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Estelito Mendoza: Sandiganbayan 'created' new plunder law

MANILA, Philippines – Veteran lawyer Estelito Mendoza said the Sandiganbayan "created" a new version of the law in deciding to continue with the plunder case against former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Mendoza said the anti-graft court's denial of Arroyo’s demurrer violates the Philippine plunder law. (READ: Arroyo's trial for plunder to proceed)

"If one does not amass, accumulate [and acquire], there is no plunder," Mendoza said, arguing that Arroyo only authorized the release of funds; and that there was no evidence presented that proves she took home a peso from the P350 million PCSO (Philippine Charity and Sweepstakes Office) fund.

"On what basis did the Sandiganbayan deny her demurrer? Because she authorized the release of P357 million for confidential or intelligence funds requested by the PCSO."

"The Sandiganbayan acknowledged all these but she could still be guilty of plunder... By simply authorizing, she is supposed to have raided the treasury." 

Mendoza accused the judicial bureau of "exercising legislative powers" to create a "new offense." 

"It is not plunder it is a creation of the Sandiganbayan – that plunder is committed when the treasury is raided, even if the one who raids the treasury does not get any money." 

The former president is facing plunder charges before the Sandiganbayan for alleged misuse of PCSO funds. 

Last year, Arroyo filed a demurrer, saying the evidence presented by the prosecution does not prove her guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The court, however, denied her motion in April this year. 

Arroyo's plunder trial is currently on hold for 30 days after the Supreme Court issued a status quo ante order to the Sandiganbayan on October 20.  (READ: SC halts Arroyo plunder trial for 30 days)

In relation to DAP

Mendoza likened Arroyo's case to President Benigno Aquino III's approval of the release of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). 

If the anti-graft court's version of the plunder law will be used, Mendoza said, budget Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad and Aquino "will have a lot to worry about."

He emphasized the two executive officials are in a worse position because the Supreme Court had already ruled the release of DAP funds unconstitutional in 2014.

Abad and Aquino are facing plunder complaints before the Office of the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman is currently investigating the case, but had earlier declared that Aquino is immune from suit while in office.

Calls for acquittal, not just bail 

Asked about how they will use the United Nations (UN) opinion to advance their position in the bail petition, Mendoza said the UN ruling is "not relevant" and that they are relying on the country's basic laws.  

"The UN opinion is not part of the records of the Sandiganbayan... so it cannot be considered."

Mendoza further said their camp, given the span of time Arroyo has been detained, is now asking for her acquittal.

"Dito ang hinihingi namin, hindi lamang bail, ang hinihingi namin dito acquittal, dismiss na yung charges."  (What we are seeking here is not only bail, but acquittal, dismiss the charges.)

Only the former president, of the 10 officials charged with plunder, remains as part of the case. The 9 PCSO and Commission on Audit officials, who were previously charged, have already been acquitted. (READ: Arroyo, 9 others charged with plunder- Rappler.com