By OLIVER TEVES, Associated Press
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo walked out of a government hospital on Wednesday where she had been detained for nearly eight months on election rigging charges after a court found that evidence against her was weak and granted bail.
Wearing a neck brace, Arroyo smiled and held her grandson's hand as she left the hospital. She suffers from a neck ailment and has undergone three operations.
Court spokeswoman Felda Domingo said Arroyo was released after posting bail of 1 million pesos ($23,250). She said Arroyo, who won a seat in Congress in 2010 after stepping down from the presidency, cannot leave the country and needs court permission to visit her district in the northern province of Pampanga.
Judge Jesus Mupas ruled that the evidence presented by prosecutors was not strong enough to deny bail. Election sabotage is normally a non-bailable offense, but bail can be granted if defendants show that the evidence against them is weak.
Arroyo's successor, President Benigno Aquino III, has targeted the former president for alleged corruption and other wrongdoing during her tumultuous nine years in office.
The bail ruling "will not dampen our resolve to file and to continue to institute corruption cases against responsible officials," Aquino spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
Arroyo says she's innocent and accuses her successor of pursuing a political vendetta. Her trial is expected to begin next month.
Her spokeswoman, Maria Elena Bautista-Horn, appealed for privacy for Arroyo to give the former president "the chance to make up for lost time with her children and grandchildren."
"She is not yet out of danger and still needs close medical attention and supervision," she said.
Domingo earlier said Arroyo would not be released even after posting bail if she had cases pending against her in other courts, but family spokesman Ferdinand Topacio said she has no outstanding arrest warrants.
Topacio called the bail ruling "a triumph of justice ... against a creeping authoritarianism that threatens to envelop our land and turn it into a judicial wasteland."
Government prosecutors filed plunder charges last week in a separate anti-graft court against Arroyo and nine other former officials for alleged misuse of 365 million pesos ($8.7 million) in state lottery funds. Court clerk Estella Teresita Rosete said it did not immediately issue an arrest warrant for Arroyo because her lawyers had filed several motions seeking a suspension of proceedings.
In his ruling Wednesday, Mupas said the only evidence presented by prosecutors that would link Arroyo to alleged vote-rigging in the 2007 elections was testimony by a witness whose credibility was in doubt.
Commission on Elections chairman Sixto Brillantes said it will appeal the bail ruling.
As president, Arroyo oversaw years of corruption scandals, failed coup attempts and political unrest.
Associated Press writer Jim Gomez contributed to this report.
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