Court acquits ex-PCSO director in plunder case

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The Sandiganbayan’s First Division has acquitted former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office Director Ma. Fatima Valdes of a P366-million plunder charge that was filed against her in connection with alleged misuse of PCSO funds.

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Valdes, who arrived in the country last October from New Zealand and immediately surrendered to the National Bureau of Investigation, was among those charged in 2012 along with former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and several others.

The court said in a 44-page resolution that it “has no choice but to acquit… Valdes as well,” considering that other former PCSO directors who were similarly charged in 2012 had already been acquitted.

In April 2015, the Sandiganbayan’s First Division granted demurrers to evidence and acquitted former PCSO Directors Manuel Morato, Raymundo Roquero and Jose Taruc 5th as well as former Commission on Audit Chairman Reynaldo Villar.

Last July, the Supreme Court (SC) dismissed the case — which covered 2008 to 2010 — against Arroyo and Benigno Aguas, a former PCSO budget and accounts manager, for insufficiency of evidence.

Valdes filed a demurrer to evidence dated January 16, 2017 after the prosecution adopted the evidence it had already presented and rested its case.

A demurrer to evidence is a motion to dismiss that submits the case for judgment based only on the prosecution’s evidence on the ground that the evidence does not warrant conviction.

In resolving Valdes’ demurrer to evidence, the Sandiganbayan’s First Division quoted relevant parts of its April 2015 ruling that acquitted Morato, Roquero and Taruc.

“Simply put, there is no sufficient evidence on record that the [then-]directors herein had diverted any PCSO funds to themselves, that they raided the public treasury by conveying and transferring into their possession and control any money or funds from PCSO account and, therefore, these demurrers must be granted,” the 2015 ruling said in part.

The court thus granted Valdes’ demurrer to evidence in its recent resolution and acquitted her.

It lifted the hold departure order against her, which had barred her from leaving the country without its prior permission, and ordered the release of the P250,000 bail bond she had posted for her provisional liberty.

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