SC upholds Arroyo's acquittal in PCSO plunder case

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Supreme Court (SC) en banc upheld the acquittal of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in her plunder case that stemmed from the controversial P366-million Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) fund scam.

SC Spokesman Theodore Te announced in a press briefing on Tuesday, April 18, that the en banc denied the motion for reconsideration filed by the Office of the Ombudsman seeking the reversal of the July 2016 decision.

"The court noted that its decision had granted petitioners' respective demurrers of evidence which resulted in their acquittal and thus any attempt to reconsider the decision would amount to double jeopardy," Te said in the briefing held in Baguio City where the SC is having its annual summer session. (READ: TIMELINE: Gloria Arroyo – from plunder to acquittal)

Te added that the same voting was observed in upholding the acquittal, or 11-4 with dissents from Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, and Associate Justices Marvic Leonen and Benjamin Caguioa. This means that President Rodrigo Duterte's appointees Associate Justices Noel Tijam and Samuel Martires voted in favor of Arroyo.

When the SC acquitted Arroyo in July 2016, the same 4 justices also dissented. Of the 4, only Carpio is an appointee of Arroyo; the rest were appointed by former president Benigno Aquino III.

"We thank the Supreme Court for putting an end to this case," said Arroyo's lawyer Laurence Arroyo in a statement on Tuesday. "PGMA was actually acquitted way back in July [2016] when the SC granted her demurrer to evidence. That should have been the end of the story. The Ombudsman's filing of a motion for reconsideration clearly placed the former president in double jeopardy."

The principle of double jeopardy prevents an accused person from being tried again on similar charges, following an acquittal or conviction.

Meanwhile, the SC also acquitted former PCSO budget and accounts manager Benigno Aguas. In its affirmation on Tuesday, Te said that Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe also dissented, resulting in a 10-5 vote.

The High Court's affirmation is the latest blow to the Ombudsman's bid to hold accountable personalities in the PCSO fund scam.

Earlier this month, the Sandiganbayan acquitted former PCSO director Maria Fatima Valdes due to insufficient evidence.

What used to be 10 defendants in the plunder case, have been reduced to only two: former PCSO general manager Rosario Uriarte and COA intelligence fund unit head Nilda Plaras. (READ: Plunder cases in the Philippines: Was anyone punished?) –

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 or tweet @lianbuan.