Another ex-official acquitted of plunder in PCSO scam

MANILA, Philippines – Only two defendants remain in the P365-million Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) intelligence fund scam, after the Sandiganbayan acquitted former PCSO director Maria Fatima Valdes due to insufficient evidence.

In a resolution promulgated by the Sandiganbayan 1st Division last Thursday, March 30, and released to media on Monday, April 3, the anti-graft court granted Valdes' motion for dismissal due to lack of evidence – consistent with the earlier acquittals of her co-accused.

In 2015, the Sandiganbayan cleared Valdes' fellow PCSO directors Manuel Morato, Jose Taruc V, and Raymundo Roquero.

The court said then that the prosecution failed to establish that the 3 directors conspired with each other. Conspiracy is a crucial element to charge someone for plunder. (READ: Plunder cases in the Philippines: Was anyone punished?)

The Sandiganbayan also said then that there was "no sufficient evidence on record that the directors herein had diverted any PCSO funds to themselves, that they raided the public treasury by conveying and transferring into their possession and control any money or funds from PCSO account."

"Considering that Valdes, Morato, Toquero and Taruc were all members of the Board of Directors of the PCSO and are similarly charged of the same offense and considering further that Morato, Toquero and Taruc had been acquitted in this case, the court has no choice but to acquit Valdes as well," the March 30, 2017 resolution reads.

The resolution was penned by Associate Justice Efren dela Cruz with concurrences from Associate Justices Geraldine Faith Econg and Bernelito Fernandez.

The PCSO officials, along with former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, were accused of being in cahoots with each other. The Ombudsman's claim then was that Arroyo approved the alleged diversion of P365 million for purposes not related to the PCSO's core work.

The intelligence funds were allegedly misallocated from 2008 to 2010.

The Supreme Court (SC) acquitted Arroyo in July 2016 for weak evidence, setting her free after 4 years under hospital arrest. (READ: TIMELINE: Gloria Arroyo – from plunder to acquittal)

With Valdes' acquittal, only two cases remain alive in connection with the PCSO scam – those against former PCSO general manager Rosario Uriarte and Commission on Audit (COA) intelligence fund unit head Nilda Plaras.

Uriarte, described as the missing link in the scam, surrendered in November 2016 after 4 years in hiding. Last March, the Sandiganbayan denied her motions for house arrest and bail.

Uriarte was earlier diagnosed with breast cancer. – Rappler.com

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.

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