MANILA, Philippines – It will be former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s second Christmas in detention.
The Sandiganbayan First Division, voting 3-2, on Wednesday, November 6, denied Arroyo’s petition for bail on a pending plunder charge over the alleged illegal conversion of P366 million in operating funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).
The amount was found to have been turned into confidential intelligence funds (CIF).
There was initially a tie over whether there is strong evidence of guilt presented against Arroyo and former PCSO budget and accounts manager Benigno Aguas.
Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje Tang, who was appointed by President Aquino to her post only on October 4, broke the deadlock by casting the crucial vote against the grant of bail.
Also voting to deny bail for Arroyo and Aguas were associate justices Rafael Lagos and Efren de la Cruz, who chairs the First Division. Lagos penned the 47-page resolution.
Associate justices Rodolfo Ponferrada and Jose Hernandez voted against the majority ruling and issued separate dissenting opinions.
Theory of conspiracy
Anacleto Diaz, counsel for Arroyo, said the former President and now Pampanga congresswoman has not yet received a copy of the ruling.
“We shall…study our options including a motion for reconsideration or possibly a petition for certiorari. If there is more than one dissenter, then it is a good sign for us because it means that at least two justices did not find strong evidence of guilt to deny bail,” Diaz said.
The majority of justices held that evidence on record tended to support the prosecution’s theory of conspiracy between former PCSO general manager Rosario Uriarte and the other accused.
“It is not disputed that Uriarte asked for and was granted authority by Arroyo to use additional CIF funds during the period 2008-2010…in the total amount of P352,681,646. The evidence shows that Arroyo approved not only Uriarte’s request for additional CIF in 2008-2010, but also authorized the latter to use such funds,” the graft court said.
Arroyo’s lawyers had argued that she only approved augmenting the PCSO’s intelligence funds but had no hand in determining how it was subsequently disbursed.
The Sandiganbayan said certifications on the availablility of funds, propriety of expenditure and due liquidation of previous cash advances that Aguas issued “were not true.”
“If Aguas was not into the scheme, it would have been easy for him to refuse to sign the certification but he did not,” the court said.
But in his dissent, Justice Ponferrada said the evidence pointed to a number of irregularities none of which, singularly or combined, constitute the offense of plunder.
“There is no strong evidence that ill-gotten wealth was amassed, accumulated or acquired by any of the accused as in fact the existence of such ill-gotten wealth was not clearly established,” Ponferrada said.
“On the contrary, there is evidence showing that the said amounts were spent or used for other non-PCSO related purposes, which although highly irregular, negates or, at the very least, creates a doubt as to the existence of the offense of plunder,” he said.
In his separate dissenting opinion, Justice Hernandez considered the fact that the audit reports by the Commission on Audit (COA) and the PCSO panel differed.
The COA report, he said gave a “presumption of regularity,” while the PCSO audit committee found irregularities.
“If a person has to be condemned for committing the crime, it stands to reason that such condemnation should await trial and the judgment by the court if accused committed the crime in fact,” Hernandez said. – Rappler.com