Sandiganbayan acquits another in PCSO scam; only 1 plunder case remains

Lian Buan
Sandiganbayan acquits another in PCSO scam; only 1 plunder case remains
Former COA intelligence fund unit head Nilda Plaras is off the hook

MANILA, Philippines – One more off the hook in the P365-million intelligence fund scam of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).

The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan acquitted former Commission on Audit (COA) official Nilda Plaras of plunder in a resolution adopted by the First Division on October 4, and released to media on Tuesday, October 10.

With this acquittal, only the plunder case against former PCSO general manager Rosario Uriarte is pending with the anti-graft court. The cases of 7 others, including that of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, have been dismissed from 2015 to 2017 both by the Sandiganbayan and the Supreme Court (SC).

The last acquittal was in April this year for former PCSO director Maria Fatima Valdes.

Acquittal

Plaras was the former head of the COA’s intelligence fund unit and was among those charged for the diversion of P365 million to the intel funds, which have lesser restrictions.

Plaras was charged along with former COA chairman Reynaldo Villar, who was acquitted by the Sandiganbayan in April 2015. (READ: Plunder cases in the Philippines: Was anyone punished?)

The Sandiganbayan was just conceding to the SC, which terminated the proceedings against Plaras in a resolution issued in August 2016.

“Suffice it to state that in view of the recent development, the instant case against accused Plaras has no more leg to stand on, thus warranting its dismissal,” said the resolution approved by Associate Justices Efren dela Cruz, Geraldine Faith Econg, and Edgardo Caldona.

In August 2016, or a month after it acquitted Arroyo, the SC terminated the proceedings against Plaras owing to all the other acquittals in the past. (READ: TIMELINE: Gloria Arroyo – from plunder to acquittal)

Reiterating their ruling on the lack of a main plunderer in the scam, the SC said “the Sandiganbayan’s finding of conspiracy is unwarranted and unsustainable.”

The SC also cited the Sandiganbayan’s own acquittal of Villar and said the ruling should extend to Plaras.

The Sandiganbayan ordered Plaras’ arrest but the COA official did not recognize the anti-graft court’s jurisdiction, and instead went to the SC.

“While admittedly accused Plaras has never submitted to the jurisdiction of this Court, the issue on jurisdiction advanced by the prosecution is, however, mooted by the foregoing pronouncements which have effectively rendered the Court devoid of Information and proceedings in this case to take cognizance of,” the First Division said.

The Sandiganbayan also recalled the warrant of arrest, and lifted the hold departure order against Plaras.

Uriarte, the last remaining plunder defendant in the scam, is detained at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) custodial center. – Rappler.com 

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.