Arroyo bail feared due to 'rushed' case

MANILA, Philippines – Weaknesses plague the electoral sabotage case against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and her lawyers could use these to their advantage, an activist group said Thursday, June 21, protesting the possible bail for Mrs Arroyo.

The activist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) cited how it took the government 500 days to file the case, and how the Commission on Elections (Comelec) “rushed” it to prevent Mrs Arroyo from leaving the Philippines. (Read: Comelec broke rules to charge Arroyo.)

Mrs Arroyo's lawyers also claim the star witness in the case, former Maguindanao provincial administrator Norie Unas, presented a weak testimony. Upon questioning by defense lawyers last week, Unas admitted he did not personally see cheating in the 2007 senatorial elections. (Read: Unas: I didn't see actual poll fraud.)

The Pasay Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 112 could allow Mrs Arroyo to post bail if the prosecution fails to prove strong evidence of guilt against her.

“The Aquino government will surely be to blame if Arroyo goes out on bail. It would be a big disservice to the people and a huge embarrassment for this mediocre government,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr said.

'Big disservice'

On Thursday, the court allowed lawyers of Mrs Arroyo's co-accused, Lintang Bedol, to present evidence in connection with his own bail petition. Comelec lawyers wanted to use Bedol's testimony against Mrs Arroyo. Mrs Arroyo's lawyers opposed what the Comelec wanted because the poll body had already submitted a formal offer of evidence.  

Coinciding with the hearing, Bayan staged simultaneous protests outside the Pasay RTC and the Veterans Memorial Medical Center, where Mrs Arroyo is under hospital arrest.

Commenting on the protests, Comelec legal department head Esmeralda Ladra said: “We already presented our evidence, and it's for the court to appreciate our formal offer of evidence... Let's wait for the court's resolution”

Mrs Arroyo, for her part, wants to be granted bail soon, her lawyer Benjamin Santos said. “She feels that it's a little bit too long but of course the prosecution has to be given the right to exercise its right... to prove that evidence against our client is strong,” Santos said.

The court will likely rule on Mrs Arroyo's bail petition in July, said court spokesperson Felda Domingo. Before this, she said the court will have to decide on the evidence to be accepted concerning the bail petition. Prosecution and defense lawyers will also have to submit certain memoranda to the court, Domingo added.

The pretrial will begin on August 23.

Other cases

Meanwhile, in its statement, Bayan added that to keep her in detention, the government needs to pursue other cases against Mrs Arroyo, such as gross human rights violations, plunder, and wholesale poll fraud in 2004. “Failure to do so would mean that this government is not serious in going after GMA,” Reyes said.

On Tuesday, June 19, Bayan Muna party-list representatives requested the Ombudsman to act urgently on a plunder complaint that is a so-called non-bailable offense. (Read: Ombudsman asked to file plunder case vs Arroyo.) – Rappler.com


Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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