Arroyo free, as poll shows gov’t ‘fair’ on her cases

Posted on July 22, 2016

THE SOCIAL WEATHER Stations (SWS) on Thursday released its First Quarter 2016 Social Weather Survey, conducted from March 30 to April 2 this year, which found 57% of adult Filipinos saying the government’s treatment of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on the legal cases she was facing was “fair” -- as opposed to 21% saying it was “too harsh,” and another 21% saying it was “too lenient.”

Also on Thursday, Mrs. Arroyo, who had been detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center on plunder charges since 2012, was ordered released by the Sandiganbayan, two days after the Supreme Court ruling granting her petition to dismiss the P366-million plunder case for the alleged misuse of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) intelligence funds.

“Former President Arroyo’s net trust scores have been at bad to very bad levels since September 2010, reaching as low as -68 in June 2014. The latest net trust of very bad -52 in April 2016 is similar to the levels of March and June 2015,” the SWS survey released on Thursday said.

The non-commissioned survey also found 66% of its respondents having little trust in Mrs. Arroyo and 14% having much trust, for a net trust rating (% much trust minus % little trust) of -52, classified by SWS as very bad. The poll noted this was a 20-point decline, and one grade down, from her bad net -32 (23% much trust, 54% little trust, correctly rounded) in March 2016.

Moreover, the survey found 58% saying Mrs. Arroyo should have stayed in a regular prison and 42% saying she should have been held under house arrest.

“The proportion of those who wanted her in a regular prison was at 70% to 71% from March 2012 to March 2014. It declined to 62% in June 2015, and 58% in April 2016,” SWS said, adding: “The April 2016 survey was conducted three months before the July 19, 2016 Supreme Court ruling acquitting former Pres. Arroyo of the plunder suit filed against her in July 2012 by the Ombudsman.”

Majorities of 60% in Balance Luzon, 57% in Mindanao, 55% in Metro Manila, and 53% in the Visayas answered fair to the survey question: “Ano po ang opinyon ninyo sa pagtrato ng administrasyon kay dating Pang. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo tungkol sa mga kasong kinahaharap nito? Masasabi po ba ninyo na ang pagtrato ng administrasyon ay [masyadong mahigpit, makatarungan lamang, o masyadong mapagbigay?] (What is your opinion about the administration’s treatment of former Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regarding the cases that she is facing? Would you say that the administration has been [too harsh, only fair, or too lenient ?])”

“Those who said government’s treatment of former President Arroyo was too harsh were 23% in Metro Manila, 23% in Balance Luzon, 21% in the Visayas, and 19% in Mindanao,” the survey said. “On the other hand, those who said the treatment was too lenient were 26% in the Visayas, 23% in Mindanao, 22% in Metro Manila, and 17% in Balance Luzon.”

In terms of locale, class, gender, and education, 52% to 59% of respondents saw fair treatment of Mrs. Arroyo.

“Majorities in all age groups said government’s treatment of former Pres. Arroyo had been fair, ranging from 54% to 62%,” SWS said.

“Among those who said government’s treatment of former Pres. Arroyo was fair, the net satisfaction rating (% satisfied minus % dissatisfied) of Pres. Noynoy Aquino was a good +36 (61% satisfied, 25% dissatisfied),” the survey also noted.

“This is more than twice the moderate +16 (52% satisfied, 36% dissatisfied) among those who said government’s treatment was too lenient, and thrice the moderate +12 (50% satisfied, 38% dissatisfied) among those who said it was too harsh,” the survey said.

“Public satisfaction with the overall Aquino administration was also higher among those who saw fair treatment of former Pres. Arroyo, at a good +42, compared to the moderate +21 among those who said the government was too lenient, and the moderate +28 among those who said it was too harsh.”

