Finally, GMA released

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star

Sandigan bows to SC­­­

MANILA, Philippines - Two days after being cleared of plunder, former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo finally walked out of hospital where she had been detained since 2012 – to a rousing welcome from dozens of friends and supporters who called her acquittal a vindication.

Arroyo’s camp received the release order at around 4 p.m. yesterday, but it took her some two more hours to finally leave the premises of the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City. 

One of her lawyers, Laurence Arroyo, said she left VMMC at past 6 p.m. and proceeded straight to the family residence in La Vista Subdivision in Quezon City together with her children Mikey, Luli, and Diosdado and grandchildren.

After a few hours of rest at home, she would proceed to St. Luke’s Medical Center to undergo an executive checkup, her lawyer said.

Arroyo’s husband former first gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo was not around when she came out of the VMMC. The lawyer said he was abroad.

Mrs. Arroyo and her companions reportedly left the hospital compound on a white Ford Explorer, avoiding reporters who had been waiting at the hospital for more than three days.

The high court released yesterday its decision dismissing the charges against Arroyo in connection with her reportedly having pocketed P366 million in intelligence funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) when she was president.

An SC process server was sent to the Sandiganbayan before 2 p.m. to deliver the notice of judgment with official copies of the main decision, concurring opinions and dissenting opinions. Upon receipt of notice at around 3:30 p.m., the anti-graft court then issued a resolution ordering the release of Arroyo from her police custodians at the VMMC.

“Since the Supreme Court is the highest court of the land and the final arbiter of all justiciable issues, the Sandiganbayan is duty-bound to respect and abide by it,” Sandiganbayan presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang  said in a statement on the SC order.

Arroyo, now on her third term as representative of the second district of Pampanga, spent two more nights at VMMC before her actual release from detention as some administrative procedures had to be followed.

The necessary signatures of the justices were completed only yesterday morning and it was only at around noon when all three separate opinions of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and Associate Justices Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Marvic Leonen were submitted.

Arroyo’s camp questioned the delay in the release of the order with one of her lawyers Ferdinand Topacio insinuating there was a deliberate attempt to delay her release.

“I condemn the slavish adherence by the office of the Chief Justice to procedure over substantial justice,” Topacio said in a text message.

Topacio said one of the priorities of the former president is to visit her constituents in Pampanga.  “She’s upbeat and she’s eager to work. First item on her agenda is to visit her constituents in Pampanga,” he said.

“Her immediate plan is to have a medical check-up. She also plans to attend the SONA on Monday,” Larry Gadon, another Arroyo lawyer, told reporters.

An ally, Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez, said Arroyo is likely to join the majority in the House of Representatives.

He said his former Lakas boss should be given the chairmanship of the committee on economic affairs.

Photo shows a welcome banner being put up in La Vista Subdivision in Quezon City. MIGUEL DE GUZMAN

“She would be of great help to the Duterte administration if she heads that committee,” he said.

Earlier yesterday, former ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez called for the immediate release of Arroyo, whom she had served as acting justice secretary and chief presidential legal counsel.

In a statement, she said there was no more reason to keep the former president under detention after the SC issued the order last Tuesday.

“The ruling means the former president is free of charges. She must therefore be immediately released, because she has that right as a citizen of this republic,” she stressed.

Gutierrez, who resigned from her post while facing impeachment in Congress during the Aquino administration, also stressed that the ruling of the SC must be respected.

“The right to freedom is a right enshrined and guaranteed under our Constitution. Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was charged and detained for almost five years. The highest court of the land, the final arbiter has recently ruled for her acquittal. The ruling means that the former president is free of charges,” she explained.

The dismissed plunder case against the congresswoman was only for the period of her term as president between 2004 and 2007. The Office of the Ombudsman is also investigating Arroyo for the same anomaly in PCSO committed from 2008 to 2010.

Also cleared in the plunder case and ordered released from the PNP Police custodial center in Camp Crame was former PCSO assistant general manager Benigno Aguas.

Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, for his part, said Arroyo has found vindication like him.

“Like what happened to me. The late former President Cory Aquino has apologized to me for her role in EDSA Dos, which she said was a great mistake she committed in her lifetime. Even the Church has apologized to me,” Estrada said.

Meanwhile, a congressman representing a district in former president Benigno Aquino’s home province of Tarlac said Arroyo had been a good president and deserved to be freed on plunder charges.

“PGMA was a good president. She really worked hard for the good of the country. She does not deserve the incarceration she suffered,” re-elected Rep. Noel Villanueva of Tarlac’s third district reiterated.

According to Villanueva, among the proofs of Arroyo’s good deeds during her term were the nearly 100-kilometer Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) and the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX).

“These are the clear examples of how she thinks for the good of the country, not to mention the economic fundamentals laid in her administration which reaped benefits for the country,” he added.

For workers belonging to the Associated Labor Union (ALU), Arroyo’s release could likely bring improvement for the people of Pampanga.

 “Members of ALU wish her well and now that she’s free we hope she would be more effective in serving her constituents,” ALU spokesman Alan Tanjusay said.

Tanjusay said trade groups are also looking forward to working with Arroyo in Congress.

A group of Filipino workers, however, expressed disappointment over her acquittal.

United Overseas Filipino Worldwide convenor John Monterona said Arroyo’s acquittal from plunder charges has brought shame to Filipinos. - Robertzon Ramirez, Michael Punongbayan, Delon Porcalla, Jess Diaz, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Mayen Jaymalin

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