THE Supreme Court has dismissed the remaining plunder charges filed against detained former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo before the Sandiganbayan and ordered her release from hospital detention after almost four years.
Voting 11-4, the Court on Tuesday granted Mrs. Arroyo’s petition for a dismissal of the case halfway through the trial due to the failure of the prosecution team to present sufficient evidence to establish her guilt.
In effect, the Court acquitted Mrs. Arroyo of the plunder case filed by the Office of the Ombudsman during the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III, over the alleged misuse of P366 million in intelligence funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.
The Court also dismissed the case against Mrs. Arroyo’s co-accused, former PCSO budget and accounts manager Benigno Aguas.
Arroyo, under hospital arrest since 2012, thanked the Supreme Court justices for acquitting her.
“Keep the faith in the justice system,” Arroyo’s statement read.
“First and foremost, to God Almighty be all the glory and praise. Through His kindness and mercy, justice and righteousness have once again prevailed over injustice and wrongdoing.”
Arroyo also thanked President Rodrigo Duterte for allowing the plunder suit to “take its course totally unhampered.”
The Palace also welcomed the decision.
“The Supreme Court has spoken ... Let us respect and abide by the High Court’s decision,” Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said in a text message.
A spokesman for Aquino, who had gone after Arroyo relentlessly while he was president, declined to comment on the Court decision.
“I’m sorry I cannot help you,” said former Communications secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., in a text message. Another former spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, did not reply to text messages.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said she would study the filing of a motion for reconsideration, saying they did not expect the acquittal.
“We were surprised. We are disappointed,” she said.
Court spokesman Theodore Te said the justices ordered the immediate release of Arroyo and Aguas.
The 11 justices who voted for the dismissal of the plunder charges were 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. A. Sereno; Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio; and Justices Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa and Marvic Mario Victor F. Leonen.
Te did not say when the ruling would be served to the parties. He said the decision would be released along with the separate dissenting opinions from Sereno and Leonen, and a separate concurring opinion from Brion.
Arroyo has been under hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City since 2012 in connection with the plunder case.
The case involves the alleged misuse of P366 million from the PCSO intelligence fund from 2008 to 2010.
Arroyo has been detained for almost four years since October 2012.
In her petition, Arroyo sought the reversal of two Sandiganbayan resolutions dated April 6, 2015 and September 10, 2015 that denied her demurrer to evidence plea.
“Not 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’s petition said.
The Supreme Court ruling came after it granted her pleas for several furloughs.
In December, the Court allowed the ailing former president a holiday furlough and allowed her to spend Christmas and New Year with her family at their residence in La Vista, Quezon City.
In March, the tribunal also allowed her to celebrate her 69th birthday with her family in the same residence on April 5.
The Court also granted Arroyo relief earlier this month and allowed her to vote in her home province in Pampanga during the May 9 elections and also granted her plea to undergo dental procedures for four days at the clinic of her dentist in Makati City.
Earlier, the Court stopped the trial of Arroyo’s remaining plunder case by issuing a status quo ante order on the proceedings of the First Division of the anti-graft court, the Sandiganbayan. The order was extend three times.
Lakas-CMD president Martin Romualdez welcomed the Court ruling, saying it was “good for justice and the rule of law.”
“The SC decision is good for the rule of law and the country’s democracy,” Romualdez, president of the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), said.
He lauded the justices for showing fairness in delivering justice to Mrs. Arroyo.
“We have been saying from the beginning that she was a victim of political persecution and her acquittal proved this. The plunder case stemmed from her exercise of her right as President to take part in the government,” Romualdez added.
“She has suffered enough during her incarceration. Her critics must respect the ruling,” Romualdez added.
Outgoing Speaker and Quezon City Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said he was happy for the former president.
“This is a welcome development to put closure on the case,” Belmonte said.
Reps. Karlo Alexei Nograles of Davao City, Albee Benitez of Negros Occidental and Gus Tambunting of Parañaque City also said the Court ruling must be respected.
“It is time to set her free without any delay. I wish the decision came sooner,” Nograles said.
Benitez said that the Duterte administration would be a good time for the former leader to roll up her sleeves and return and to her legislative functions in Congress.
Tambunting noted that the decision was based on the lack of evidence against Arroyo.
“While others may debate this finding, we must acknowledge that in thus speaking, the Supreme Court has written the final chapter to this story. And no matter if it may grind slowly, the wheels of justice in our country still turn,” he said.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said he supported the decision to free Arroyo, even for purely humanitarian reasons, given her poor health and age.
Senator Francis Escudero said “the rule of law demands nothing else” than to respect the decision.
“I respect the decision of the Court as everyone else should, whether they agree with it or not. Respect for the rule of law demands nothing less,” said Escudero in a text message.
He also dismissed speculation that the Court decision was influenced by Duterte’s statements on the case. “I don’t think the statements of President Duterte have anything to do with it as I believe in the independence of the Court,” Escudero said.
Senator Leila de Lima, who was Justice secretary during the Aquino administration, expressed disbelief over the decision and admitted she was disappointed and disheartened by it.
“What’s happening? These are trying times and why did they have to wait for the change in administration to issue that ruling?” said De Lima. With Rio N. Araja, Macon Ramos-Araneta, John Paolo Bencito and Maricel V. Cruz
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