Arroyos 'planning to flee abroad'
Raissa Robles in Manila
The Philippine government is convinced that former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband, Mike Arroyo, plan to flee abroad to avoid prosecution.
Justice Secretary Leila De Lima said yesterday she had received 'reliable information' that at least one country was ready to grant the Arroyos political asylum. She did not identify the nation.
De Lima said she had separately been tipped off that the Dominican Republic was also ready to shelter the couple, who have been accused of plunder and electoral sabotage. The information regarding the Dominican Republic had not been verified, she said.
Other countries that have been suggested as possible havens include Spain and Portugal. None of these countries has an extradition treaty with Manila.
Media reported on Thursday that the Arroyos were hoping to flee to the Dominican Republic.
Their lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio, denied they had ever been to the nation. 'They have never been to the Dominican Republic, and have no intention of applying for passports or for residency in that country. They maintain their allegiance to the Philippines, where they definitely intend to return if allowed to leave, to face squarely the preposterous, trumped-up charges against them.'
However, that denial was undermined by the emergence of photographs of Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez bestowing the nation's top honour on Gloria Arroyo for establishing bonds between the Philippines and Latin America. The photos, taken in May, were on the Dominican government website.
Topacio later amended his statement to reflect the fact that Gloria Arroyo had visited the nation.
On Tuesday, De Lima rejected a request from the Arroyos to go overseas for medical treatment for the former president's 'rare mineral bone disorder and hypoparathyroidism'. She said she was a flight risk and her condition did not warrant emergency treatment abroad.
President Benigno Aquino backed De Lima's decision and offered to fly in specialists at state expense to treat his predecessor.
Jose Arroyo hit back at him and his officials, saying they 'should be the ones to seek asylum - mental asylum - for their recent official acts which are an affront to the constitution and the norms of human decency'.
A government official told the South China Morning Post 'there is really a plan to seek political asylum'.
He said Gloria Arroyo had links to a former diplomat of the Dominican Republic who had been based in Manila but was now in India. He did not know the name of the diplomat.
However, the media this week said Hans Dannenberg, the Dominican ambassador to India and a former envoy to Manila, had personally delivered asylum application papers to Gloria Arroyo last month.
A spokesman for Gloria Arroyo said De Lima was engaging in 'trial by publicity'. 'Why are they afraid of Mrs Arroyo seeking political asylum? Is this administration admitting it is indeed persecuting Mrs Arroyo?'
De Lima said the Arroyos seemed to be laying the groundwork for applying for political asylum.