SC extends halt order on GMA plunder trial

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) yesterday extended its order stopping the plunder trial of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo before the Sandiganbayan.

The SC justices decided in session to again issue a status quo ante order halting the proceedings before the first division of the anti-graft court involving the alleged P366-million Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) fund anomaly.

The new order extends for 90 days the original 30-day stay issued last Oct. 20 and which lapsed last Friday.

The order will then be effective until Feb. 19, 2016.

The SC decided to extend the halt order to allow the magistrates to decide on the merits of the case without the Sandiganbayan proceeding further with the trial.

Arroyo, who appointed 10 of the 15 current justices in the high court, is represented by former solicitor general Estelito Mendoza in this case.

Arroyo filed a petition with the high court last April seeking reversal of the final ruling of the Sandiganbayan first division last February denying her bail motion.

The SC had ordered the anti-graft court last June to answer the petition.

Last month, Arroyo reiterated her plea and asked the high tribunal to rule on her case as she cited the recent report from the United Nations Technical Working Group on Arbitrary Detention recommending her release from detention.

The UN panel has recommended the reconsideration of Arroyo’s application for bail “in accordance with the relevant international human rights standards.”

Arroyo argued the UN panel’s position was consistent with the petition for bail and demurrer to evidence her defense lawyers filed before the Sandiganbayan’s First Division.

The UN panel is composed of five independent human rights experts. Arroyo is represented in the UN by international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, wife of actor George Clooney.

Arroyo also reiterated her prayer for issuance of a temporary restraining order stopping the proceedings on the plunder case before the anti-graft court.

In her petition, Arroyo cited her deteriorating health in asking the high court to reverse the rulings of the Sandiganbayan.

Arroyo said the high court had ruled in many cases that detainees are entitled to bail “if their continuous confinement during the pendency of their case would be injurious to their health or endanger their life.”

Given her condition, the former president pleaded that hospital detention would not suffice for her recovery.

Petitioner invoked the case of De la Rama, where the high court ruled that hospital arrest “fell short of meeting or accomplishing the humanitarian purpose or reason underlying the doctrine adopted by modern trend of courts’ decisions which permit bail to prisoners, irrespective of the nature and merits of the charge against them, if their continuous confinement during the pendency of their case would be injurious to their health or endanger their life.”

Arroyo has been detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center while standing trial in the non-bailable plunder charge due to her cervical spondylosis, a degenerative disease of the bones and cartilage of the neck.

While government lawyers alleged conspiracy, almost all of Arroyo’s co-accused are either out on bail or had been acquitted of the charges.

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