MANILA – Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, one of the Philippines’ most powerful politicians, was arrested Friday over a massive corruption scandal that has shocked the country.
The 90-year-old former defense secretary, senate president and martial-law enforcer of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos surrendered to police to stand trial on charges of taking nearly $4 million 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 though 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.
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.
Sens. 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 172 million pesos ($3.9 million) in public funds that were allegedly diverted to ghost projects, a crime punishable by 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 said.
The case erupted last year when businesswoman Janet Napoles was accused of colluding with lawmakers to embezzle about 10 billion pesos 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.
Aquino spokeswoman Abigail Valte described the arrests as “a step forward in discerning the truth” in the scandal.
Aquino came to power in a landslide election victory in 2010, pledging to sweep away massive corruption that he blames for the Philippines’ stubbornly high levels of poverty.
Considered by many a consummate political survivor, Enrile, a former defense minister, turned against Marcos in 1986 to spark a bloodless “people power” revolt that ended the dictator’s 20-year rule and ushered Aquino’s late mother, Corazon, into the presidency.