AN OVERWHELMING majority of Supreme Court (SC) justices are inclined to acquit detained former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of a plunder charge involving her supposed misuse of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds.
Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin has begun circulating a draft decision junking the criminal case for plunder against Arroyo, now a representative of Pampanga, by granting her plea for a demurrer to evidence, unimpeachable sources at the high court told The Manila Times.
Arroyo’s demurrer to evidence, denied by the Sandiganbayan last year, is a motion to dismiss the case because of weak evidence presented by prosecutors.
Once granted by the High Court, all other related cases will be considered moot, which will eventually release Arroyo from detention at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City.
A favorable SC ruling will have the effect of acquitting Arroyo.
The case cannot be refiled by the Ombudsman under the principle of “double jeopardy.”
The Manila Times made a head count of several SC justices, who asked not to be named, and found that they were poised to clear Arroyo of the supposed embezzlement of P366 million in PCSO intelligence funds from 2008 to 2010.
One source said several magistrates were inclined to favor the draft decision of Bersamin, which states that the Sandiganbayan “acted capriciously … gravely abusing its discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.”
The source said the Bersamin draft ponencia recommended to “grant” the petition for certiorari of Arroyo for demurrer to evidence and “annuls and sets aside” the resolution issued by the Sandiganbayan under Criminal Case No. SB-12-CRM-0174 on April 6, 2015, and the First Division of the Sandiganbayan on September 10, 2015.
Also expected to be cleared is former PCSO Budget and Accounts manager Benigno Aguas, who was said to have certified the availability of funds for intelligence purposes despite a deficit in the charity agency.
Arroyo’s lawyers had decided not to present evidence before the Sandiganbayan on the belief that the prosecution, the Office of the Ombudsman, had a weak case against the former president.
When the SC resumed work in an en banc session after a month-long recess in May, Arroyo’s case was included in the agenda for June 7.
At the time, it was listed in the agenda under “Item No. 91” for the deliberation of the justices. This was rescheduled to June 14 and called two weeks later, on June 28.
This case has again been scheduled for deliberation and voting in July.
There are three petitions in the SC involving Arroyo.
The first case is handled by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, involving the determination of probable cause in the plunder case of Arroyo after she was charged for her alleged participation in embezzling PCSO intelligence funds.
An SC source said this case no longer had any bearing after a presentation of evidence before the Sandiganbayan.
The second case, which is the demurrer to evidence plea set to be decided by the SC, will be the “supervening event” once the decision comes out.
The third case involves review of petition for bail of the former president, which was also junked by the Sandiganbayan.
The case has reached the 15-man tribunal and the decision is supposed to be written by Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza. This will also be mooted once the SC votes on Arroyo’s demurrer to evidence.
President Rodrigo Duterte had offered to pardon Arroyo once elected to Malacañang. The former president, however, declined as this would mean admitting guilt.