyo witnessed an endless list of crimes – from human rights violations, illegal arrests, political maneuvering, corruption, overpriced road projects, the list goes on. On November 18, 2011, a local court made history by issuing an arrest warrant against the former president on charges of electoral fraud.

Aware of the crime she had committed and fearing her eventual arrest and because of a lingering illness – the extent and magnitude of which is still unclear to the public – Arroyo attempted to leave the country on November 15, three days before the warrant was issued. She said she needed to seek medical treatment from hospitals in Singapore. But a hold departure order from the Department of Justice prevented her from leaving the country.

The scene at the airport could very well have been from a movie. The Arroyo camp brought the former president to the airport despite the hold departure order (they obtained a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court). The former president looked helpless and fragile in a wheelchair. Diagnosed with a cervical spine condition, Arroyo must wear a halo vest. Immigration officials barred her from leaving and the scene of authorities preventing a frail president from seeking medical help abroad was meant to draw public sympathy.

Unfortunately for the Arroyo camp, it did not.

Arroyo is the second former president of the Philippines to be arrested on criminal charges filed in court. Her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, whom she pardoned, was convicted on plunder charges. The charges are serious and if convicted, Arroyo faces life imprisonment. Witnesses have attested that she rigged the 2007 elections.

President Benigno Aquino III, Arroyo’s successor, has made it clear that his administration will make sure that the former president and her cohorts will pay for their crimes. Elected on a good governance platform, President Aquino is doing all that he can to make sure corrupt people pay the price for their wrongdoings.

I’m all for it but after more than a year in office, the administration needs to show that it can prosecute the sinners of the past and at the same time fix the economy. The people are waiting for measures that would move the country forward and not just acts to plug revenue loopholes or corruption.The latest data showed that the Philippine economy slowed down to 3.4 per cent in the second quarter of the year, remarkably slower than the 8.9 per cent recorded a year ago.

An anti-corruption mandate, after all, can only get the country so far.


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