MANILA, Philippines – Detained former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo entered a not guilty plea on Thursday, February 23, during her arraignment before the Pasay Regional Trial Court (RTC) for alleged electoral sabotage in 2007.
"Tapos na ang arraignment, nag-plea siya ng not guilty," her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo, who was with her, told reporters.
The former president waived her right for the charges to be read before her, going straight to her not guilty plea.
Her trial begins on April 19, according to the court.
In an interview with reporters after the arraignment, Arroyo lawyer Ferdinand Topacio said: "This arraignment is the first step toward her acquittal."
Pasay RTC Branch 112 issued an arrest warrant for Arroyo on November 18, 2011 in connection with the electoral sabotage case filed by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) last year.
The accusation against Arroyo involves her alleged role in rigging the 2007 senatorial elections along with ex-Comelec chair Benjamin Abalos, former Maguindanao Gov Andal Ampatuan Sr, and former Maguindanao election supervisor Lintang Bedol.
The case against Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative, is part of the Aquino administration’s anti-corruption campaign.
Her arraignment comes in the middle of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, who stands accused of using the Supreme Court to protect her. Arroyo named Corona as chief justice in May 2010, in a move that was described as a midnight appointment since it happened during a ban on appointments in an election period.
The SC later reversed its own ruiling on the ban and said the High Tribunal was exempted from it.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, testifying before the impeachment court on Wednesday, February 22, said that Corona played a key role in pushing the SC to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) in November last year that would have allowed Mrs Arroyo to seek medical treatment abroad.
De Lima defied the TRO, and a few days later the Comelec filed the non-bailable electoral sabotage case against Mrs Arroyo.
On Dec. 12, 2011, at least 188 lawmakers from the House of Representatives impeached the Chief Justice.
Last year Newsbreak reported that the Comelec might have bungled the case after it junked its own rules, cut short due process, and went against previous Supreme Court rules when it filed the charge.
Malacañang welcomed Mrs Arroyo's arraignment.
Presidential Spokersperon Edwin Lacierda said: "The trial can now proceed on the merits and let justice be done."
Meanwhile, the former president remains under hospital arrest after the Pasay RTC allowed this earlier this month, acting on a Comelec petition to transfer the former president to a regular jail. Her daily hospital detention cost can feed at least 21 Filipinos a day, based on estimates.
Earlier, a spine surgery expert from the Veterans Memorial Medical Center, where Arroyo is detained, testified that she could receive medical treatment as an outpatient despite her physical therapy needs.
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.