In the week that saw the much-publicised exit of Silvio Berlusconi from power amid allegations of corruption, trouble was also brewing further afield.
Ex-president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has been arrested on charges of election sabotage. The Commission on Elections filed the case against her, which relate to local and national elections held in 2007.
Arrest warrants were also issued for former Maguindanao Governor, Andal Ampatuan, and former Maguindanao election supervisor Lintang Bedol. Both men are already in police custody. Ampatuan, a close ally of Arroyo is also facing charges related to the notorious Maguindano massacre. Ampatuan is accused of orchestrating the mass murder of a convoy of 57 journalists and friends and supporters of election rival Esmael Mangudadatu. The convoy was en route to register Mangudadatu’s candidacy papers for the May 2010 elections.
Earlier this week Arroyo attempted to leave the country to seek medical treatment as she claims (rather conveniently, some believe) to be suffering from a rare bone disease. Arroyo has been dogged for months by rumours of arrest on charges of fraud and corruption. Consequently she was put on a travel watch meaning she had to request permission to leave the country. Arroyo contested this ruling in the Supreme Court and it found in her favour. However farcical scenes were played out at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila on Wednesday when the government defied that decision and blocked her exit. Arroyo was photographed in a wheelchair sporting a neck brace, something that led one commentator to describe her as ‘Hannibal Lector in drag’.
Arroy assumed the presidency of the Philippines in January 2001, succeeding Joseph (Erap) Estrada whose Vice President she had been. Corruption, a chaotic personal life and political ineptitude led to Estrada’s downfall, partly thanks to the Philippine public taking to the streets. Erap was subsequently convicted of plunder and jailed.
Arroyo pardoned Erap in 2007 and he ran again for the presidency in 2010, coming second to President Benigno Aquino III. I was an election monitor for the Peoples’ International Observers Mission in 2010, which raised concerns of election fraud.
Between 2001 and 2004 Arroyo governed without an electoral mandate but won the 2004 presidential contest. However in June 2005 Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye released two recordings of conversations that allegedly took place between Arroyo and Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano. The conversations indicated that 2004 elections had been manipulated in Arroyo’s favour. This scandal coincided with the kidnap of Philippine overseas foreign worker Angelo de la Cruz in Iraq and the subsequent withdrawal of the Philippines from George Bush’s ‘Coalition of the Willing’. These events are discussed in my article ‘Philippines Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs), Presidential Trickery and the War on Terror’.
Throughout her presidency Arroyo was dogged by scandal. In 2003 a fertilizer scam saw her embroiled in allegations of over-priced and non-transparent procurement. In 2007 Arroyo’s husband was also caught up in a similar contractual scandal which was set to see the couple make $70 million. Only by cancelling the deal did Arroyo avoid charges.
In the 2010 elections Arroyo was elected to the House of Representatives, which allowed her to enjoy exemption from prosecution, thanks to parliamentary immunity. Unfortunately for her this immunity does not cover offences with penalties of more than six years – and electoral sabotage carries a potential life sentence.
It is difficult to see what will happen next – but whatever Arroyo’s fate it is surely time for the Philippines to get its electoral house in order, for the country’s political class is in danger of making Berlusconi look like the very model of a sober statesman.