MANILA, Philippines – It's a grand theft without a thief, as the Supreme Court (SC) cleared the 10th and last individual charged over the P365-million intelligence fund scam of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).
The SC acquitted former PCSO board chairman Sergio Valencia of malversation charges in a decision promulgated on June 10, but released to media only on Tuesday, July 30.
Valencia was one of the 10 originally charged for plunder alongside former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan in 2013 downgraded Valencia's charges from plunder to malversation because his disputed cash advances amounted to P13.3 million only, or below the P50- million plunder threshold.
Former PCSO board members Manuel Morato, Jose Taruc, Raymundo Roquero, and Reynaldo Villar were acquitted by the Sandiganbayan in 2015, but it was Arroyo's 2016 acquittal by the Supreme Court that made the most impact.
In that landmark decision, the Supreme Court, courtesy of a ponencia by Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin, introduced the principle of a main plunderer.
Not found in the plunder law before, the SC majority looked and did not find a main plunderer. Because there was no main plunderer, the SC said it could be assumed they all benefitted equally. So if you divide P365 million by 10 – the number of accused – that would mean each of them only got P36 million each, which is lower than the plunder threshold of P50 million. (Read more about that decision here.)
That SC decision gave the Sandiganbayan no choice in the remaining plunder cases in that it subsequently acquitted all the rest of the plunder defendants the following years, with former PCSO general manager Rosario Uriarte being the last.
Uriarte, said to be the missing link, was cleared because the Sandiganbayan heeded the SC decision.
"As the High Tribunal categorically cleared Uriarte of culpability from the instant charge of plunder, it behooves this Court to acquit her," said the Sandiganbayan 1st Division in its decision on May 11, 2018.
Valencia's malversation charge was the last one in the scam, but the SC First Division is the last block in the domino effect.
The SC First Division said that the Arroyo acquittal made it clear that "the State did not sufficiently allege essential elements of malversation in the information."
"The Court judiciously believes that the foregoing ruling squarely applies in the instant petition since one of the issues raised in the latter is the denial of petitioner's constitutional right to due process," said the First Division, penned by Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo, with concurrences from Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin, and Associate Justices Francis Jardeleza and Andres Reyes Jr.
The Arroyo acquittal has also helped former senator Jinggoy Estrada get bail in his pork barrel scam plunder charge. It is now a legal principle invoked by most plunder defendants, including Janet Lim-Napoles.
From 2008 to 2010, PCSO officials diverted a total of P365 million to the agency's intelligence fund. The use of intelligence funds is covered by less restrictions.
The dissenters to the Arroyo acquittal slammed the Bersamin ponencia.
Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe said that officials who pocketed plundered money "in great likelihood, had already hidden the money they stole through ingenious schemes and means."
Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said the SC diminishes the rule of law "when we deploy legal interpretation to obfuscate rather than to call out what is obvious." – Rappler.com