- Associated Press - Thursday, July 21, 2016

MANILA, Philippines (AP) - Former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was freed Thursday from years of hospital detention after the Supreme Court cleared her of a plunder charge in what anti-corruption advocates called “a sad day” for justice.

The 69-year-old Arroyo was whisked off a military veterans’ hospital in suburban Quezon city and driven to her home in the upscale La Vista residential enclave in the Manila metropolis, her lawyer, Lawrence Arroyo, said.

She did not appear before throngs of journalists who have waited for her release. Back at home, Arroyo had dinner with some of her children and grandchildren and expressed eagerness to return to the House of Representatives, to which she was re-elected in May despite her detention. She planned to attend President Rodrigo Duterte’s state of the nation address on Monday, lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, an Arroyo supporter, said.

She is the second former president to spend time in detention over allegations of largescale corruption.

Arroyo’s predecessor, Joseph Estrada, was forced from the presidency by a 2001 public uprising then later convicted of plunder. He was pardoned by Arroyo in 2007 and was re-elected Manila city mayor in May.

Arroyo has denied any wrongdoing and called her detention a political persecution.

“Once again, justice for the rich and powerful triumphs in the Philippines,” said Renato Reyes, a leader of the left-wing Bayan group which had staged protests and worked for Arroyo’s ouster in her time.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who was among those who sued Arroyo for plunder, said the criminal case against her was strong, adding she would back any effort to find a way to criminally prosecute Arroyo. “It’s a sad day for justice,” Hontiveros said.

The Supreme Court justices on Tuesday voted 11-4 to grant Arroyo’s petition to dismiss the plunder charge against her for a lack of evidence in the final criminal case that kept the once-powerful leader in detention. The case involved the alleged misuse of 366 million pesos ($7.8 million) from the state lottery agency. Her release was delayed by paperwork.

Arroyo finished her tumultuous nine-year tenure in 2010 but was arrested the following year on an election fraud charge, for which she was allowed to post bail after eight months of detention. Three months later, she was charged with plunder for which she was again detained for nearly four years.

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 Duterte’s offer of a pardon because it would have required her conviction, preferring instead to fight the allegation.

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Associated Press writer Jim Gomez contributed to this report.

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