House arrest for GMA
IN TWO previous columns, I wrote on two achievements claimed by President Aquino in his last State of the Nation Address (Sona) under his “daang matuwid” anticorruption program, namely, the prosecution: (1) of the Maguindanao massacre killers (8/2/15), and (2) of Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla and Juan Ponce Enrile arising from their alleged misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (8/9/15).
Electoral sabotage. On a specific point, I opined that the Supreme Court would “soon” rule on the two petitions for certiorari of Senator Enrile. True enough, last Aug. 11, the Court released a Resolution granting his petition for a bill of particulars to enable him to prepare his defense. However, the Court did not grant his prayer to annul his arrest and detention. Still pending is his more crucial petition for bail, which the Court is poised to rule on in a few days.
Meanwhile, let me take up a third set of cases mentioned also in P-Noy’s Sona involving former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA).
To be accurate, two cases have been filed against GMA. The first charged her with electoral sabotage for her alleged role in the manipulation of the 2007 election results in Maguindanao. Her co-accused include former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., who recently passed away, and Lintang Bedol, the former provincial election supervisor of the Commission on Elections in Maguindanao.
Because she was indicted with a capital offense, she was arrested and detained upon orders of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Pasay. However, on June 12, 2012, the RTC granted her bail on the ground that the evidence presented by the prosecution during the bail hearings was “not strong.”
After the trial court denied its motion for reconsideration, the prosecution appealed the grant of bail to the Court of Appeals (CA). However, the CA dismissed the petition; it agreed with the RTC that the only evidence linking GMA to the alleged crime—the testimony of a lone witness—was not credible and failed to establish the “strong” evidence required by law to detain the accused pending trial on the merits.
Plunder of PCSO funds. Nonetheless, GMA was not released due to the filing of the second case, which charged her with plunder at the First Division of the Sandiganbayan (SBN) for the alleged unauthorized disbursement and illegal use of P366 million of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds.
After the prosecution finished presenting its side, GMA and her co-accused filed a demurrer (or motion to dismiss) on the ground that the evidence failed to establish her guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Because the three members of the First Division were divided, a Special Division of five justices was created pursuant to the “Internal Rules” of the SBN.
On April 6, 2015, a majority composed of three justices (Efren dela Cruz, Napoleon Inoturan and Rafael Lagos, the ponente) denied the demurrer, holding that the prosecution’s evidence showed a prima facie case of plunder.
Moreover, unless sufficient contrary evidence is presented by the defense, GMA and her co-accused, former PCSO executive Benigno Aguas, would be convicted of the crime. Hence, their detention without bail was upheld pending the reception of their countervailing evidence.
However, the indictment against another co-accused, former PCSO chair Sergio Valencia, was downgraded to malversation. Since this is not a capital offense, he was allowed to post bail of P500,000.
On the other hand, the majority granted the demurrer of and acquitted four other co-accused—former PCSO chair Manuel Morato, former PCSO board members Raymundo Roquero and Jose Taruc, and former Commission on Audit chair Reynaldo Villar.
The minority of two justices (Rodolfo Ponferrada and Alex Quiroz) opined that the prosecution’s evidence did not prove all the elements of plunder; consequently, GMA and Aguas should, like Valencia, be charged only with malversation. And since this is a bailable offense, they should be granted bail.
GMA moved for a reconsideration of the denial of her demurrer. Despite the pendency of the motion, the SBN scheduled the hearing to receive her countervailing evidence on Aug. 26.
Plea for house arrest. Frustrated by the denial of her demurrer and bail plea, GMA filed, on April 8, 2015, a motion to change her place of detention from the Veterans Memorial Medical Center to her house at 14 Badjao Street, La Vista, Quezon City.
She averred that she is not a flight risk at all, given that she is already “68 years old, has undergone three spinal surgeries, remains frail and thin, and to this day, enjoys the presumption of innocence… [and] hopes that [her] house arrest can help her recuperate and heal more quickly and fully.”
For these very same reasons, former president Joseph Estrada, while detained in a prosecution for plunder during GMA’s presidency, was allowed by the SBN to be transferred to his farm in Tanay, Rizal.
Also, during the Marcos regime, opposition senator Jovito R. Salonga was released from military custody and placed “under house arrest in the custody of Mrs. Lydia Salonga.”
To sum up, like the other “achievements” cited by P-Noy during his Sona (which, to repeat, were discussed in my last two columns), GMA’s cases will not be decided within P-Noy’s term that ends on June 30, 2016. What will happen to them after he relinquishes the presidency?
Next Sunday, I will answer this crucial question.
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