Philippine court clears Arroyo of plunder, orders her freed

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The Philippine Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a plunder case against former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and ordered her freed immediately after nearly five years of hospital detention — a decision the grateful ex-leader indicated can help her deal with those who "through self-serving interpretation and implementation of the law" made her suffer.

The 15 justices voted 11-4 to grant Arroyo's petition seeking to dismiss the case before the special anti-graft Sandiganbayan court because of insufficient evidence, Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te said. The case involved the alleged misuse of 366 million pesos ($7.8 million) from the state lottery agency, the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

Arroyo thanked the court "for finally stopping the persecution I had unjustly gone through the last five years" and President Rodrigo Duterte "for allowing due process to take its course."

She released a statement while still detained in the hospital, with the serving of the court's order for an immediate release apparently delayed by paperwork.

"It is my fervent hope that nobody else will suffer the persecution that had been levied on me through self-serving interpretation and implementation of the law," she said. "And that the disregard for truth for which I was made to suffer be dealt with accordingly at the soonest possible time."

Arroyo was detained under former President Benigno Aquino III, who accused her of corruption and misrule. Aquino's successor, Duterte, however, has said the plunder case against her was weak. She rejected his offer of a pardon because it would require that she be first convicted, preferring to fight the allegation.

Aquino has not commented on the court decision. But his former justice secretary and now Senator Leila de Lima said the Supreme Court seems to have assumed a role as a "trier of facts" in the case, supplanting the anti-graft court's assessment when it declared there was insufficient evidence of guilt.

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