SC: Arroyo’s ‘OK’ not proof of plunder
MANILA — The Supreme Court (SC) said there was no proof that former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo committed plunder.
The court announced last Tuesday it voted 11–4 to grant Arroyo’s petition for a “demurrer” to evidence. A demurrer plea is filed when a defendant wants the court to dismiss the case for lack of evidence.
The SC majority, in acquitting the former leader, said government prosecutors failed to establish that a portion of the P366 million in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs) went to Arroyo and her co-accused, former PCSO general manager Rosario Uriarte, and former PCSO budget officer Benigno Aguas.
‘’The prosecution adduced no evidence showing that either GMA
or Aguas or even Uriarte, for that matter, had amassed, accumulated or acquired ill-gotten wealth of any amount,’’ the SC said in its decision penned by Justice Lucas Bersamin.
‘’There was also no evidence, testimonial or otherwise, presented by the prosecution showing even the remotest possibility that the CIFs of the PCSO had been diverted to either GMA or Aguas, or Uriarte.”
The high court ruled that the prosecution failed to establish conspiracy, a key element of plunder, among Arroyo and her co-accused. It said the Sandiganbayan’s finding of conspiracy to commit plunder was ‘’unsustainable.”
‘’A perusal of the information suggests that what the prosecution sought to show was an implied conspiracy to commit plunder among all of the accused on the basis of their collective actions prior to, during and after the implied agreement,’’ the SC said.
‘’It is notable that the prosecution did not allege that the conspiracy among all of the accused was by express agreement, or was a wheel conspiracy or a chain conspiracy.”
The SC added, the Sandiganbayan readily condemned Arroyo as the main plunderer even if ‘’there was no evidence that substantiated such sweeping generalization.”
The high court called this failure a “fatal flaw” on the part of the prosecution.
‘’Such identification of the main plunderer was not only necessary because the law required such identification, but also because it was essential in safeguarding the rights of all of the accused to be properly informed of the charges they were being made answerable for,’’ it said.
‘OK’ NOTATION IN FUNDS REQUEST
The SC said that Arroyo’s act of writing ‘’OK’’ on the letter request of Uriarte for the release of funds cannot be considered an overt act of plunder.
“[T]he treatment of the Sandiganbayan of [GMA’s] handwritten unqualified ‘OK’ as an overt act of plunder was a common legal and valid practice of signifying approval of a fund release by the President,’’ the SC said.
‘’Absent the specific allegation in the information to that effect, and competent proof thereon, GMA’s approval of Uriarte’ s requests, even if unqualified, could not make her part of any criminal conspiracy to commit plunder or any other crime considering that her approval was not by any means irregular or illegal,’’ the SC said.
WHERE DID THE FUNDS GO?
The SC said the Sandiganbayan should have approved Arroyo’s demurrer plea as the prosecution’s main witness, former PCSO director Aleta Tolentino, admitted she does not know where the PCSO funds went.
‘’After Atty. Tolentino, as the prosecution’s main witness, conceded lack of any knowledge of the amassing, accumulating or acquiring of ill-gotten wealth of at least P50,000,000.00, nothing more remained of the criminal prosecution for plunder,’’ the SC said.
‘’Hence, the Sandiganbayan should have granted the demurrers of GMA and Aguas, and dismissed the criminal action against them.”
The SC also noted that the prosecution failed to establish that Arroyo and her co-accused ‘’personally benefited’’ from the funds.
‘’Not only did the prosecution fail to show where the money went but, more importantly, that GMA and Aguas had personally benefited from the same. Hence, the Prosecution did not prove the predicate act of raids on the public treasury beyond reasonable doubt,’’ the SC said.
The high court said, based on its findings, the Sandiganbayan ‘’was guilty of grave abuse of discretion when it capriciously denied the demurrers to evidence despite the absence of competent and sufficient evidence to sustain the indictment for plunder, and despite the absence of the factual bases to expect a guilty verdict.”