FORMER president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and his co-accused in the P366-million graft case will remain behind bars after the Sandiganbayan upheld with finality its previous ruling, which finds strong evidence in their plunder case.
The Sandiganbayan Special First Division junked the motions for reconsideration of the Pampanga lawmaker and Benigno Aguas, former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) budget and accounts manager, in its 12-page resolution issued on Wednesday.
Anti-graft court magistrates argued that there are enough reasons to believe that Arroyo and Aguas committed lapse in judgment which led to the release of the P366-million intelligence fund.
In a 3-2 ruling favoring the Office of the Ombudsman, the court stated that Arroyo should have been more circumspect when former PCSO general manager Rosario Uriarte asked for the realignment of funds.
“Considering the staggering amounts of the additional [intel]funds requested by Uriarte . . . accused Arroyo should have instinctively sensed something was wrong if she did not share any common purpose or design with Uriarte,” the resolution read, noting that the fund re-alignment increased to P90 million in 2009 from P75 million on 2008, and P150 million in 2010.
The ponencia of Associate Justice Rafael Lagos, a bar topnotcher, read that “all the badges of irregularities” were there for Arroyo to note “but still she approved the letter-requests . . . [with]her unqualified ‘OK’ notation.”
The court also parried the defense argument that Arroyo should be released on bail because the Commission on Audit (COA) cleared the re-channeling of funds through a credit advice and through the non-issuance of a notice of disallowance.
“We [magistrates]reiterate the view that the finding of COA is not the final word on the existence of criminal liability,” the resolution read.
It added that Uriarte even liquidated the cash in “in bulk, and not on monthly basis, or at least with a monthly progress report” as required by audit circulars.
While the same resolution acknowledged the deteriorating health of Arroyo, the court stressed that it was Arroyo herself who asked to be arrested inside the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC).
“There is no prohibition against her doctors from seeing her, consulting with her and treating her. All necessary medical examinations and diagnostic procedures are also available in VMMC. She, in the first place, had asked for [the hospital arrest],” the resolution stated.
The court added that Dr. Antonio Sison, Arroyo’s spine and orthopedic surgeon, is not the medical authority to testify that Arroyo’s stay in the hospital is not conducive to healing due to “bad air” and depression.
The resolution stated that “diagnosing and curing depression certainly is not one of Dr. Sison’s specialties,” which is best left to a psychologist or a psychiatrist, to testify if depression is leading to Arroyo’s health breakdown.
“Any detainee, whether in a jail facility or under hospital arrest, will surely suffer depression or loneliness to a certain degree,” the court said, noting that Sison did not categorically answer where should Arroyo be transferred given his observation.
“The court nevertheless commiserates with Arroyo’s present condition. However, it is believed that VMMC is still the ideal place for her confinement as doctors and medical facilities are easily within her reach,” the court said.
In the same resolution, the Sandiganbayan also junked Aguas’ motion because he did not question the amounts and frequency of the disbursements.
The court said that P366 million “is not a trifling sum of money,” which should have not escaped Aguas, who is now under detention at the Custodial Center of the Philippine National Police.
“It is the precise nature of a criminal conspiracy that makes it so hard to prove through direct evidence, which made the courts resort to circumstantial evidence to prove that connivance exists between the accused,” the court said.
It added that the conclusions to deny Arroyo’s and Aguas’ motions, were “not conjectures or guesses.”
“The conclusions in the questioned resolution were made with the evidence in mind, and that such evidence was strong, clear and convincing,” the resolution read.