Court issues arrest warrant vs Arroyo

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(5thUPDATE) The Sandiganbayan's arrest warrant also covers her 9 co-accused in the P366-M plunder case involving alleged misuse of charity funds

BACK IN JAIL? Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo waves after she was freed on bail in electoral sabotage charges earlier this year. Photo by AFP/Ted Aljibe

(5th UPDATE) MANILA, Philippines – The Sandiganbayan issued an arrest warrant on Thursday, October 4, against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in connection with a P366-M plunder suit earlier filed against her and 9 others by the Ombudsman.

Rappler sources in the Sandiganbayan said the warrant was signed by Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz, chairman of the court’s First Division.

As of 10 am, a copy of the warrant was given to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the Philippine National Police and the Quezon City Police District. The court will also give the same copy to the National Bureau of Investigation.

The warrant was based on a court resolution issued on Wednesday, October 3, by the court’s Fifth Division.

On October 1, Arroyo’s lawyers asked the court to suspend the issuance of the warrant against her. (Read Arroyo’s appeal below.)

Her co-accused also filed the same motion. Her co-accused’s motion was rejected by the court on Wednesday, October 3.

“To move the court to conduct a judicial determination of probable cause is a mere superfluity, for with or without such motion, the judge is duty-bound to personally evaluate the resolution of the public prosecutor and the supporting evidence,” the court ruled in the motion filed by co-accused Benigno Aguas and Raymundo Roquero. “In fact, the task of the presiding judge when the information is filed with the court is first and foremost to determine the existence or non-existence of probable cause for the arrest of the accused.”

Following this decision, the court then issued the warrant not only against Aguas and Roquero but all the accused — including Arroyo.

Diaz’s appeal

Arroyo’s lawyer Anacleto Diaz went to the Sandiganbayan Thursday morning because of a scheduled hearing on the case. While in court, he verbally asked the court to reconsider its decision to issue the arrest warrant against her client.

The court said that it will take a “second look at it.”

On Thursday afternoon, the court formally rejected the motion, saying it found no “urgent reason” to modify the warrant it earlier issued against her. Arroyo has also returned to the Veterans Memorial Medical Center where she was previously detained.

Arroyo is out on bail in connection with an electoral sabotage case filed against her with the Pasay City Court. She filed her certificate of candidacy on Wednesday, October 3, to seek re-election as Pampanga representative.

Plunder however is a non-bailable offense.

On October 1, the Ombudsman denied the plea of the Arroyo camp to drop the plunder charges filed against her.

In a 21-page resolution filed with the Sandiganbayan, the Ombudsman said Arroyo’s appeal has no basis in law. The resolution now allowed the court to issue an arrest warrant against her.

It was Arroyo’s appeal in July – filed before the Ombudsman – that stopped the Sandiganbayan from issuing an arrest warrant against the former president.

The filing of the suit was approved by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales last July 12.

Charity funds

Nine former officials of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) and Commission on Audit were likewise charged with plunder. They are Sergio Valencia, former PCSO chairman of the board; Rosario Uriarte, former PCSO general manager; Manuel Morato, Jose Taruc V, Raymundo Roquero, and Ma Fatima Valdes, former members of the PCSO board; Benigno Aguas, former PCSO budget officer; Reynaldo Villar, former chairman of the Commission on Audit; and Nilda Plaras, former COA officer.

The case was based on two separate complaints – one dated Jul 25, 2011 filed by Jaime Regalario, Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and Danilo Lim, for plunder, malversation and violation of Republic Act (RA) No. 3019; and another complaint dated Nov 29, 2011 by the PCSO itself represented by Eduardo Araullo, for plunder and violation of RA 3019.

The Ombudsman’s suit alleged that Mrs Arroyo approved the alleged diversion of PCSO’s intelligence funds for purposes not related to the core work of the agency, which is to help indigents and sectors working with them.

It noted that the PCSO’s intelligence fund ballooned from P10-M in 2000 to P103-M in 2008. And then it continued to request for more intelligence funds in 2009 (P90-M) and 2010 (P150-M).

The Ombudsman questioned why an agency that helps the poor should enjoy huge “intelligence” funds.

According to the suit, the repeated identically-worded one-page requests for additional intelligence funds did not have a specific plan, project, program or undertaking of intelligence activity, and that the requests made for 2008 and 2010 even preceded the approval of PCSO’s corporate operating budget. – with reports from Natashya Gutierrez/Rappler.com

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