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SC: No proof Gloria Arroyo stole from PCSO

MANILA, Philippines – There was no evidence that former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo accumulated any amount of illegal wealth from intelligence funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office from 2008 to 2010.

The Supreme Court declared this in its decision promulgated on Thursday, July 21. On Tuesday, in its en banc session, the SC voted 11-4 to acquit Arroyo of plunder and ordered her immediate release from detention after 4 years.

The SC ruled that the Sandiganbayan “acted capriciously” and “committed grave abuse of discretion” when it denied the demurrers to evidence filed by the former president and co-accused Benigno Aguas, former accounts manager of the PCSO.

The decision highlights the "lack of evidence" to prove plunder.

The High Court said the prosecution failed to present witnesses that Arroyo and Aguas had “amassed, accumulated or acquired ill-gotten wealth of any amount.”

It also said there was no proof that the questioned intelligence funds were funneled to the former President.

Arroyo and 9 co-accused were alleged to have misappropriated P365 million in the state charity office's intelligence fund. A minimum of P50 million in ill-gotten wealth is required for the charge of plunder to be filed.

"The Majority found that the prosecution failed to prove these elements which are indispensable for a successful prosecution for plunder. The Majority noted that there were no witnesses presented to show that petitioners Arroyo and Aguas had amassed, accumulated or acquired ill-gotten wealth of any amount and there was also no evidence to show that the CIFs of the PCSO had been diverted to either petitioner Arroyo or petitioner Aguas or accused Uriarte."

The SC also ruled that the prosecution failed to prove the predicate act of raiding the public treasury.

This is contrary to the earlier finding of the Sandiganbayan, which found that the prosecution had established the predicate act even without proof that the accused had benefitted from the act.

“The Majority disagreed with this, holding that proof of where the money went and proof that petitioners Arroyo and Aguas benefitted were essential ingredients of the proof of the predicate act of 'raiding the public treasury.'"

No proof of conspiracy

Majority of the justices said Arroyo’s “OK” in additional requests for intelligence funds – one of the main evidence presented by the prosecution – is insufficient to prove that she conspired to commit plunder.

“[B]ecause the affixing of the unqualified 'OK' could not be considered an 'overt act' for purposes of plunder because this act was a common, legal and valid practice of signifying approval of a fund release by the President and there was no causal relation to the intended crime,” the decision said.

More importantly, the High Court said, the prosecution failed to identify the main plunderer – something that the law requires to establish the crime. With no direct allegations and strong evidence, the SC said the prosecution only “implied a conspiracy.”

“It ruled this to be a fatal flaw for the prosecution because the law on plunder requires that a particular public officer, among several individuals, must be identified as a main plunderer and co-conspirators…. According to the Majority, it then became very difficult, if not impossible, to establish plunder by virtue of the inadequacy of the averments of the crime charged.”

The High Court said the Sandiganbayan’s earlier finding that there was conspiracy was not “sustainable.”

“Thus in the absence of such a conspiracy alleged or proven, petitioners Arroyo and Aguas could only be held criminally liable for their own actions, if any,” it added. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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