MANILA: Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, one of the Philippines’ most powerful politicians, was arrested yesterday over a massive corruption scandal that has shocked the country.
The 90-year-old ex-defence secretary, senate president, and martial-law enforcer of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, surrendered to police on charges of taking nearly $4m in kickbacks from illegally diverted state funds.
“We’re just hoping for the best... Hopefully they will be able to provide for the needs of a 90-year-old,” his son Jack Enrile told ABS-CBN television.
The network broadcast live footage as the Enrile clan rode a convoy of sports utility vehicles through traffic to bring the patriarch from his Manila mansion to the national police headquarters.
Police cordoned off his vehicle as the wealthy senator stepped out and walked into a police building, a photographer saw.
Enrile is the third member of the 24-seat senate to be arrested in a case that has staggered the nation, in which dozens of lawmakers, their staff and other officials are accused of embezzling millions of dollars allotted for development projects.
Senators Jose Estrada -- son of a former president -- and Ramon Revilla, also an action film star, were both arrested last month after being charged, like Enrile, with “plunder”.
The three were among dozens indicted earlier this year in President Benigno Aquino’s high-profile anti-corruption campaign.
Enrile was accused of pocketing $3.95m in public funds that were allegedly diverted to ghost projects, a crime punishable life imprisonment.
The court rejected Enrile’s request for bail, court official Dennis Pulma told reporters.
Enrile, “considering his age and his health”, will now ask to be detained in a hospital instead of a police cell, his lawyer Enrique de la Cruz said.
The case erupted last year when businesswoman Janet Napoles was accused of colluding with lawmakers to embezzle about P10bn from legislators’ “pork barrel” funds, or money for their pet projects.
Napoles initially denied any wrongdoing, then in a failed effort to turn state witness gave prosecutors a list implicating more than 100 lawmakers. She has also been charged with plunder.
Two of those on the list are now members of the Aquino cabinet, but they deny the charges and say Napoles is spreading false information to deflect blame.