SC dissenters on Arroyo plunder case: There was conspiracy
MANILA, Philippines – Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Associate Justice Marvic Leonen dissented from the majority opinion on the plunder case against former president Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo, and asserted conspiracy was established by the prosecution.
Voting 11-4, the Supreme Court dismissed for lack of evidence the plunder case against the former president and incumbent Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her co-accused, and ordered their immediate release from detention.
The 4 justices who dissented or voted against Arroyo are Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, and Associate Justices Marvic Leonen and Benjamin Caguioa. Of the 4, only Carpio is an appointee of Mrs Arroyo; the rest were appointed by former president Benigno Aquino III.
Sereno’s dissent was based on 5 major points:
- The stark irregularities in the Confidential/Intelligence Fund disbursement process that were ignored in the majority decision and the excuse of the breach in budget ceilings brought about by the commingling of funds.
- The introduction of two additional elements in the prosecution of plunder – the identification of a main plunderer and personal benefit to the plunderer, which is an effect not contemplated in the law.
- The denial of “efficacy” to the concept of implied conspiracy.
- The creation of unwarranted review precedent caused by ignoring evidence in the form of Commission on Audit reports.
- Gross error in describing evidence as not showing “even the remotest possibility that the CIFs [Confidential and Intelligence Funds] of the PCSO [Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office] had been diverted…” when one of the petitioners Benigno B. Aguas reported to COA that P244 million of close to P366 million of PCSO funds had been diverted to the Office of the President.
Sereno also said the prosecution was able to establish conspiracy, citing the repeated approvals by then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of additional CIF requests in a span of 3 years – from 2008 to 2010. The fund releases would not have been possible without the approval of the former president.
The same funds could not have been released without the participation of Aguas, who was PCSO budget and accounts manager, and former PCSO general manager Rosario Uriarte. Part of the scheme too were former PCSO official Sergio Valencia and Nilda Plaras, former head of the COA’s Intelligence/Confidential Fund Fraud Audit unit.
CJ Sereno_Dissenting Opinion_G.R. No. 220598 and G.R. No. 220953
In his dissent, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen asserted that “The scheme to amass and accumulate ₱365,997,915.00 in cash of CIF required the indispensable participation of the President in its approval and its actual disbursement in cash by the General Manager of the PCSO. The raid on public coffers was done in a series or combination of acts. The use of the funds was not properly accounted.”
Arroyo and Aguas, according to Leonen, participated in a “protracted scheme of raiding the public treasury aimed at amassing ill-gotten wealth.”
Even assuming that evidence to show plunder is insufficient, Leonen said she committed “malversation of public funds”, which is a lesser offense subsumed under plunder.
Where the close to P366 million in funds went and why it was disbursed was not adequately explained. The sums were disbursed through the repeated approval of Arroyo, who bypassed the layers of supervision over the PCSO.
“The former president cannot plead naivete. She was intelligent and was experienced. The scheme is plain except to those who refuse to see,” Leonen argued.
In his dissent, he also said the Court diminishes the rule of law “when we deploy legal interpretation to obfuscate rather than to all out what is obvious.”
J. Leonen_Dissenting Opinion_G.R. No. 220598 and G.R. No. 220953
Proof of personal benefit?
Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe, on the other hand, concurred in part and dissented in part. She disagreed with the Sandiganbayan’s findings that Arroyo’s “OK” notations to Uriarte’s requests for confidential funds do not amount to her assent to any irregularity.
She also disagreed with the majority opinion that the prosecution needs to prove that the accused personally benefitted from the funds by proving that these sums went to a plunderer’s bank account.
She warned that the majority decision now “requires the State to submit direct proof of personal benefit for an accused plunderer, as well as those who have conspired with him to be convicted.” Those who have raided government coffers would, “in great likelihood, had already hidden the money they stole through ingenious schemes and means,” Bernabe said.
J.Bernabe_Separate Concurring and Dissenting Opinion_G.R. No. 220598 and G.R. No. 220953