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‘An innocent woman’

/ 12:32 AM July 21, 2016

What’s going on?” is the question du jour in the wake of Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s successful petition for the dismissal of the P366-million plunder case against her on grounds of insufficiency of evidence. The Supreme Court’s approval of the former president’s demurrer to evidence was not exactly a surprise, the tribunal having “telegraphed” it by suspending her plunder trial at the Sandiganbayan and extending the suspension a number of times until this year. Nevertheless, some people find the ruling unsettling, wondering if it is a sign of things to come.

 

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The Supreme Court’s grant of bail last year to then Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile “on humanitarian grounds” was already deemed an ominous sign; many feared that the ruling could set a precedent among those detained for offenses not covered by bail—offenses like plunder, of which Enrile, along with Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla, is charged in connection with the P10-billion pork barrel scam allegedly engineered by Janet Lim Napoles. “What’s going on?” went the rounds, seeing as how Enrile’s legal team did not even cite humanitarian grounds in its petition, and at any rate the man was hardly doddering, indeed was quite tiptop for someone in his 90s (jet-black hair and all). It seemed a classic case of the high and mighty getting the usual star treatment even by the blindfolded Lady Justice, given that other elderly men, ailing, despondent and unable even to enjoy video games on a tablet, political prisoners included, have been languishing in prison for years.

 

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Now (at this writing) Arroyo is preparing to leave her quarters at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center, where she stayed for four years, for the comforts of home. Per one of her lawyers’ account, members of her legal team and sundry aides were in tears to hear news that the tribunal had quashed the plunder suit approved for filing by the Ombudsman in July 2012. The suit charged Arroyo and officials she had appointed to the board of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, as well as Commission on Audit officials, with conspiring to take money from the agency’s corporate allocation funds and treating it as a confidential intelligence fund, which is exempted from audit procedures.

 

(Surely halfway attentive observers have not forgotten harrowing scenes at the Senate in July 2011: Rosario Uriarte, appointed general manager and board vice chair of the PCSO by Arroyo, with whom she had a long-running association that began when the latter held the trade portfolio, weeping at a hearing of the blue ribbon committee and invoking her right against self-incrimination, “plunder [being] a nonbailable offense.” The committee was then looking into the fund irregularities at the agency whose charter stipulates that its funds be used exclusively for national charities, medical assistance and services, and health programs. At one point, Sen. Franklin Drilon pointed out to Uriarte that in 2009, as much as P116,386,800 in PCSO funds was allotted for “bomb threat, kidnapping, destabilization and terrorism.” Uriarte said it was Arroyo who had personally approved the PCSO’s intelligence budget.)

 

Arroyo’s legal team did not present its defense at the Sandiganbayan. After its demurrer to evidence was rejected by the antigraft court—a rejection that was upheld on appeal—it sought relief directly from the Supreme Court, on the lead of the redoubtable Estelito Mendoza. The resolution of the tribunal, which voted 11-4 to lift Arroyo’s hospital arrest, is (at this writing) awaiting the justices’ signatures. Ordinary citizens who, unlike lawyers, are disinclined to ponder on the minutiae of the law, can only wonder at the dismissal of the six plunder cases filed against the former president, and at the apparent conclusion that all these constituted much ado over nothing. Is the “Hello, Garci” case also included in that conclusion? Is it true, as bandied about, that life is “weather-weather lang”?

 

On TV, the representative of Pampanga seemed better—much better than years ago when her counsel

Mendoza caused the release of photographs showing her in a strange neck brace, her face shorn of makeup, her hair awry—the apparent subtext being that her travails had reduced her to a shadow of her glamorous self. On Tuesday her husband thanked God and declared her “an innocent woman.” The person in the street may well ask: Is that what insufficiency of evidence means?

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TAGS: estelito mendoza, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Juan Ponce Enrile, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, plunder, Rosario Uriarte
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