MANILA, Philippines – State lawyers mapped out a pattern of approval of disbursements despite “patent irregularity,” in opposing the plea of former president now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to be acquitted of plunder over misused funds of the state lottery firm.
In a 95-page omnibus opposition filed before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan’s First Division on Tuesday, September 16, Ombudsman prosecutors led by Ma Hazelina Tujan-Militante debunked Arroyo’s argument that she merely relied on good faith in the integrity of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) executives in making such approvals.
The prosecutors argued that Arroyo’s repeated and generous approval of requests made by then PCSO General Manager Rosario Uriarte for ambiguous expenditures shows her involvement in a conspiracy to plunder the state firm’s funds.
“Accused Arroyo personally granted these requests which were lacking the specific details required by law, without asking where these substantial amounts were being spent, and even though they were unutilized CIF (Confidential/Intelligence Fund) in the previous years,” the opposition read.
Arroyo approved the requests 7 times from 2008 to 2009, even when Uriarte’s letters of request resembled each other so much that they seemed to have the same content, but with different dates.
The requests for CIF also allowed minimal restrictions in the access and withdrawal of the PCSO funds, the prosecution said.
CIF, unlike the operating expenses and two other special trust funds of the PCSO, are not covered by regular state audit.
‘Direct proof not essential to establish plunder’
Charged with the non-bailable offense of plunder, Arroyo allegedly conspired with PCSO officials for the repeated transfer of proceeds from the PCSO’s CIF to fictitious expenditures.
Arroyo’s authorization allegedly allowed Uriarte and then PCSO chairman Sergio Valencia to illegally amass P365.9 million from the PCSO.
The prosecution was opposing Arroyo’s demurrer to evidence, where she argued that her approval relied on the integrity of her subordinates to responsibly execute the lawful purpose of the disbursements. (READ: Arroyo wants acquittal from plunder, cites good faith)
The filing of Arroyo’s demurrer to evidence, granted by the court, gives her the opportunity to ask for her acquittal based on the weakness of the evidence against her, and without having to present counter-evidence.
Arroyo’s camp also argued that her approval merely “facilitated” the release of the funds and that the prosecution was unable to prove that a conspiracy existed between her and the PCSO officials.
But the prosecution countered by saying that “direct proof is not essential to establish conspiracy,” an element of the crime of plunder.
“Since by its nature conspiracy is planned in utmost secrecy, it can rarely be proved by direct evidence for criminals do not write down their lawless plans and plots,” the prosecution said.
The government lawyers explained that a conspiracy may be inferred from the facts and circumstances proven in the case which, when taken together, indicate a “methodical scheme.”
The prosecution likewise argued that Arroyo’s approval for the CIF releases were made despite a deficit in the PCSO’s operating fund.
“This means that accused Arroyo, in 7 instances, deliberately approved the release of intelligence fund to accused Uriarte even without sufficient budget for it. There were no sufficient funds in the operating fund to support the excessive expenditure from the CIF,” the prosecution said. ” – Rappler.com