Philippine anti-graft court orders prominent senator's arrest in high-profile corruption trial

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By TERESA CEROJANO, Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A Philippine senator and dictatorship-era defense chief surrendered Friday to face a charge of large-scale corruption, the most prominent of three top politicians to fall in a government anti-graft crackdown in recent weeks.

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile was indicted and ordered arrested by the anti-graft court for allegedly receiving huge kickbacks from a scam that diverted millions of dollars from anti-poverty and development funds allotted to lawmakers.

Enrile, 90, was the defense minister when late strongman Ferdinand Marcos placed the country under martial rule in 1972, the beginning of a 14-year dictatorship characterized by widespread human rights violations and corruption.

Enrile later broke off from Marcos in 1986 and helped lead a "people power" revolt that ousted the dictator, his family and allies. In the tumultuous post-dictatorship era, he was linked to several military rebellions against late President Corazon Aquino, mother of the current president, but continued to serve in government and later was elected to the Senate.

The arrests of Enrile and two other senators are a milestone in this Southeast Asian nation's long battle with corruption, which President Benigno Aquino III has blamed for causing the wrenching poverty that afflicts a fourth of the population and which has forced millions to leave the country in search of menial jobs and better opportunities abroad.

A prominent lawyer himself, Enrile has denied the accusation that he pocketed 172 million pesos ($3.94 million) in kickbacks and enlisted top-notch lawyers to defend him.

"He kissed all his children and grandchildren goodbye. There were tears of course. He said, 'Don't worry I will be back,'" said Enrique dela Cruz, one of Enrile's lawyers.

While he had been detained but never convicted in the past for his alleged role in attempts to overthrow the government, Enrile wants to clear his name in the case of economic plunder, according to de la Cruz.

After arriving at the national police headquarters in a convoy of SUVs, police said Enrile was booked and underwent medical tests that showed high blood pressure. Officials recommended he be placed under hospital arrest.

Aquino and other officials have hinted that he may be treated with leniency because of his age and frail health.

Two other senators — Ramon Revilla Jr, a movie and TV celebrity, and Jinggoy Estrada, son of a deposed president — have surrendered earlier and also have been detained.

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Associated Press writer Jim Gomez contributed to this report.

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