THE anti-graft court Sandiganbayan’s First Division on Friday upheld its ruling to deny former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s request to dismiss the plunder case against her even as her camp argued that the prosecution failed to meet its burden of proving her guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
Last April, the court denied the demurrers to evidence filed by Arroyo, former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) budget and accounts manager Benigno Aguas, and former PCSO Chairman Sergio Valencia in a P366-million plunder case over alleged misuse of state charity funds.
This prompted Arroyo and her co-accused to file motions for reconsideration, which the court denied in a 13-page Resolution promulgated on Thursday “for lack of merit.”
Filed by a defendant after the prosecution rests its case, a demurrer submits the case for judgment based only on the prosecution’s evidence on the ground that proof does not warrant conviction.
With Arroyo’s demurrer to evidence denied, the case proceeds and her camp will then have to take turn in presenting her own evidence.
In her appeal, Arroyo’s camp argued that the prosecution failed to prove “the fundamental element of ‘amassing, accumulating, and acquiring ill-gotten wealth'” and to establish that Arroyo conspired with anyone to commit plunder.
The only proof of her alleged participation was her approval for the requests for confidential and intelligence funds (CIF), it said.
But in denying Arroyo’s motion for reconsideration, the court held in part that “…once public funds, as in the case of CIF funds, are illegally accumulated, amassed or acquired, to the tune of P50 Million or more, there will be no need to establish any motive to gain, or much more, to establish where the money eventually ended up.”
The court also held that she was rightly charged as a co-conspirator of former PCSO General Manager Rosario Uriarte, who remains at large.
“What accused Arroyo forgets is that although she did not actually commit any ‘overt act’ of illegally amassing CIF funds, her act of approving not only the additional CIF funds, but also their releases, aided and abetted accused Uriarte’s successful raids on the public treasury,” it said.
The court believes that Uriarte accumulated more than P50 million in CIF funds by using Arroyo’s approval.
The ruling was penned by Associate Justice Rafael Lagos and concurred in by Associate Justices Efren Dela Cruz (also First Division Chairperson), Rodolfo Ponferrada, Napoleon Inoturan, and Alex Quiroz.
Ponferrada and Quiroz wrote separate concurring/dissenting opinions.
In his separate concurring/dissenting opinion, Quiroz said he fully concurs with the denial of Arroyo, Aguas, and Valencia’s demurrers “but humbly depart from the majority view that there is sufficient evidence to hold Arroyo and Aguas liable for the crime of Plunder.”
The prosecution failed to adduce evidence that the accused amassed ill-gotten wealth, which is an element of plunder, Quiroz wrote. In closing, he said the pieces of evidence against Arroyo and Aguas “merely warrant an indictment for the predicate act of Malversation.”
In his concurring/partial dissenting opinion, Ponferrada agreed that Arroyo and Aguas’ demurrers should be denied “but without sufficient and/or strong evidence /proof of Plunder, the said accused should be allowed bail in the amount of PhP500,000.00 each, like accused Valencia.”
The court, in earlier denying the demurrer filed Valencia, said there was enough evidence to hold him liable for malversation.
Valencia appealed the matter but the court said in the same 13-page ruling that “[a]lthough this Court was divided in the issue as to whether there was sufficient evidence against accused Arroyo and Aguas with regard to the plunder charge, the Court was unanimous in ruling that accused Valencia could still he held liable for malversation under the variance rule. It is only the fact that accused Valencia’s accumulation of CIF funds fell short of the P50 Million threshold which negated his liability for plunder. Other than that, a clear case for malversation can be pursued against him.”
In denying Aguas’ motion for reconsideration, the court held in part that his “signature was an essential requirement before any disbursement voucher on CIF funds could be approved or released.”
“By signing the disbursement voucher and exercising his discretion, he certified, albeit without legal basis, to the regularity of the transaction thereby enabling accused Uriarte to illegally amass CIF funds,” it said.
Arroyo is under hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City, while Aguas is detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame.
The court earlier granted the demurrers to evidence filed by four other defendants in the case – former PCSO Directors Manuel Morato, Raymundo Roquero and Jose Taruc 5th as well as former COA Chairman Reynaldo Villar.
“They are, therefore, ordered acquitted of the offense charged herein,” it said.