At least 10 SC justices favor freedom for ex-President — source
[The Supreme Court en banc is set to discuss today (Tuesday) the case of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, after several postponements. The Arroyo petition has been calendared under item number 49 in Tuesday’s agenda.]
THE ACQUITTAL and release from detention of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo looms with the Supreme Court (SC) set to deliberate and vote on the petition of the former President to dismiss her plunder case because of weak evidence, a highly reliable court source told The Manila Times.
The Arroyo petition, discussions on which had been repeatedly postponed, is included in today’s agenda of the SC en banc.
If voting happens today, at least 10 SC justices will vote for Arroyo’s acquittal, but the number can reach 12 to 13, the SC source said. Only eight votes are needed to secure a majority of the 15 magistrates.
Most of the six appointees of former President Benigno Aquino 3rd, who sent Arroyo to jail in 2012, are even inclined to vote for acquittal, the source said.
So far, only Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, an Aquino appointee, has dissented to the draft ponencia or decision of Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin, which recommends the acquittal of Arroyo.
The other five Aquino appointees are Justices Bienvenido Reyes, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Francis Jardeleza, Benjamin Caguioa and Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
The high tribunal is said to have waited for Aquino to step down from office before acting on Arroyo’s plea because of the “chilling effect” of the Aquino administration’s campaign to impeach the late Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Voting can still be delayed if any member of the high court asks to “call again” the case in future en banc sessions.
On Monday, The Manila Times reported that Sereno could try to block the vote.
Arroyo’s petition asked the Supreme Court to review the Sandiganbayan’s decision last year to junk the former president’s “demurrer to evidence,” in which the accused pleads for the dismissal of charges and argues that the prosecution had presented insufficient evidence.
Arroyo did not present evidence at the Sandiganbayan on the belief that the prosecution, headed by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, had presented a weak case.
Approving the demurrer in effect acquits and frees Arroyo, who is detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City.
She can no longer be charged for the same case based on the principle of “double jeopardy.”
The source leaked to The Manila Times the dispositive portion of the draft ponencia of Bersamin acquitting Arroyo and a PCSO official, Benigno Aguas, of the charge of embezzling P366 million in intelligence funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office from 2008 to 2010.
“Wherefore, the Court Grants the petitions for certiorari; Annuls and Set Aside the resolution issued in Criminal Case No. SB-12-CRM-0174 by the Sandiganbayan on April 6, 2015 and September 10, 2015; Grants the petitioners respective Demurrer to Evidence. Dismisses Criminal Case No. SB-12-CRM-0174 as to the petitioners Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Benigno Aguas; Orders the release from detention of said petitioners and make no pronouncements on costs of suit,” the draft stated.
“Further, the Court Denies [Arroyo’s] urgent motion for House Arrest for being moot and academic,” it added.
A number of justices had raised doubts on the case against Arroyo as the Ombudsman failed to answer the question of where the money allegedly stolen went, the source said.
The marginal notes of Arroyo to PCSO executives directing the release of intelligence funds will be considered a “ministerial act” as President of the Philippines, and does not make her liable for plunder.
Moreover, the PCSO officials tagged as principals by direct participation in the supposed misuse of funds have been allowed to post bail.
“[H]ow can a mastermind be in jail if the ones who were accused of actually stealing the money are now on bail? [T]he liability of the mastermind is dependent upon the principal who stole the money,” the high court source pointed out.
Another source quoted to The Manila Times the dispositive portion of the draft of the dissenting opinion penned by Leonen.
“We should stay this Court’s swift hand. It is not yet time to exercise our awesome powers. In time perhaps, with more prudence and benefiting from the wisdom of our colleagues from the Sandiganbayan,” the draft dissent stated.
“Accordingly, I vote to Deny the consolidated petitions for certiorari, public respondent Sandiganbayan committed no grave abuse of discretion in issuing the assailed April 6, 2015 and September 10, 2015 resolutions,” it added.