PHL Supreme Court Dismisses Plunder Case, Frees Ex-President Arroyo for Lack of Evidence

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    EX-PRESIDENT and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Pampanga Governor Lilia G. Pineda early into their terms.

    By ALFRED GABOT and CLAIRE MORALES TRUE

    MANILA (PhilAmPress) -– Voting 11-4, the Supreme Court (SC) dismissed on July 19 the plunder case against former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in connection with the alleged misuse of the P366-million confidential intelligence fund of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).

    At the same time, the Supreme Court (SC) ordered Arroyo’s immediate release from detention at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City.

    After the delay of two days in the processing and release of the High Court’s order, the former President was finally out of her detention at the VMMC at about 6 p.m. of Thursday, July 21. Mrs. Arroyo proceeded immediately to her home in La Vista, Quezon City and prepared for a medical checkup at St. Luke’s Hospital and Medical Center in Fort Bonifacio.

    Her release came two days after the high tribunal announced the results of its deliberation wherein, voting 11-4, ruled to acquit her due to insufficiency of evidence.

    The issuance of the promulgated decision was the final stumbling block to the ailing former president’s release.

    The Office of the Chief Justice transmitted the copy of the en banc’s main decision and dissenting opinions to the Office of the Clerk of Court signed by her and all the Associate Justices who voted for and against the dismissal of her case and release at 1:20 p.m. Thursday.

    The documents were then given to SC process server Benjamin Anonuevo, who served the Notice of Judgment and the promulgated decision to the Sandiganbayan in Quezon City.

    After receiving the SC decision, the Sandiganbayan First Division, which heard the plunder case, issued a minute resolution directing the Philippine National Police (PNP) to immediately free Arroyo from her hospital detention.

    Copies of the release order were delivered by the Sandiganbayan Sheriff and Security Services office first to the PNP before proceeding to the VMCC.

    The Sandiganbayan ordered Arroyo’s arrest in October 2012 – the same month she filed her reelection bid as Pampanga representative – for her involvement in the alleged misuse of P366-million in intelligence funds of the PCSO from 2008 to 2010.

    Arroyo was implicated based on “marginal notes” on written requests to release the money.

    After her arrest, the former president was placed under hospital detention at the VMMC due to “degenerative bone disease.”

    On Aug. 27, 2014, Arroyo filed a “demurrer to evidence”– a plea to dismiss a case on the basis of weak evidence — before the Sandiganbayan but the anti-graft court dismissed this on April 6, 2015.

    On Oct. 15, 2015, Arroyo, through lawyer Estelito Mendoza, asked the High Court to suspend proceedings before the Sandiganbayan and to dismiss the plunder case.

    On Tuesday, July 19, the SC voted 11-4 to acquit the former president.

    SC Public Information chief and spokesman Atty. Theodore O. Te, who announced the High Court’s ruling, read the dispositive order of the court, to wit: “WHEREFORE, the Court GRANTS the petitions for certiorari; ANNULS and SETS ASIDE the resolutions issued in Criminal Case No. SB-12-CRM-0174 by the Sandiganbayan on April 6, 2015 and September 10, 2015; GRANTS the petitioners demurrers to evidence; DISMISSES Criminal Case No. SB-12-CRM-0174 as to the petitioners GLORA MACAPAGAL-ARROYO and BENIGNO AGUAS for insufficiency of evidence; ORDERS the immediate release from detention of said petitioners; and MAKES no pronouncements on costs of suit.”

    Te said that the Court voted 11-4 in G.R. No. 220598 (Macapagal-Arroyo) and 10-5 in G.R. No. 220953 (Aguas).

    Those who voted to dismiss the case against Mrs. Arroyo were Associate Justices Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr.,Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro, Arturo D. Brion, Diosdado M. Peralta, Lucas P. Bersamin, Mariano C. Del Castillo, Jose P. Perez, Jose C. Mendoza, Bienvenido L. Reyes, Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe and Francis H. Jardeleza.

    Those who dissented were Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. Aranal Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio and Associate Justices Marvic F. Leonen and Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa.

    Chief Justice Sereno and Associate Justice Leonen submitted separate dissenting opinions.

    Associate Justice Brion submitted a separate concurring opinion while Associate Justice Bernabe submitted a separate concurring and dissenting opinion.

    The camp of the former President immediately hailed the ruling even as Malacanang and the Sandiganbayan declared they would respect the High Court’s decision.

    Senators Panfilo Lacson and Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan lauded the decision, saying the High Court has spoken and its ruling must be respected.

    Mrs. Arroyo has suffered enough, having spent six years in detention under an extremely difficult physical condition. Even for purely humanitarian consideration, I support the Supreme Court’s ruling to free her and accord her some comfort for the remaining years of her life, which are not really that many, considering her age,” Lacson said in a press statement.

    ”As I have repeatedly said, while I will never forget who they are, I have forgiven all my tormentors for the past nine years under her administration, living or dead,” he added.

    Lacson fled the country in February 2010 to evade what he called harassment from the Arroyo administration.

    The senator, a former chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), returned to the country after one year under the new administration of former President Benigno Aquino III.

     

    Ironically, newly elected Senator Leila de Lima, an appointee of Mrs. Arroyo as chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, expressed dismay over the decision along with new Senator Risa Hontiveros, saying the dismissal was “unfortunate.”

