Arroyo given temporary liberty on weak election charges

Posted on July 26, 2012

FORMER PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was yesterday granted temporary liberty from detention after posting bail on her electoral sabotage case with the Pasay trial court citing weak charges.

A copy of the order issued by Judge Jesus B. Mupas of the Pasay Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 112 stated that the court “believes that the prosecution failed to establish with the required quantum of proof that conspiracy exists on the part of accused Arroyo.”

Seizing the opportunity, the camp of Mrs. Arroyo immediately paid P1 million for her temporary liberty upon receipt of the order granting bail dated July 25.

She left the Veterans Memorial Medical Center, where she is in detention, later in the day after acknowledging the release order from the court. Mrs. Arroyo proceeded to the family residence in La Vista Subdivision, Quezon City.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will file today an appeal on the court ruling, said spokesman and Director James Arthur B. Jimenez.

“We’ll ask them to reconsider kasi malinaw naman ’yung evidence namin [our evidence is clear]... It will be asking for the reappreciation of the witnesses we presented,” he said in a text message yesterday.

The commission presented 11 witnesses.

The Pampanga congresswoman (second district) has been detained at the military hospital also in Quezon City over electoral sabotage charges filed by the Comelec for her alleged involvement in manipulating the 2007 poll results in Mindanao to ensure the victory of senatorial candidates under the then administration’s Team Unity.

Under the law, election sabotage is generally a non-bailable crime, unless the court cites weak evidence.

The court order stated that the only evidence presented by the prosecution was the testimony of Norie K. Unas, former Maguindanao provincial administrator, “whose credibility is seen by the court to be tainted with doubt.”

Mr. Unas claimed to have heard Mrs. Arroyo instruct then Maguindanao governor Andal S. Ampatuan, Sr. a few days before the elections to ensure a 12-0 victory for Team Unity bets.

“Unsupported by other evidence to corroborate such testimony, the same could not be given such weight and probative value that will be sufficient to establish a strong evidence of guilt on the part of accused Arroyo,” Mr. Mupas ruled.

The court, however, did not grant the motions for bail filed by Mrs. Arroyo’s co-accused, Ampatuan and former Maguindanao provincial election supervisor Lintang H. Bedol, saying the prosecution established strong evidence of guilt on their part.

Bedol could not claim ignorance on alleged irregularities and the loss of documents that occurred under his watch, the court said.

Evidence of guilt on the part of Ampatuan was established considering “his actions and inactions before, during and after the times when there were alleged cheating as shown by the prosecution,” the court further stated.

Mrs. Arroyo’s camp welcomed the bail grant. The former chief executive’s counsel said they are optimistic the case will be dismissed due to insufficient and weak evidence.

“We hope the government respects the rule of law,” said Raul L. Lambino in a television interview.

Malacañang is unfazed on the development, saying the court decision will not deter anti-corruption efforts.

“This will not dampen our resolve to file and to continue to institute corruption cases against responsible officials,” Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a briefing at the Palace yesterday.

“The fight against corruption continues. We will still go after people who have found to have plundered the nation’s coffers,” said the Palace aide.

Meanwhile, colleagues of Mrs. Arroyo in the House minority bloc said the court ruling showed that the rule of law has prevailed.

“We consider [the ruling] a triumph for the rules of evidence, due process and the courage of individual members of the Judiciary in the face of a powerful presidency,” the group said in a statement yesterday.

“We are heartened by the Palace assurances that they will not interfere with judicial processes, as promised by President Benigno S. C. Aquino III in his [State of the Nation Address] that [Mrs. Arroyo] will have her day in court.”

House Minority Leader Danilo E. Suarez (Quezon, 3rd district) said the bail will enable Mrs. Arroyo to seek other medical attention.

“[Now] she can go to a different healing center, avail of doctors on her own free time, without securing a court order for her every order.”

For his part, Isabela Rep. Rodolfo S. Albano (1st district) said Mrs. Arroyo should be allowed without any hindrance to enter the House of Representatives as it is her right as a lawmaker.

“She may come directly to the House... because she is still a member of the House.” -- Aubrey E. Barrameda with Noemi M. Gonzales and Monica Joy O. Cantilero

Appeal on plunder case filed

THE OMBUDSMAN was yesterday asked to reverse its recommendation on the plunder charge filed against former president now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (2nd district) citing lack of due process, documents from the Sandiganbayan showed.

The lawmaker has asked the Ombudsman to reverse its Review Joint Resolution (RJR) which contained the charges, while at the same time asking permission from the anti-graft court to first deal with the appeal before the case moves.

The RJR is the result of the Ombudsman’s probe on the questionable fund transfer in the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) worth P366 million in January 2008 to June 2010. The operating budget was transferred to the “confidential/intelligence fund (CIF),” an account that could be withdrawn with minimal restrictions.

The money allegedly financed the 2010 general polls, according to a Senate probe.

Mrs. Arroyo claimed that the Ombudsman erred on “suspicions, surmises and conjectures, and not on established facts and evidence presented during preliminary investigation.”

Further, she debunked allegations of conspiracy with other PCSO officials as her approval was ministerial in nature.

“The Ombudsman erred in finding that respondent GMA acted in conspiracy with the other respondents... despite its clear finding that respondent GMA’s participation in the subject CIF of PCSO was limited to her approval of the requests for additional CIF by the PCSO general manager....”

The other accused former PCSO officials are board members Sergio O. Valencia, Rosario C. Uriarte, Manuel L. Morato, Jose R. Taruc V, Raymundo T. Roquero, Maria Fatima A. S. Valdes, budget and accounts manager Benigno B. Aguas, former Commission on Audit (CoA) chairman Reynaldo A. Villar and former CoA intelligence/confidential fund audit unit head Nilda B. Plaras.

The plunder case is non-bailable, but Sandiganbayan spokesman Renato T. Bocar said in an interview yesterday that Mrs. Arroyo can still file a petition for bail.

“It is not absolute, just because it is non-bailable does not mean there is no hope anymore,” he said. -- M. J. O. Cantilero