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Philippines ex-official arrested election fraud charges

A Philippines senior official was arrested on Tuesday amidst allegations that he was involved in illegal activities in connection with the 2007 congressional elections on the island of Mindanao. Former chief election official, Benjamin Abalos, surrendered and was taken into custody [NYT report] at a courthouse in the city of Manila, but maintains his innocence. It is alleged that Abalos assisted former president Gloria MacapagalArroyo [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] in rigging the Mindanao congressional elections. Arroyo was officially charged with electoral sabotage [JURIST report] in November. However, she continues to deny wrongdoing [AP report] and contends that the charges reflect political persecution by the government. As Abalos is only one of several officials accused of illegal activities in connection with this election, more arrests are expected. Abalos is expected to be assigned to a detention center in the upcoming days.

The country has experienced widespread political corruption in recent years, but current President Benigno Aquino III [BBC profile] has pledged to continue the anti-corruption efforts, which have been specifically focused on Arroyo and those connected to her. Earlier this week, the Philippine Congress voted to impeach [JURIST report] Chief Justice Renato Corona [official profile] for violating the constitution and the public trust in connection with the trial of Arroyo, who originally appointed Corona to the Supreme Court. The impeachment proceedings required at least 95 signatures to move forward, and, ultimately, 188 of the 284 members of congress voted to impeach Corona. There are eight charges [text] brought against Corona, including failure to disclose his personal finances and several allegations of partiality. The most high profile of the allegations includes a charge of partiality regarding the trial of Arroyo. It is alleged Corona granted the temporary restraining order [JURIST report] on the travel restriction of Arroyo without legal grounds in order to give her a chance to escape. The charges will now be brought to trial. If found guilty, Corona will likely be forced out of office. Corona is the first Chief Justice and Justice of the Supreme Court to be impeached, and because impeachment is a constitutional tool that is to be used only in instances involving "criminality or substantial abuse of power," a clear cut conviction is required [JURIST op-ed] in order to preserve the integrity of both the country's Congress and Supreme Court.

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