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GMA given more time to celebrate birthday with family at VMMC

Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

MANILA, Philippines - The Sandiganbayan has granted former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s request to allow her family to spend more time with her at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) this weekend to celebrate her 67th birthday.

“She is very happy and excited to be with the members of the family on her birthday,” defense lawyer Modesto Ticman Jr. told The STAR after personally delivering the good news to the former president.

“She’s looking forward to it. She’s super excited that at least for three days, they will be together,” he added, noting that the celebration will involve a lot of eating, chatting and bonding.

Prosecutors of the Office of the Ombudsman, during yesterday’s hearing on the motion, posed no objection to the plea of Arroyo, who is on trial for plunder for alleged involvement in the misuse of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds.

The anti-graft court granted Arroyo’s request to allow her loved ones to stay at the VMMC from 9 a.m. on April 4 to 9:30 p.m. of April 6, since April 5 is her birthday.

Malacañang wishes Arroyo well on the occasion of her 67th birthday on Saturday.

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“We want to greet her a happy birthday, and we hope that she will be happy celebrating it, along with her loved ones,” Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. of the Presidential Communications Operations Office told a news briefing yesterday.

Ticman said the Sandiganbayan First Division approved the former president’s motion on humanitarian grounds.

Considering that prosecutors submitted the matter of deciding on the request to the sound discretion of the court, the request was granted.

Ticman said that in accordance with the amended protocol on security, immediate family members who will be allowed to stay and sleep over at the VMMC include only immediate relatives.

“This includes husband or spouse, children, grandchildren, uncle and aunt, fiancé, and siblings,” he said, citing the rules set by the Police Security and Protection Group (PSPG).

Arroyo, who remains on hospital arrest, had earlier tried to ask for a three-day birthday furlough that would have allowed her to spend her birthday in her hometown in Lubao, Pampanga.

However, the Sandiganbayan, with prosecutors objecting to the request, denied the motion and Ticman opted not to question it anymore.

Arroyo is still trying to convince the anti-graft court to grant her bail, anchored on the legal argument that she is not a flight risk and that detention during trial is not meant to punish but only ensure that an accused will not flee.

The Sandiganbayan had already denied her petition for bail based on a separate legal argument that the former president’s health is deteriorating and her continued stay in hospital is not helping her any.

Meanwhile, a ranking PCSO official took the witness stand on the plunder case hearing yesterday, admitting that he has no personal knowledge on the approval and disbursement of the P366-million confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) allegedly misused from 2008 to 2010.

PCSO corporate secretary Ramon Rodrigo told the Sandiganbayan that as far as requests, approvals and disbursements of CIFs made and carried out by PCSO between 2008 and first quarter of 2010, he had no personal knowledge because he was not yet with the agency at the time.

He admitted, however, that up to now, the current PCSO board and officials still allot and make use of CIF in carrying out some of their functions, though he was evasive when asked who among them are given the CIF, saying he is in no position to answer.

Rodrigo also said that based on PCSO records, the old board approved the disbursements of CIF in 2009 as presented copies of the minutes of the board meetings conducted in relation to the fund. – With Delon Porcalla

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