The Supreme Court on Tuesday acquitted former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of the plunder charge filed against her in relation to the alleged misuse of P366 million in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office intelligence funds from 2008 to 2010.
This recent turn of events should not come as a surprise to those who have followed the case and understood the legal procedure afforded to respondents in criminal cases. Contrary to the Yellow theory that this acquittal was only made possible after the recent change of administration, the truth is that this case did not have any factual basis or legal leg to stand on. It was clearly haphazardly filed. Consider the following antecedent facts which, to a criminal law practitioner, would show that the charges for the then accused PGMA was very shallow:
GMA’s approval of the release of the subject amount in the case was merely ministerial. This means no discretion was involved. This takes into consideration the presumption of regularity of the required signatures of officers below her office, which included not only officers of the PCSO but also of the Commission on Audit.
For litigators, the granting of bail can be a sign of the strength of the evidence against an accused. For a plunder case based on conspiracy, its weakness can be clearly seen from the fact that eight out of the 10 accused have been granted bail. Considered as a political trophy, former President Arroyo was denied bail even if her signature had only been affixed in a ministerial function.
The denial of bail for a former President, who at that time was already a senior citizen and with medically-certified life-threatening disease, was so ruthless that it received the attention of international law and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney. GMA’s case was brought to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. This UN Working Group’s conclusion? GMA’s continued incarceration is arbitrary detention and the Philippine Government should immediately release her.
Last and most important fact: The case against Mrs. Arroyo is predicated on conspiracy. Hence, the act of one respondent is considered the act of all accused. Unknown to most of the public, all but two of the accused in this case have already been acquitted during the previous administration. There is no legal basis to continue with the trial of the case or the detention of the former president based on the acquittal of her alleged co-conspirators.
The Supreme Court’s decision on GMA’s demurrer is a confirmation that the past administration’s motto of the “straight and narrow” is a mere facade of its ruthless disrespect of our institutions. A solon closely associated with the previous administration seeks to cast a shadow on this acquittal by questioning its timing and associating it with the Duterte administration. Let me answer that they had six long years and the whole government’s machinery at their disposal to build a strong case against the former president. Their own Solicitor General and three Aquino appointees to the Supreme Court voted for GMA’s facts and legal arguments, which only lends credence to the rumor that this case was hastily filed to just to satisfy the then-powers that be.
Yes, this acquittal was only possible after the change in administration, but only because we are no longer lead by a vindictive despot who would flout the law and destroy democratic institutions just to follow his vested interests. Let us go beyond the faces and names of this case because this victory is a vindication not just for the former president, but also for the rule of law.