MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A popular Philippine senator and action movie star surrendered Friday after an anti-graft court ordered his arrest on large-scale corruption charges in a rare spectacle of the country's high and mighty being made to answer for alleged misdeeds.
Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr., who belongs to a powerful political clan and one of the country's most famous movie and TV celebrities, arrived in a convoy of SUVs with his wife, children and fans at the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court in suburban Quezon city. He was to be taken later to police headquarters, where his fingerprints and mug shots will be taken before his detention. Local TV networks beamed his surrender live nationwide.
Revilla is one of three influential senators indicted early this month for allegedly receiving huge kickbacks from state anti-poverty and development funds. He says he is innocent.
"Even in my dreams I didn't see this coming," Revilla said at his mansion in Cavite province, south of Manila, where his fans and relatives gathered to show support before his trip to the court. "It's like a nightmare I can't wake up from."
Revilla's lawyer, Joel Bodegon said he filed a petition for bail because the evidence against his client is weak. He requested a hearing next week on the motion.
Corruption has plagued this poor southeast Asian nation of 97 million Filipinos for decades, fostered by a culture of impunity by powerful politicians, businessmen and their allies, weak law enforcement and a notoriously slow justice system.
Under President Benigno Aquino III, who rose to power in 2010 on a promise to battle poverty and corruption, his predecessor has been detained on vote-rigging charges and a Supreme Court justice was impeached for the first time for not disclosing $2.4 million in his bank accounts.
Aside from Revilla, Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada face arrest for economic plunder. Enrile, a wealthy businessman, was defense minister when dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in the Philippines in 1972, a dark era in the country's history that was characterized by widespread corruption and human rights abuses. Estrada is the son of a president who was deposed by a nonviolent public uprising in 2001 for plunder.