MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Authorities charged former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo with electoral fraud Friday as part of a high-profile tug of war to keep her in the country and prevent any chance of her turning fugitive.
Arroyo denies wrongdoing, and says she does not intend to flee justice but wants to go abroad for necessary medical treatment for a bone ailment.
In a legal victory for Arroyo, the Supreme Court upheld her right to travel, at least temporarily, until a lower court delivers a new ruling on whether she can leave the country now that formal charges have been filed.
The Supreme Court decision could set the stage for a possible second airport showdown this week, with Arroyo's aides saying she could board a plane out of Manila later Friday and the government adamant to stop her.
In a drama that has galvanized the Philippines, Arroyo tried to leave the country Tuesday with her husband, saying she needed the expertise of foreign medical facilities. But she was stopped at the Manila airport by authorities who said she was still under investigation, and that she might become a fugitive.
The election fraud charges, which carry a penalty of 40 years imprisonment, were filed Friday by the Commission on Election at the Pasay Regional Trial Court in Manila.
Judge Jesus Mupas will now decide whether to issue an arrest warrant, said Elections Commission Chairman Sixto Brillantes. He said he also asked for a court order barring Arroyo's travel.
Arroyo has denied any wrongdoing, and her legal spokesman Raul Lambino said Friday the case against her has been fabricated.
"This is a high form of injustice," Lambino said.
Arroyo lawyer Ferdinand Topacio deplored the "indecent haste" and criticized what he said was the government's "emerging pattern of persecution."
The Supreme Court last week granted Arroyo a temporary clearance to travel, but the government still refused to let her go, with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima saying she may be seeking political asylum abroad.
In the fast-moving legal drama, the Supreme Court on Friday rejected the government's travel ban on Arroyo that was issued before the formal charges were filed. Court spokesman Midas Marquez said that Arroyo and her husband were free to leave until another court rules otherwise.
The charges stem from allegations that Arroyo conspired with officials to tamper with results of 2007 congressional polls to favor her candidates.
Now that charges have been filed, Arroyo likely faces arrest, Sen. Francis Escudero said.
Arroyo was recovering in the hospital since her failed attempt to leave the country Tuesday, and it was doubtful she would be immediately hauled to jail even if the arrest warrant was issued.
After stepping down last year, Arroyo, 64, was elected to the House of Representatives and immediately faced at least half a dozen complaints, also alleging she diverted state funds for her campaign effort and benefited from foreign contracts.
The Justice Department is still investigating the other complaints.
Her successor and staunch critic, President Benigno Aquino III, was overwhelmingly elected on promises to rid the Philippines of corruption and has said he wants to start with Arroyo.
Arroyo would be the second Philippine president to face trial, after her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, was toppled in a 2001 military-backed revolt on corruption charges and sentenced to life. He was later pardoned by Arroyo.
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