MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo pleaded not guilty to an electoral fraud charge Thursday at the opening of a landmark trial that is a key test for her reformist successor.
Arroyo, president from 2001 to 2010, is accused of rigging the results of senatorial polls in 2007 to favor her candidates. The electoral sabotage charge is the first of several criminal cases being prepared against her.
"Not guilty," she said in court when asked to respond. If convicted, she could face life in prison.
After her appearance, which lasted only about 10 minutes, she was escorted under tight security from the courtroom to a military hospital where she is detained while being treated for a spine ailment. She wore a cream-color dress and a neck brace, and even managed to pose for souvenir photos with people in the courtroom, smiling and shaking hands with them.
Court spokeswoman Felda Domingo said the trial is historic because "the votes of the people were sabotaged and the accused is a former president."
Arroyo's successor, Benigno Aquino III, has promised to root out corruption and said that no one should be allowed to evade justice.
Arroyo's husband, Miguel "Mike" Arroyo, gave a brief statement to reporters at the court, saying his wife "feels the case is an injustice."
The electoral fraud case against the former president centers on a notoriously corrupt southern Philippine region where all 12 of Arroyo's Senate candidates swept all the votes and no opposition candidate won.
"It's not bad to say 12-0," Mike Arroyo said. "There is no case here."
He said is wife is frustrated, and still suffering from spine and back pain that he said requires medical treatment abroad.
Associated Press writer Jim Gomez contributed to this report.