SC clears GMA of plunder

(The Philippine Star) - July 20, 2016 - 12:00am

GMA to attend SONA

MANILA, Philippines – After four years in hospital detention for plunder, former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has been ordered released by the Supreme Court which dismissed the charges against her for “insufficiency of evidence.”

In a statement, Arroyo said “justice and righteousness have once again prevailed over injustice and wrongdoing.”

She also called on the public to “keep the faith in the justice system,”  and expressed her intention to attend President Duterte’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 25.

Voting 11-4, the high court granted the petition of Arroyo and set aside the rulings of the Sandiganbayan last year denying her demurrer to evidence or petition for dismissal of the case halfway into trial.

The court cited failure of the prosecution to present ample evidence to prove she had plundered P366 million in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds during her term, which ended in 2010.

Arroyo has been detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) since October 2012.

SC spokesman Theodore Te announced the decision yesterday but did not elaborate on the basis of the ruling or explain the process for the release of Arroyo, saying he was only authorized to read the dispositive portion of the ruling.

He also did not explain how the ruling would affect the two earlier petitions filed by Arroyo before the SC seeking bail and assailing the finding of probable cause by the Office of the Ombudsman.

The Sandiganbayan, through presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang, declined to comment on the SC decision but promised to comply with it.

The ruling penned by Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin was not immediately released pending completion of signatures of justices. Te said it would be served to the anti-graft court for implementation immediately upon release.

Aside from Bersamin, the 10 other justices who concurred in the ruling were Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Mariano del Castillo, Jose Perez, Jose Mendoza, Bienvenido Reyes, Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Francis Jardeleza.

Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno dissented from the ruling along with Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Justices Marvic Leonen and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa.

The high court also granted relief to her co-accused, former PCSO assistant general manager Benigno Aguas, by granting his petition for demurrer to evidence and ordering his release from the PNP custodial center.

Arroyo and her co-accused had been charged with plunder for reportedly pocketing PCSO intelligence funds totaling P366 million from 2008 to 2010.

Lawyers of the ailing former leader led by former solicitor general Estelito Mendoza had argued that the prosecution had failed to present any proof or witness to prove that Arroyo benefitted from the supposed anomaly.

In the trial at the Sandiganbayan, prosecutors were not able to connect the dots and show how exactly the money went to Arroyo.

Prior to yesterday’s decision, the high court had already granted Arroyo’s pleas for several furloughs. It also ordered the Sandiganbayan to forward all records of the case for resolution of Arroyo’s petition.

Last December, the SC allowed her to spend Christmas and New Year with her family in their house in La Vista.

In March, the high tribunal also allowed her to celebrate her 69th birthday with her family in the same residence.

The SC also allowed her to vote in her home province in Pampanga in the May 9 elections.

The high tribunal also granted her plea to undergo dental procedures for four days at the clinic of her dentist in Makati City.

The high tribunal earlier stopped the Sandiganbayan first division trial of Arroyo of the remaining plunder case against her through a status quo ante order pending the SC’s resolution of her bail petition. The order was extended three times.

Arroyo has reiterated her plea several times for the high tribunal to rule swiftly on her case after the United Nations Technical Working Group on Arbitrary Detention recommended her release from detention in a report in October last year.

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

The UN panel is composed of five independent human rights experts. Representing Arroyo in the UN body was international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, wife of Hollywood actor George Clooney.  

Grateful to Rody

Arroyo remained at the VMMC as of press time awaiting the release order. In her statement, she also thanked President Duterte “for allowing due process to take its course.” One of Duterte’s campaign promises was to work for her release from detention.

Arroyo was elated by the ruling and was eager to go home and resume her duties in the House of Representatives, according to her visitors at the VMMC.

The receiving area in her hospital suite was packed with visitors, including former Cabinet members and supporters from Pampanga.

Also seen were her son Juan Miguel Arroyo and some of her grandchildren.

 “Thank you very much, thank you very much for your moral support,” Arroyo told her former Cabinet officials who visited her. They included former executive secretary Eduardo Ermita, former trade chief Peter Favila and former justice secretary Agnes Devanadera.

“Her Good Friday is finally over. Her resurrection has finally come,” Mendoza, one of her lawyers, told reporters camped outside the VMMC. Security was not as tight as before, her regular visitors noticed.

Her husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo said he cried when he learned about the decision.

“Thank God! They took away six years of her life – an innocent woman,” Mr. Arroyo, a lawyer, said in a telephone interview.

“The dawn of a new administration has brought about new hope for great positive change, which includes freedom from false and malicious accusations and unceasing lies and disinformation,” he said in a separate statement issued by his lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio.

“We all join the new government in its fight against criminality, corruption and its economic and political reforms that will surely usher in a new golden age for our country and people,” he said.

He said his wife would have to undergo a comprehensive check-up to determine her actual state of health.

Respect the order

Malacañang called on the nation to respect the Supreme Court’s dismissal of the case against Arroyo.

“Let us respect and abide by the high court’s decision,” Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said in a statement.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the executive branch recognizes the high court’s independence and would abide by its decision.

Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza, a former Cabinet member of the Arroyo administration, said “justice has been served with the decision of the Supreme Court.”

Dureza said he and Arroyo talked about the Supreme Court decision over the phone yesterday.

“I congratulated her and from the background I can hear so many people. Many people visited her,” he said.

Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada said he was happy with the SC decision, noting he had pushed for the granting of bail to the former president.

“That’s good for her. I am happy for her. She has long been sick. I have been calling for the granting of bail for her. I even called to place her under house arrest because of her sickness,” Estrada told The STAR over the phone.

Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas also lauded the SC ruling. “She can now actively pursue her work in Congress and her other advocacies, receive proper medical care and be surrounded by her family and friends,” he said.

“Indeed, today is a blessed day for the Arroyos,” Vargas maintained.

In Davao City, former speaker Prospero Nograles said the SC ruling was “overdue.”

“The overdue delayed justice finally comes for former president GMA and I congratulate the Supreme Court for their just ruling on the case,” Nograles said.

Despite the announcement of SC’s dismissal of the plunder case against Arroyo, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) said it would only lift the hold departure order on the former president after getting specific instructions from the SC.

BI spokesperson Ma. Antonette Mangrobang said they would have to check first if the SC has specifically ordered the lifting of the HDO on Arroyo. She said an SC circular stipulates there should be a specific order from the SC before an HDO can be lifted.

“We will wait for an order... We do not know the full content of the decision,” the Immigration official added.

The BI would also check if Arroyo has other pending derogatory records in the bureau, Mangrobang said. - With Alexis Romero, Evelyn Macairan, Delon Porcalla, Rhodina Villanueva, Edith Regalado

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