MANILA, Philippines — Former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) board member Maria Fatima Valdes has been acquitted of plunder over the alleged misuse of the state lottery firm's P366-million confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) from 2008 to 2010.
In a 44-page resolution dated March 30, the Sandiganbayan First Division granted Valdes' demurrer to evidence which sought the dismissal of the case on the ground of the supposed weak evidence of the prosecution.
Valdes is among the co-accused of former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in a plunder case over the alleged misuse or the PCSO's P366-million worth of CIF.
The Supreme Court also acquitted Arroyo of the charge in July last year citing the “insufficiency of evidence” of the prosecution.
In dismissing the case against Valdes, the Sandiganbayan First Division cited its April 2015 ruling granting the respective demurrers of her fellow PCSO board members Manuel Morato, Raymundo Roquero and Jose Taruc V.
“Considering that accused Valdes, Morato, Roquero and Taruc were all members of the Board of Directors of the PCSO and are similarly charged with the same offense...the Court has no choice but to acquit accused Valdes as well,” the ruling penned by division chairman Associate Justice Efren De La Cruz read.
Associate Justices Geraldine Faith Econg and Bernelito Fernandez concurred with the ruling.
The court maintained that the prosecution failed to prove that the PCSO directors conspired with Arroyo as well as with PCSO Chairman Sergio Valencia and Vice Chairman and General Manager Rosario Uriarte in the commission of the charged offense.
The court sustained its earlier finding that the PCSO board members “did not have access or incurred expenditures related to the PCSO's CIF.”
The court said that what the prosecution was merely able to establish was that the PCSO board signed three resolutions confirming that there was additional CIF approved by the Office of the President as requested by and given to the office of Uriarte.
“But that is not proof of conspiracy or of any criminal act,” the court said, agreeing with the respondents that the signing of the resolutions was just part of their ministerial duty.
The court said the prosecution failed to show that the confirmation of the board of the existence of additional funds was necessary for its release, especially as its allocation to Uriarte's office already has the approval of the Office of the President.
“The President's approval should be sufficient basis or authority for the release of the funds involved because to think otherwise would mean that there would be a higher authority to countermand even supersede the president's approval,” the ruling read.
The court said there was also no evidence presented showing that the PCSO directors were privy about Uriate's reasons for the request of additional CIF or even the amount of the requested fund.
“Simply put, there is no sufficient evidence on record that the directors herein had diverted any PCSO funds to themselves, that they raided the public treasury by conveying and transferring into their possession and control any money or funds from PCSO account, and therefore, these demurrers must be granted,” the court said.
Following her acquittal, the court ordered the lifting of the hold departure order it earlier issued against her as well as the return of the P250,000 bail bond she earlier posted.
After four years of hiding abroad, Valdes surrendered before the court only in October last year, following the dismissal of the cases against Arroyo and the other respondents.
Meanwhile, the plunder case against Uriarte remains pending before the First Division, while the plunder case against Valencia was downgraded to a bailable offense of malversation of public funds.