Duterte ‘ready’ to grant Arroyo pardon

Pia Ranada
Duterte ‘ready’ to grant Arroyo pardon
(UPDATED) The president-elect says, however, that former President Gloria Arroyo has refused his offer, saying this would require her to admit to the crime of plunder

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (UPDATED) – President-elect Rodrigo Duterte said on Monday, May 23, that he is ready to grant pardon to former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

“I’m ready to grant pardon to Arroyo. Si Arroyo to my mind should also be released kasi ‘yung lahat ng na-demanda in connection with the sweepstakes expenditure ng intelligence fund nasa labas na. Si Arroyo lang ang nandiyan,” he said during a press conference in Davao City late Monday evening.

(I’m ready to grant pardon to Arroyo. All of those charged [with her] in connection with the sweepstakes expenditure on the intelligence fund are already free. It’s only Arroyo who remains under arrest.)

However, he said, Arroyo refused his offer to grant her pardon, saying this would require her to admit to the crime of plunder. Duterte said he then urged Arroyo to apply for bail.

The former president, now representative of the second district of Pampanga, is detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center over charges of plunder. She is charged for her involvement in the alleged misuse of P366-million Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) intelligence funds from 2008 to 2010.

She is suffering from “multiple cervical spondylosis” or the wearing off of the bones. Her camp has sought house arrest, citing her delicate condition. The anti-graft court has also refused to allow her to seek medical treatment abroad.

A United Nations body issued an opinion in October 2015 that Arroyo’s continued detention violated international law.

Detailed accounting not possible

Duterte said Arroyo could not be expected to produce a detailed and proper accounting of the intelligence fund because of the nature of the sensitive nature of the expenses.

“How can you account properly for intelligence fund? ‘Yang mga tao diyan binibigay mo ng pera ‘yan at ‘yung hindi ko masyado kaibigan pero ‘yung alam kong makatulong, especially galing bukid, mayroon kaming tinatawag na assets binibigyan ko ‘yan. Paano ilagay doon na ayaw magbayad ng pangalan, hindi magpirma ‘yan?” said Duterte.

(You pay people, even those who are not your friends but can help you, especially those from the rural areas. They are called assets and you pay them. How can you account for those funds when they don’t even want to sign their names on any document?)

If it were another type of expense that can be itemized, the case against Arroyo would be understandable, he said.

Kung itemized okay pero kung intelligence fund, my god maski kanino (It would be okay if it were itemized funds but if it’s intelligence fund, my God, anyone would have a hard time),” he said.

Duterte called Arroyo

The president-elect admitted calling Arroyo by phone while on the campaign trail to tell her of his plans to release her.

“I offered, ‘When I become president, I will pardon you. I talked to her, sabi ko, ‘Ma’am, gusto mo i-pardon kita?’ (I said, ‘Ma’am, if you want, I will pardon you’) Not because we’re friends, but because I do not think that there is a good case against you as a prosecutor and as a lawyer,” said Duterte.

But Arroyo supposedly said no because in order to be eligible for pardon, she would have to admit to the crime.

“So I just said, ‘Then just apply for bail, since everyone else is out on bail anyway. I will just give my two cents on it, not to favor but that she deserves to be released,” said Duterte.

‘Slow justice’

The Davao City mayor repeated his belief that Arroyo is a victim of “slow justice.”

“She’s been detained for so long, the trial delayed. Under the constitution, that is grounds for dismissal…. She’s been there about 4 years without a trial. If there is a trial everyday then nothing to complain about,” he said.

Duterte earlier promised voters in Pampanga that he would release Arroyo if he wins the presidency, saying he believes that the evidence against her is weak. The Davao City mayor also called her a victim of “slow justice.”

He promised the same of another high-profile detainee: Senator Ramon Revilla Jr, detained for his alleged involvement in the multi-million peso pork barrel scam. (READ: Duterte: If evidence is weak, let Bong Revilla out on bail)

Arroyo’s allies have said that she was supporting the presidential bid of another candidate – Vice President Jejomar Binay. But in April, Duterte’s lawyer, Salvador Panelo, posted photos on social media showing him attending Arroyo’s birthday party at her home in Quezon City, along with volunteers of the Duterte campaign. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.