Philippine court lifts travel ban on Arroyo

AFP , Tuesday 15 Nov 2011

Philippine court says the travel ban on ex-president Gloria Arroyo, who suffers rare bone disease following three unsuccessful spine operations, is unconstitutional

Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who suffers rare bone disease following three unsuccessful spine operations, is seen wearing a 3-kilogram halo brace which was screwed to the base of her skull in this undated handout photo (Photo : AP)

The Philippine's highest court said Tuesday it had overturned a government ban on ex-president Gloria Arroyo travelling abroad that was put in place amid fears she intended to flee a corruption probe.

Arroyo, 64, had been seeking to leave the Philippines so she could receive medical treatment for what she said was a rare bone disease following three unsuccessful spine operations in Manila this year.

President Benigno Aquino, who has waged a high-profile but so far unsuccessful campaign to prosecute his predecessor for alleged corruption and vote rigging while she was in power, imposed a travel ban on her last week.

But a spokesman for the Supreme Court said the justices had ruled 8-5 that the ban, which also applied to her husband, was unconstitutional because they had not yet been charged with any crime.

"They (Arroyo's lawyers) were able to show... the (travel ban) would probably work (as) an injustice against them," Midas Marquez said.

"This was of course consistent with the constitutional presumption of innocence."

A lawyer for Arroyo and her husband said they were preparing to leave for Singapore on Tuesday after posting a court-imposed bond of two million pesos ($47,000).

"This is really a matter of life and death for her," lawyer Ferdinand Topacio said in an interview on GMA television.

He said Arroyo would have a check-up in Singapore to determine if she was fit to travel on to Europe, where she would receive specialised treatment.

Topacio insisted Arroyo's medical concerns were genuine and she was not using her condition as a ruse to flee the corruption charges.

"They will return, do not worry, and they will face the charges against them," he said.

Aquino and his justice secretary said last week that Arroyo could receive adequate medical care at home and they suspected she may be seeking to flee to countries that have no extradition treaty with the Philippines.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Tuesday the government would apply to the Supreme Court next week for a motion for reconsideration.

Lacierda also said Arroyo would not be allowed to leave the country until the government received the documents from the Supreme Court on the ruling.

However he said the government's only intention at this stage was to appeal the ruling, and it was not seeking to override the court's decision in other ways.

Arroyo, who was president from 2001 to 2010, faced wide ranging allegations of corruption and vote-rigging while she was in power.

Aquino, who won presidential elections by a landslide last year on a strong anti-corruption platform, has vowed repeatedly to bring Arroyo to justice but not been able to file any charges against her.

In one of the highest-profile setbacks to his campaign, the Supreme Court ruled in December last year that a "truth commission" Aquino set up specifically to investigate Arroyo was unconstitutional.

Arroyo has retained political influence since stepping down as president, partly by winning a seat in the House of Representatives in last year's elections.

Aquino has also accused her of placing allies in positions of power before she stepped down, including justices in the Supreme Court.

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