Majorities of 63% in Mindanao, 58% in the Visayas, 56% in Balance Luzon, and 56% in Metro Manila said former Pres. Arroyo should have stayed in a regular prison when asked the survey question, “Kung sakaling sabihin ng duktor ni dating Pang. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo na maaari na itong makalabas ng ospital, sa inyong palagay, saan dapat manatili si dating Pang. Arroyo? Siya ba ay dapat manatili na muna sa kanyang bahay o “ma-house arrest” o sa isang regular na kulungan?” (“In case the doctor of former Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo certifies that she can be discharged from the hospital, in your opinion, where do you think former Pres. Arroyo should stay? Should she stay in her house or “under house arrest” or she should stay in a regular prison?”)

In terms of locale, class and gender, the “dominant opinion” favoring Mrs. Arroyo’s detention in a regular prison ranged from 52% to 59%.

“By age, calls to hold former Pres. Arroyo in a regular prison was stronger among the younger groups: it was highest among 18-24 at 73%, followed by 35-44 at 62%, 25-34 at 61%, 45-54 at 57%, and 55 and above at 45%,” the survey said.

The survey was conducted nationwide using face-to-face interviews of 1,500 adults (18 years old and above), 300 each in Metro Manila, North Luzon, South Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. The survey had sampling error margins of 3% for national percentages, and 6% each for Metro Manila, North Luzon, South Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday voted 11-4 to grant Mrs. Arroyo’s petition to dismiss her plunder case at the Sandiganbayan.

But it was only on Thursday, 1:38 p.m. when the SC Public Information Office e-mailed reporters a summary of the 48-page decision along with the separate opinions of three justices -- indicating that the decision was finally ready to serve.

The Sandiganbayan’s process server picked up a copy of the decision around that time, heading to the anti-graft court before serving it to Camp Crame and the Veterans Memorial Medical Center.

The Sandiganbayan received a copy of the high court decision around 4:00 p.m. Copies of a subsequent resolution by the antigraft court were then sent to its sheriff, to the Philippine National Police and its concerned attached agencies, and to the Veterans Memorial Medical Center, prior to Mrs. Arroyo’s eventual release that day.

She was represented in this episode by lawyer Laurence Hector B. Arroyo and Jesi Howard S. Lanete, who had staked out at the SC the past two days.

“Finally, we will know why the Supreme Court said the prosecution failed to prove the offense of plunder. At least, we will now see in the decision that the Supreme Court had basis for saying so,” said Mr. Arroyo, a distant relative of former First Gentleman Jose Miguel T. Arroyo.

SC PIO Chief Theodore O. Te explained on Wednesday that even as he made the announcement following the vote, the main decision still had to be finalized by the winning ponente before being circulated for the justices’ signatures. He added that the decision is then submitted to the Chief Justice for final signature and certification.

He said the justices were simply following the procedure and there were no “delays.”

“There’s no delay since Rule 13, Sections 5 of the Supreme Court Internal Rules, which it follows for all cases, allows majority and dissenters specific periods within which to write and submit their majority and dissenting opinions,” Mr. Te said.

The main body of the 48-decision showed how the high court arrived at its decision to annul the Sandiganbayan’s April 2015 resolution that denied Mrs. Arroyo’s demurrer. A demurrer is a motion seeking the dismissal of the case by discrediting the prosecution’s case; the high court’s decision effectively acquits her on the basis of lack of evidence.

The decision, penned by Associate Justice Lucas P. Bersamin, said the Sandiganbayan First Division committed grave abuse of discretion when it “completely ignored” the prosecution’s failure to: (a) allege conspiracy on the part of Mrs. Arroyo and PCSO officials; (b) show proof that the defendants amassed or acquired ill-gotten wealth of at least P50 million, and; (c) prove that Mrs. Arroyo benefited from public funds.

The high court said “all that the State [prosecution] showed” was that Mrs. Arroyo affixed her “unqualified OK’” on the requests for the additional release of PCSO’s Confidential and Intelligence Funds (CIF).

It said the approval “could not be considered an ‘overt act’ for purposes of plunder because this act was a common, legal and valid practice of signifying approval of a fund release by the President and there was no causal relation to the intended crime.”

The decision noted that the prosecution did not even state who the “main plunderer” would be of the 10 persons accused of taking part in the scheme.

“Despite the silence of the information on who the main plunderer or the mastermind was, the Sandiganbayan readily condemned GMA... as the mastermind despite the absence of the specific allegation in the information to that effect,” the decision read. “Even worse, there was no evidence that substantiated such sweeping generalization.”

It also found “misplaced” the prosecution’s claim that Mrs. Arroyo would have known the PCSO officials would raid the public treasury. It noted the doctrine of command responsibility applies to crimes committed during international wars or domestic conflict.

“The Prosecution seems to be relying on the doctrine of command responsibility to impute the actions of subordinate officers to GMA as the superior officer. The reliance is misplaced...”

Finding the claim of conspiracy “unsustainable,” the decision said that Mrs. Arroyo and her co-defendants “could be criminally responsible only for their own respective actions, if any.”

The high court also said there was an “absolute lack of evidence” to show that the CIF disbursements were diverted to either Mrs. Arroyo or her co-defendants. It quoted the main witness, PCSO Director Ma. Aleta L. Tolentino, who told the Sandiganbayan: “We don’t know whether they saved it, squandered it or what? We don’t know, Your Honor.”

The dissenting justices, however, argued that the prosecution’s evidence was sufficient enough to warrant trial.

While the majority of the justices agreed that a plunder conspiracy was not shown, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno pointed out Mrs. Arroyo’s “indispensable role... in the scheme of things.”

Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen even suggested that she was a “highly intelligent President who knew what she was doing.”

In her 24-page dissenting opinion, Ms. Sereno said Ms. Tolentino’s disclosure of “several irregularities” in the CIF requests and releases should have served as “red flags” that “clearly spell a conspiracy to commit plunder when the amounts involved and the processes of requesting, approval, and liquidating the amounts are holistically considered.”

She said the decision “completely ignored” the evidentiary effect of the Commission on Audit’s formal reports admitted by the Sandiganbayan. She added that co-accused PCSO budget manager Benigno B. Aguas (also ordered released by the Sandiganbayan as per the Supreme Court ruling) himself reported to the CoA that P244 million of the P366-million funds had been diverted to the Office of the President.

Tackling the decision’s description of Mrs. Arroyo’s role as that of “mere approval,” Ms. Sereno said that her approval of additional CIF requests for seven times in three years “reveals the initial, indispensable act in the conspiracy to commit plunder.”

“The chain of circumstances from the inscription of a mere ‘ok’ of petitioner Arroyo on all the requests, up to the time the amounts were proven to be with the Office of

the President... sufficiently proves the conspiracy to commit plunder,” she said, adding that her approvals “cannot be simply downplayed as an innocent, legal, common and valid practice.”

Ms. Sereno added that Letter of Instruction No. 1282, which governs intelligence funds, sheds light on the fact that the CIF is within the President’s “direct and personal” control.

“The irregularities that transpired should therefore be within the knowledge of Arroyo as President of the Philippines, considering the fact that this case involves not one but repeated and unqualified approval of seven requests for release of CIF funds in a span of three years,” she said in her opinion.

Similarly, Mr. Leonen said in his opinion that Mrs. Arroyo and Mr. Aguas were “necessary cogs to a machinery effected to raid the public treasury.”

He called out the majority, saying “we diminish the rule of law when we deploy legal interpretation to obfuscate rather than to call out what is obvious.”

“Where [the CIF] went and why it was disbursed was not fully explained...Its disbursement was made possible only by repeated acts of approval by the former President,” Mr. Leonen said. “The former President cannot plead naivete. She was intelligent and was experienced.”

“The scheme is plain except to those who refuse to see.” -- Vince Alvic Alexis F. Nonato, with Raynan F. Javil