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Philippines’ ex-leader Arroyo: ‘I was persecuted’

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1Manila: Former Philippine president Gloria Arroyo has declared herself a victim of political persecution, following her release from nearly five years in detention over a corruption case.

In her first public comments since being freed from a military hospital on Thursday after the Supreme Court dismissed plunder charges against her, Arroyo insisted her detention was “unjust”.

The court found “insufficient evidence” to accuse her of stealing 366 million pesos (USD 8.8 million) in state lottery funds meant for charity programmes while she was in office between 2001 and 2010.

“This whole thing of (using) political power to persecute political enemies, this must stop. I must be the last victim,” Arroyo told ABS-CBN television over the weekend.

“I don’t wish what happened to me on my worst enemies.”

Arroyo was jailed in 2011 under the administration of then president Benigno Aquino, who sought to make his predecessor a high-profile scalp of his anti-corruption campaign.

Firebrand leader Rodrigo Duterte succeeded Aquino in June, and offered to pardon Arroyo.

Aquino had questioned the decision to free Arroyo, saying she must be held accountable for misusing funds intended for the poor.

The daughter of former president Diosdado Macapagal, Arroyo said her family also experienced persecution when rivals went after her father’s allies.

“I’m not saying that political figures should be immune from prosecution. What I’m saying is that the process should be fair and even-handed,” she said.

Despite her detention, Arroyo retained her seat in the House of Representatives in May elections, winning a third three-year term as a congresswoman representing her family’s stronghold in a farming and industrial province just north of Manila.

Arroyo returned to congress on Monday to hear Duterte’s address to the legislature and to attend the opening of parliament.

The former president, who suffers from a spinal illness, wore a neck brace to congress. She said she plans to go abroad to seek medical treatment.

Arroyo faced various corruption controversies during her presidency. She was initially arrested on charges of electoral sabotage for allegedly conspiring with election officials to rig 2007 senatorial polls.

Because of her condition, the government allowed her to be detained in a military hospital.

She was granted bail for the vote-rigging case in July 2012 after the court — while not dismissing the charge — ruled evidence against her was weak.

But the corruption case against Arroyo was lodged the same year, keeping her in detention.


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