Former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has sought refuge with the Supreme Court (SC) in connection with a plunder case filed against her and several others before the Sandiganbayan for approving the release of more than P365 million in Confidential/Intelligence Funds (CIF) of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) during her term.
In a 115-page petition for certiorari dated October 15, 2015, through her lawyer and former Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza, Arroyo asked the High Court to expedite proceedings and set oral arguments on the case.
At the same time, she urged the SC en banc to suspend further proceedings on the case before the anti-graft court through a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), particularly a hearing to receive evidence from the accused by way of defense.
Arroyo’s petition was filed more than two weeks after the United Nations Working Group on Human Rights ruled that the detention of the former President over the plunder case is arbitrary under each and all of the three categories of arbitrariness.
“Mrs. Arroyo was denied bail on grounds that are not compatible with international law; she did not benefit from the presumption in favor of bail; she was denied bail exclusively on the basis of the alleged strength of evidence against her; measures alternative to pre-trial detention were not considered and there were undue delays in considering her bail position in the proceedings against her as a whole,” a UN ruling said.
“Accordingly, the UN recommended the reconsideration of Mrs. Arroyo’s application for bail in accordance with the relevant international human rights standards,” the ruling added.
In her petition with the SC, the former leader asked the High Court “to render judgment annulling, reversing and setting aside the resolutions of April 6, 2015 and September 10, 2015 denying petitioner’s Demurrer to Evidence dated August 27, 2014 for having been issued with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of, or in excess of jurisdiction[.]”
Arroyo also requested the court to dismiss the criminal case against her and acquit her of the offense cited in the case.
Besides her, also charged with plunder by the Ombudsman before the Sandiganbayan were PCSO General Manager and Vice Chairman Rosario Uriarte; Board of Directors Manuel Morato, Jose Taruc, Raymundo Roquero and Ma. Fatima Valdes; Budget and Accounts Manager Benigno Aguas; Commission on Audit Chairman Reynaldo Villar; and former COA’s CIF Fraud Audit Unit Head Nilda Plaras.
The complaint alleged that they conspired and confederated with one another to unlawfully amass, accumulate and acquire ill-gotten wealth, through any or a series of criminal acts.
All of the accused who were indicted before the anti-graft, however, had been granted bail for their temporary liberty except Arroyo.
Because of this, the former leader also sought equal justice under the law.
“The Sandiganbayan resolutions denying petitioner Arroyo’s ‘Demurrer to Evidence,’ as shown heretofore, in creating a new criminal offense without authority of the Constitution and the law, and applying the newly created criminal offense ex post facto to petitioner Arroyo, on their face do not render ‘Equal Justice Under Law.’”
The defense pointed out that there is insufficient evidence to indict Arroyo.
“In point of fact, not a single exhibit of the 637 exhibits offered by the prosecution nor a single testimony of the 21 witnesses of the prosecution was offered by the prosecution to prove that petitioner amassed, accumulated or acquired even a single peso of the alleged ill-gotten wealth amounting to P365,997,915.00 or any part of that amount alleged in the Information,” the petition read.
According to the petition, implicitly confirming and aggravating its error, “on the basis solely of the petitioner Arroyo’s authorization of the release of the Confidential/Intelligence Fund (CIF) from PCSO’s accounts, the Sandiganbayan ruled that she has committed the offense of plunder under [RA 7080 of the reason that her release of CIF Funds to the PCSO amount to a violation of Section 1(d)  of RA 7080[.]”
It argued that “the facts alleged in the Information as to petitioner Arroyo [and indeed, as to all of the accused]do not constitute the crime of plunder and, and as a consequence, all proceedings thereafter held under the Information are void.”