Former Philippine President Arraigned on Charges of Election Fraud
February 24, 2012
By: Rebecca Aaberg | Printer Friendly
On February 23, former Philippine President Gloria Arroyo pleaded not guilty to charges of election fraud. Arroyo has been accused of “graft for improperly helping congressional allies win the 2007 election” by the Philippine Commission on Elections, Voice of America reported. The legislative elections in question included 12 Senate seats in parts of Mindanao province, all won by Arroyo supporters without contest.
The New York Times reported that Arroyo was restricted from travel outside the Philippines in November 2011, “on suspicion that she was trying to flee looming charges of corruption and electoral fraud.” She was later arrested on November 18, 2011. According to an affidavit filed by prosecutors, Arroyo ordered former governor of Maguindanao Datu Andal S. Ampatuan to make sure her political party won the seats. The affidavit claims she said: “It should be 12-0 in Maguindanao, even if you need to fix or change the result.” Ampatuan, who until recently served as an election official, has been charged for his role in the election fraud. The justice secretary told Voice of America that Arroyo faces two cases of electoral sabotage and three cases of plunder.
The key witness for the prosecution is former assistant to Ampatuan Norie K. Unas, who heard Arroyo give Ampatuan the order to participate in election fraud before the May 2007 elections, the New York Times reported. Unas has been placed in witness protection.
Impeachment proceedings have begun against Chief Justice Renate C. Corona, an ally of Arroyo. The New York Times reported that Corona is in a position to influence the outcome of Arroyo's case if it is appealed to the Supreme Court.
Since his election in 2010, Philippine President Benigno Aquino has made his anti-corruption campaign a priority. Reuters called the case “a landmark test of the government’s ability to tackle entrenched corruption.” The consequences of electoral fraud during the 2007 election in Maguindanao have potential effects on national elections, the New York Times reported. Spokesman for the Commission on Election James Jimenez warned that “if they won this province, they could sway the whole election nationwide.” Government spokesman Edwin Lacierda told Voice of America that the case will bring an “end to many controversies that have hounded the country [since] her administration. At this time of reckoning is it incumbent upon all of us to remain vigilant and observe this process as it unfolds. We must remain mindful of how in the past there were those who moved heaven and earth to prevent this day from arriving. Accountability escapes no one.”
Arroyo’s supporters have accused Aquino of using the case as part of a political vendetta against Arroyo. They protested peacefully outside the courtroom during the February 23 arraignment. A preliminary hearing for the electoral fraud trial is set for April 19.In a separate case, Arroyo has been charged with corruption for the “misuse of public funds and kickbacks” totaling $329 million in a government deal with Chinese telecommunications company ZTE Corp, Reuters reported.
Arroyo took office in 2001, after a popular revolt removed her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, from office. She ran against film star Fernando Poe Junior for office in 2004, legitimating her claim to the presidency. BBC reported that she received 12.9 million votes, about a million more votes than her opponent. During the election, police dispersed 1,500 opposition protestors marching on the presidential palace. Arroyo called the protestors "agents of anarchy" and defended police use of water cannons. Allegations of corruption during the 2004 presidential election resulted in an unsuccessful attempt by the opposition to begin impeachment processes against Arroyo.
For previous news on the Philippines, please see:
Aquino Wins Election in Philippines
BBC – Arroyo Re-Elected in Philippines
New York Times – Former Philippine President Denies Election Fraud Charge
Reuters - Philippines' Arroyo Pleads Not Guilty in Poll Fraud Trial
Voice of America – Former Philippine President Pleads “Not Guilty” to Election Fraud