• Sandigan keeps GMA, Aguas behind bars


    FORMER President Gloria Arroyo will continue to be detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center after the Sandiganbayan on Wednesday junked her petition for bail.

    In a three-two vote, a special Division of Five denied the petition of Arroyo to gain temporary liberty, five months after three former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) officials were granted a different decision.

    Associate Justice Rafael Lagos signed the 47-page resolution with Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz and Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang concurring.

    Associate Justices Rodolfo Ponferrada and Jose Hernandez dissented.

    The majority of the magistrates ruled that there is “strong evidence” that Arroyo did conspire with former PCSO General Manager Rosario Uriarte, who is presently at-large.

    The court said that Arroyo approved the requests of Uriarte for additional monies to be re-aligned to the intelligence fund.

    ”There was no concrete explanation of the circumstances which gave rise to the necessity for the expenditures,” the ruling read.

    They noted that Uriarte’s purpose in the letter-requests “were basically the same for three years,” which are unwarranted use of ambulances by beneficiary-donees, lotto and sweepstakes scams victimizing innocent people of winning the jackpot and conduct of jueteng or illegal numbers game, among others.

    ”Arroyo did not question Uriarte’s repetitive and simplistic basis for the requests, as she readily approved without any qualification or condition,” the ruling stated.

    The former president also did not question the need for additional intel fund, considering that as the state’s chief executive, she should be aware of rules governing the controversial fund.

    Majority of the magistrates also agreed that Arroyo instantaneously and matter-of-factly approved the requests.

    ”Without this approval the releases could not have been possible, Uriarte treated Arroyo’s ‘OK’ notation as approval,” the resolution pointed out, referring to the marginalia appearing on Uriarte’s letter-requests.

    Lastly, the anti-graft court also stressed that the Pampanga lawmaker should have been sensitive when it was notable that the amount Uriarte sought in 2008 was P75 million, which increased to P90 million in 2009 and ballooned to P150 million in 2010.

    ”Arroyo should have instinctively sensed something was wrong, if she did not share any common purpose or design with Uriarte,” the court said.

    In June, the First Division already allowed former PCSO President Sergio Valencia and board members Manuel “Manoling” Morato and Raymundo Roquero temporary freedom.

    However, the June resolution did not expressly include the names of Arroyo and former PCSO accounts and budget Manager Benigno Aguas. With Arroyo, Aguas is also kept behind bars as ordered in the recent ruling.

    Departing from the majority opinion, Ponferrada said that although the cash advances for the intel fund was used for non-PCSO purposes, “which although highly irregular,” falls flat of plunder.

    ”There is evidence showing that the said amounts were spent or used for other non-PCSO related purposes, which although highly irregular, negates or, at the very least, creates a doubt as to the existence of plunder,”

    Ponferrada’s opinion read.

    Joining Ponferrada is Hernandez who found that no strong evidence surrounded the participation of Arroyo and Aguas.

    He said that the right of an accused to post bail granting weak evidence is a Constitutional right that should afford the accused innocence until proven otherwise.

    Hernandez added that condemnation against plunder, which is a “detestable” crime, “should await trial and the judgment by the court.”

    ”Unfortunately, this fair restraint does not easily operate in the daily fountain of opinions, in the free media, and in the most politically charged discussions heard at every turn,” his opinion stressed.

    Arroyo, through her lead defense counsel Anacleto Diaz, said that they will study their options and if possible will go up to the Supreme Court to challenge the resolution by way of a petition for certiorari.

    ”It took the Sandiganbayan some time to resolve the motion for bail and that is good and bad for us because it means that the Sandiganbayan had its doubts on whether there really is strong evidence,” Diaz explained.


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