Ruling is immediately executory
FORMER President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was in tears upon learning on Tuesday that after four years in detention, she will finally be free.
Arroyo, now a representative of Pampanga, was surrounded by former members of her Cabinet, son Juan Miguel and grandchildren in her room at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City as news came of her acquittal from a plunder case instigated by the previous Aquino administration.
Arroyo, 69, whose nine-year rule ended in 2010 with the Philippines escaping the global financial crisis on the strength of its service-sector led economy, thanked God, members of the Supreme Court, and President Rodrigo Duterte ahead of her impending release after undergoing what she described as an unjust persecution.
“First and foremost, to God Almighty be all the glory and praise. Through His kindness and mercy, justice and righteousness have once again prevailed over injustice and wrongdoing,” Arroyo said in a statement.
“I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the Honorable Members of the Supreme Court for finally stopping the persecution I had unjustly gone through the last five years. My most profound appreciation to His Excellency Rodrigo Duterte for allowing due process to take its course,” she said.
“With the High Tribunal rendering a final decision on this unfortunate episode, I sincerely hope that everyone will respect and recognize the truth that has been established,” she added.
Aides said Arroyo’s priority is to have her medical condition, cervical spondylosis, checked. If freed this week, she will have the chance to attend next Monday’s State of the Nation Address.
One of Arroyo’s lawyers, Raul Lambino, broke the news early on Tuesday of the 11-4 Supreme Court vote acquitting and freeing the former President.
“Naiyak po siya, siyempre lahat ng mga kasama namin rito sa magandang balitang dumating sa atin. Para sa akin, malaya na ang dating Pangulo (She was in tears along with the rest of us because of the good news that reached us. As far as I am concerned, the former President is free),” Lambino said in a radio interview.
Arroyo however will have to wait for at least a day as the official text of the Supreme Court ruling was not released on Tuesday, said Laurence Arroyo, her defense lawyer (not related).
The copy of the ruling is needed to secure the former President’s release papers from the Sandiganbayan that tried her for plunder over her alleged misuse of funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.
‘Good Friday over, resurrection has come’
Former solicitor general Estelito Mendoza, a top-notch lawyer who was part of the Arroyo legal team, said the ruling was significant as the former President did not even have to present evidence.
Arroyo sought and was granted a demurrer to evidence, arguing that the prosecution had a weak case.
“From inception there was no basis for her to be imprisoned or detained … There could not have been a more unjust situation,” Mendoza told reporters at the VMMC.
“Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Good Friday is finally over. Her resurrection has come.
Unfortunately it has been a long Good Friday through a Calvary made by man,” he added.
Mendoza said Arroyo might attend the next National Security Council meeting.
Lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, spokesman for former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, said the ruling was a validation that “the charges against [Arroyo] are nothing more than disingenuous attempts at political persecution by a corrupt and inept Aquino administration.”
“We all join the new government in its fight against criminality, corruption and its economic and political reforms that will surely usher in a new golden age for our country and people,” he added.
Malacañang, now occupied by the new administration of President Duterte, urged the public to accept the decision.
“The Supreme Court has spoken. Let us respect and abide by the High Court’s decision,” it said in a brief statement.
In a press conference in the Palace, Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza, who served in the Arroyo Cabinet, said he “rejoiced” over the SC decision.
“We see that justice has been served with the decision of the SC. Personally, I rejoiced over this decision,” said Dureza, who served as press secretary and peace adviser under Arroyo.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said “it’s about time” the high court acquitted Arroyo.
“All the respondents have been released … In a conspiracy, the act of one is the act of all.
The reverse is true. The innocence of one is the innocence of all,” Panelo added.
Trier of facts
Senator Leila de Lima, who ordered Arroyo’s arrest as Justice secretary under the Aquino administration, cast doubt on Tuesday’s court decision, saying: “Why do they have to wait for the change of administration to issue that ruling?”
“It is disappointing. It is disheartening. What is happening?” she commented in an interview with reporters.
De Lima said the Supreme Court had assumed the role of “trier of facts,” instead of leaving it up to the Sandiganbayan, which originally junked Arroyo’s demurrer.
Rep. Carlos Zarate of the Bayan Muna party-list group expressed “grave disappointment” at the dismissal of the plunder case.
“More could have been done to strengthen the case and make the former President accountable. Unfortunately, it seems that the previous Aquino administration was merely contented in keeping her politically paralyzed in the past six years rather than obtaining a conviction,” he said in a statement.
Former Davao City representative Prospero Nograles, who was Speaker under Arroyo, said the former leader will now have the chance to set the record straight—that the foundations of country’s economic gains were laid down during her rule.
“I am happy that she can now continue serving our nation without any restriction. With her release from the Veterans Hospital after four years of hospital arrest, she can again join debates and discussions in Congress to share her expertise not only as former president but as one of the country’s best economist,” he said.