    ”It was handed down as it is at a time when anti-corruption efforts in the Philippines have been receiving accolades from all over the world,” De Lima said.

    ”While we have yet to ascertain and assess the full effect of this decision, I am one hundred percent sure that this is demoralizing or disheartening to most of us, to say the least, as it delivers a huge blow to all our initiatives,” she added.

    De Lima expressed optimism that the Ombudsman will study closely the SC’s ruling “with the end in view of seeking a reconsideration.”

     

    Presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo said Mrs. Arroyo the order was long overdue and the former President should have been released from detention much earlier as her co-respondents have all been freed.

     

    “The Supreme Court (SC) has once again proven itself to be the final bastion of justice and the rule of law,” said Atty. Ferdinand Topacio, the legal spokesman of former First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, on the ruling of the High Court.

    “The Supreme Court (SC) has once again proven itself to be the final bastion of justice and the rule of law,” said Atty. Ferdinand Topacio, the legal spokesman of former First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, on the ruling of the SC dismissing the plunder case.

    Malacanang said it will respect and abide by the Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss the plunder case against Mrs. Arroyo.

    ”The Supreme Court has spoken. Let us respect and abide by the High Court’s decision,” Presidential Communications Office (PCO) Secretary Martin Andanar said.

    For his part, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said Malacanang recognizes the independence of the SC.

    ”We have not yet seen a cop (of the ruling). However, we recognize the High Court’s independence and if true, we will abide by its decision,” Abella said.

    Mrs. Arroyo, the country’s president from 2001 to June 2010, was expected to be released immediately from the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City where she has been under hospital arrest since Oct. 4, 2012.

    The former leader is suffering from a bone mineral disorder.

    With her release, Mrs. Arroyo is expected to resume her legislative work as representative of the second district of Pampanga which covers her hometown of Lubao, Sasmuan, Guagua, Porac, Floridablanca and Sta. Rita and could participate in the opening of the 17th Congress on July 25 where President Rodrigo Duterte is to deliver his first State of the Nation Address (SONA). She was reelected to her third and final term during the last May 9 elections without any opponent, indicating the full support to her of the people of Pampanga.

    In a statement later, Mrs. Arroyo lauded the Supreme Court decision that acquitted her from plunder charges and said that justice and righteousness have once again prevailed over injustice and wrongdoing.

    In a statement, the former leader also urged the public to keep faith in the justice system.

    “With the High Tribunal rendering a final decision on this unfortunate episode, I sincerely hope that everyone will respect and recognize the truth that has been established,” she said.

    In her statement, Arroyo thanked the High Court for finally stopping the persecution she had unjustly gone through for the last five years.

    She also thanked her supporters for their prayers and immeasurable help in keeping her faith and conviction that truth and justice will ultimately prevail.

    “It is my fervent hope that nobody else will suffer the persecution that had been levied on me through self-serving interpretation and implementation of the law. And that the disregard of truth for which I was made to suffer be dealt with accordingly at the soonest possible time,” she said.

    The third-term Pampanga representative likewise praised President Rodrigo Duterte for “allowing due process to take its course totally unhampered.”

    In the campaign trail, Duterte promised he would release Arroyo from detention if elected President due to weak evidence, an offer that the former president declined.

    “I also extend my heartfelt appreciation to His Excellency, President Rodrigo Duterte, and to the honorable members of the Supreme Court,” Arroyo said.

    Mrs. Arroyo’s husband, former First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo also welcomed the High Tribunal’s ruling.

    “Thank God. They took away six years of her life– an innocent woman,” the former first gentleman said.

    Lawyer Raul Lambino said the high court found no evidencce linking Arroyo to the alleged plunder of the PCSO funds.

    Although her co-accused — all former executives of the PCSO — were granted bail, Arroyo remained detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City.

    Arroyo family lawyer Ferdinand Topacio said the SC ruling proved that the case against the former President was a form of “political persecution” by the administration of then President Benigno Aquino III.

    “The Supreme Court has once again proven itself to be the final bastion of justice and the rule of law. Its ruling today has validated what we have been saying for six years now: that the charges against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo are nothing more than disingenuous attempts at political persecution by a corrupt and inept Aquino Administration intent on covering up its gross lack of accomplishments by harassing its political opponents,” Topacio said.

    Topacio also thanked the Arroyo family’s supporters.

    “Their continuous moral support and prayers have seen Attorney and Mrs. Arroyo, their children and grandchildren, through what have been the most trying of times for them,” Topacio said.

    Topacio said that the Arroyo family would join the new administration 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.”

    “We are grateful to the SC. Finally, after the long night, the dawn has arrived. Former President Arroyo has been vindicated,” Attorney Laurence Arroyo said.

    In her petition with the SC, Arroyo sought a reversal of two Sandiganbayan resolutions, dated April 6, 2015 and September 10, 2015, that junked her demurrer.

    Arroyo no longer presented her defense before the Sandiganbayan after the Office of the Ombudsman completed the presentation of its case against her, and instead filed her petition with the SC.

    “[N]ot a single exhibit of the 637 exhibits offered by the prosecution nor a single testimony of the 21 witnesses of the prosecution was offered by the prosecution to prove that [Arroyo] amassed, accumulated, or acquired even a single peso of the alleged ill-gotten wealth amounting to P365,997,915.00 or any part of that amount alleged in the Information,” Arroyo argued.

     

     

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