FORMER president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo may have to spend more time under hospital arrest because the magistrates handling her case at the anti-graft court remain divided on whether she should be set out on bail.
On Thursday’s hearing, Associate Justice Efren De la Cruz, chairman of the Sandiganbayan First Division, assured Arroyo and former PCSO budget and accounts manager Benigno Aguas, that they are deliberating their motions to resolve petition to grant bail for the two accused.
“The division is a collegial court and are also mandated to follow our internal rules,” De la Cruz said, mildly hinting what seems to be a division in the opinion on Arroyo’s and Aguas’ provisional release in connection with the P366-million Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) plunder case
Being a special collegial court, a Sandiganbayan Division composed of three justices must rule on a consensus. Should the three-man Division not meet a consensus, this will prompt the division to include two more justices to form a Division of Five which will rule on the same issue by way of simple majority.
Last June, the three-man First Division allowed the release of former PCSO officials Raymundo Roquero, Manuel Morato, and Sergio Valencia.
In a separate concurring opinion, Associate Justice Rodolfo Ponferrada approved that the prosecution has weak evidence and that “all of the accused,” including Arroyo and Aguas, must be granted provisional liberty.
But the resolution, signed by De la Cruz, Ponferrada and Associate Justice Rafael Lagos, only explicitly named Roquero, Morato and Valencia as those who could post bail.
Neither de la Cruz nor Lagos issued separate opinions as to why only the three were granted bail.
With no definitive reason from the anti-graft court as to why Arroyo’s and Aguas’ petition for bail has yet to be resolved, the two detained accused could only file motion to resolve, which they did.
‘Not sleeping on the job’
De la Cruz on Thursday’s hearing assured the defense lawyers Anacleto Diaz for Arroyo and Moises Tolentino for Aguas that the court “is not sleeping on its job.”
During the hearing, Diaz said that the incarcerated lawmaker is not in her pinkest of health and not a flight risk.
“Accused Arroyo is already 66 years old and is virtually flesh and bones. She cannot concoct a flight plan to disappear before the court, the people and the media,” Diaz said.
He added that with weak evidence from the prosecution and Arroyo’s weak constitution, the Sandiganbayan should allow the lawmaker to be released from the Veterans Memorial Medical Center where she is presently detained.
Arroyo implored the indulgence of the court for her to be released for her frail health.
She added that the prosecutors “merely expanded a single act” of the lawmaker, referring to Arroyo’s “OK” marginalia which she wrote on the letter where former PCSO general manager Rosario Uriarte’s request for additional intelligence fund.
The lawyer added that any sudden move of the former president “may cause her neck to break.”
The court simply took notice of Diaz’ open-court manifestation.
Meanwhile, Tolentino said that his client should be allowed liberty since his signature on the disbursement vouchers that caused the release of cash to the intelligence fund were mere office routine.
“The one reason that the defense sees why accused Aguas’ petition for bail is hanging in limbo is because of his signature on the vouchers. However, these signatures were acts done by routine fashion,” Tolentino told the bench.
John Constantine G. Cordon