(Updates with details, comments from Malacañang, Justice ex-chief, militant group)
THE Supreme Court acquitted former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of plunder in an 11-4 vote on Tuesday that is expected to lead to her immediate release after a four-year detention, her lawyer said.
Lawyer Raul Lambino said in a televised interview the ruling by the high court is immediately executory.
The high court granted Arroyo’s demurrer to evidence in connection with the plunder case involving her alleged misuse of intelligence funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).
In a demurrer to evidence, the accused pleads for the dismissal of charges and argues that the prosecution had presented insufficient evidence.
Those who voted for Arroyo’s acquittal were Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin, who wrote the ponente or decision, Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Mariano del Castillo, Jose Perez, Jose Mendoza, Bienvenido Reyes, Francis Jardeleza and Estela Perlas-Bernabe.
Reyes, Jardeleza and Perlas-Bernabe are all appointees of former President Benigno Aquino 3rd, whose government has kept Arroyo at the Veteran Memorial Medical Center since 2012.
Three other appointees of Aquino voted against Arroyo’s acquittal: Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Aranal-Sereno, Associate Justices Marvic Leonen and Benjamin Caguioa. Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, an Arroyo appointee, also dissented.
The camp of Arroyo, who retained her post as Pampanga Representative while in hospital arrest, hailed the Supreme Court ruling, saying it “validated what we have been saying for six years now: that the charges against [Arroyo] are nothing more than disingenuous attempts at political persecution by a corrupt and inept Aquino administration.”
“The dawn of a new administration has brought about new hope for great positive change, which includes freedom from false and malicious accusations and unceasing lies and disinformation,” said lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, spokesman for former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo.
“We all join the new government in its fight against criminality, corruption and its economic and political reforms that will surely usher in a new golden age for our country and people,” he added.
‘Trier of facts’
The Malacañang Palace, now occupied by the new administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, urged the public to accept the decision. “The Supreme Court has spoken. Let us respect and abide by the High Court’s decision,” it said in a brief statement.
Senator Leila de Lima, who ordered Arroyo’s arrest as Justice secretary under the Aquino administration, cast doubt on Tuesday’s court decision, saying: “Why do they have to wait for the change of administration to issue that ruling?”
“It is disappointing. It is disheartening. What is happening?” she commented in an interview with reporters.
De Lima said the Supreme Court had assumed the role of “trier of facts,” instead of leaving it up to the Sandiganbayan, which originally junked Arroyo’s demurrer.
The militant Kabataan party-list group sees the decision as a “great blow” to the justice system.
“Mrs. Arroyo’s eventual release casts a dark shadow over the Philippine justice system – a system that lets political prisoners to remain incarcerated for trumped-up charges for decades, while letting Philippine presidents go scot-free despite being caught red-handed in raiding the public coffers,” said Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago.