Supreme Court acquits Gloria Arroyo of plunder charges

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Voting 11-4, the Supreme Court rules in favor of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and sets the motion for her release

After nearly 4 years of hospital arrest, former Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will soon be free.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday, July 19, acquitted Mrs Arroyo of plunder as it granted her plea to drop the case against her. This sets in motion her release from the Veterans Memorial Medical Center, where she has been detained since October 2012.

Rappler sources said the vote was 11-4 in favor of Arroyo’s petition to junk a Sandiganbayan ruling that gave the go-signal for her plunder trial in connection with charges that she misused funds of the state-run Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).

The justices who dissented are Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, and Justices Marvic Leonen and Benjamin Caguioa. Of the 4, only Carpio is an appointee of Mrs Arroyo.

The 11 justices who ruled in favor of the former president are:

  • Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr
  • Justice Teresita de Castro
  • Justice Arturo Brion
  • Justice Diosdado Peralta
  • Justice Lucas Bersamin
  • Justice Mariano del Castillo
  • Justice Jose Perez
  • Justice Jose Mendoza
  • Justice Bienvenido Reyes
  • Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe
  • Justice Francis Jardeleza

Arroyo’s lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio, said they received the same information about the acquittal. In a statement, Topacio said: “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.”

The Court found the evidence against her weak, the same sources said. Prior to this, the Supreme Court already stopped her trial at the Sandiganbayan.

The 69-year-old Arroyo, who is currently Pampanga representative, is the second Philippine president to be detained for plunder.

In April 2001, ousted president Joseph Estrada was jailed for plunder over charges of unexplained wealth. The Sandiganbayan convicted and sentenced him to life in jail in September 2007. But only 6 weeks after, in October 2007, his successor Arroyo pardoned him.

Landmark ruling

Tuesday’s landmark ruling on Mrs Arroyo came barely a month after former president Benigno Aquino II stepped down from office and less than a week before President Rodrigo Duterte, who favors her release, delivers his first State of the Nation Address (SONA.)

It was Aquino who jailed Arroyo and subsequently led the impeachment charge against her appointed chief justice, the late Renato Corona.

Mendoza goes to SC

Through veteran lawyer Estelito Mendoza, Arroyo had petitioned the Supreme Court to approve her “demurrer to evidence,” a plea to dismiss a case on the basis of weak evidence. She went to the High Tribunal for relief after the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan dismissed the demurrer.

Arroyo filed the “demurrer to evidence” in 2014 before the Sandiganbayan. The anti-graft court dismissed this in April 2015, paving the way for her trial for plunder over the alleged misuse of PCSO funds.

Arroyo then challenged the Sandiganbayan ruling before the Supreme Court in a 100-page petition filed by Mendoza.

PCSO plunder

The Court’s approval of the Arroyo petition in effect acquits her of the P366-million plunder suit filed by the Ombudsman in July 2012 against her and 9 other former goverment officials.

The Ombudsman’s suit, filed a week before then President Aquino was to deliver his 3rd State of the Nation Address (SONA), alleged that Mrs Arroyo approved the alleged diversion of PCSO’s intelligence funds for purposes not related to the core work of the agency, which is to help indigents and sectors working with them.

On top of this, Arroyo had also asked the Supreme Court to in the meantime stop her trial at the Sandiganbayan. The SC granted this motion last year and extended that suspension to this year

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