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MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) on Friday, March 11, extended for another 60 days – or until April 20 – the suspension of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s trial for plunder.
Arroyo’s trial – for alleged embezzlement of P366 million from the intelligence funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) when she was president – has been halted for almost half a year now.
On October 20, 2015, the High Court granted Arroyo’s petition for the suspension of her trial before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan. The SQA was for 30 days.
On November 24, 2015, the SC extended that suspension for another 60 days, or until February this year.
On March 11, the order for another extension, until April 20, was issued.
Arroyo, now Pampanga congresswoman, is facing charges for having approved the use of P365.9 million in PCSO or state lottery intelligence funds, which, complainants alleged, was misused from 2008 to 2010.
On April 6 and September 10 last year, the Sandiganbayan First Division denied Arroyo’s demurrer to evidence, paving the way for her trial for plunder. This means Arroyo’s camp now has the burden to present counter-evidence to argue for her acquittal.
Her camp filed a 100-plus-page petition, challenging the Sandiganbayan’s decision. This motion will be rendered moot if Arroyo is forced to present evidence in her defense. Arroyo is also appealing the denial of her plea for bail.
The former president and current Pampanga Representative is being held at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City, still awaiting a decision by the High Court on her petition seeking a reversal of the Sandiganbayan’s previous resolutions.
She has cited an opinion by the United Nations that said under international law, her continued detention was arbitrary and illegal.
Her co-accused – the PCSO officials who proposed the approval of and utilized the funds – have been allowed to post bail and were granted demurrer to evidence.
In April 2015, Arroyo challenged the denial of her bail before the High Tribunal, pointing out that the anti-graft court committed grave abuse of discretion. Her lawyers cited the impairment of her health and her not being a flight risk as reasons for granting her bail.
Three years earlier, on October 24, 2012, Arroyo asked the SC to stop the ongoing plunder trial against her before the Sandiganbayan. She also asked the High Court to dismiss the plunder charges filed against her by the Ombudsman.
The petition pointed out that the Sandiganbayan “acted in precipitate haste” when it declared the existence of probable cause to charge her with plunder. It described the case as “defective,” since it lacked the so-called elements of plunder, such as evidence that Arroyo personally amassed P50 million or more as a result of her orders concerning PCSO funds. – Rappler.com