After four years in detention, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is home at last. Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court, voting 11-4, granted her demurrer to evidence and dismissed her case for insufficiency of evidence. Personally, as someone who has served her government in minor capacities (as a panel member for the negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and as a climate change negotiator), I am happy that she is now free. However, as a Filipino, it is important to ask the question of whether justice was done in the decision of the Supreme Court. If it was, did the Aquino administration commit a grave and serious injustice to the former President by depriving her of her liberties for a good four or so years? On the other hand, if the Supreme Court erred, one can only conclude that an injustice was committed to the Filipino people.
The case stemmed from a complaint in 2012 by the Ombudsman before the Sandiganbayan for the crime of plunder in connection with the raiding of the Confidential/Intelligence Fund from PCSO’s accounts. Earlier In 2015, the Sandiganbayan granted the demurrers to evidence of some of Arroyo’s co-accused and dismissed the charge against them. However, it denied those of Arroyo and two others. Claiming that the ruling on their demurrer to evidence was a blatant violation of the plunder law, Arroyo and her remaining co-accused elevated the matter to the Supreme Court.
After due consideration of the submissions by the parties, the Supreme Court ruled that the prosecution did not properly allege and prove the existence of conspiracy among Arroyo and her co-accused Benigno Aguas and Rosario Uriarte. On this score, the Court said: “Despite the silence of the information on who the main plunderer or the mastermind was, the Sandiganbayan readily condemned GMA in its resolution dated Sept. 10, 2015 as the mastermind despite the absence of the specific allegation in the information to that effect. Even worse, there was no evidence that substantiated such sweeping generalization x x x In fine, the Prosecution’s failure to properly allege the main plunderer should be fatal to the cause of the State against the petitioners for violating the rights of each accused to be informed of the charges against each of them.”
The Court also noted that the Commission on Audit, though frowning upon PCSO’s co-mingling of funds, did not rule such co-mingling as illegal. As such, sourcing the requested additional CIFs from one account was not tainted with illegality. The prosecution also erroneously assumed that the showing of irregularities would necessarily mean that Arroyo had known that Uriarte would raid the public treasury, and would misuse the amounts disbursed. The Court clarified that the application of the doctrine of command responsibility, as implied in this case, is limited, and cannot be true for all litigations.
In the case of Arroyo’s co-accused, Aguas, the Court had this to say: “that Aguas’ certifications and signatures on the disbursement vouchers were insufficient bases to conclude that he was into any conspiracy to commit plunder or any other crime. Without GMA’s participation, he could not release any money because there was then no budget available for the additional CIFs. Whatever irregularities he might have committed did not amount to plunder, or to any implied conspiracy to commit plunder.”
The Supreme Court also ruled that there is the absence of proof adduced against Arroyo and Aguas that they amassed, or accumulated, or acquired ill-gotten wealth of at least P150 million. 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. After 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, there was nothing left of the criminal prosecution for plunder.
To the Supreme Court, the Sandiganbayan wrongly asserted that the Senate deliberations removed personal benefit as a requirement for plunder. Contrarily however, the Court stressed that what was removed from the coverage of the bill and the final version that eventually became the law was a person who was not the main plunderer or a co-conspirator, but one who personally benefited from the plunderers’ action. Hence, the requirement of personal benefit on the part of the main plunderer or his co-conspirators by virtue of their plunder was not removed. Accordingly, the Court ruled that the prosecution failed to prove the predicate at of raiding the public treasury. The Court clarified that in order to discern the proper import of the phrase raids on the public treasury, the key is to look at the accompanying words: misappropriation, conversion, misuse or malversation of public funds. In other words, the prosecution failed to show where the money went or that Arroyo and Aguas had personally benefited from the same. In ruling such, the Court disagreed with the Sandiganbayan that in order to prove the predicate act of raids of the public treasury, there is no need for the prosecution to establish that the public officer had benefited from such act; and that what needed to be proved only was that the public officer had raided the public coffers.
All told, the Sandiganbayan, according to the Court, gravely abused its discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it completely ignored the failure of the information to sufficiently charge conspiracy to commit plunder against Arroyo and co-accused; and failed to adduce evidence establishing the corpus delicti of amassing, accumulating and acquiring ill-gotten wealth in the total amount of at least P50 million through any or all of the predicate crimes.
On Saturday, I will summarize the dissenting opinions and weigh the question on to whom was the injustice was done in this case. Was it to Arroyo who had to suffer nearly five years of hospital detention, bereft of many privileges of a free person, or to the Filipino people who once again have not been able to exact accountability from their public officials?
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