Sandiganbayan 1st division will try Arroyo’s PCSO plunder caseBy TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The Sandiganbayan First Division will be trying the plunder case against former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and other officials stemming from alleged misuse of P366 million in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office funds.
The case was raffled to the anti-graft court’s First Division, chaired by Associate Justice Efren dela Cruz, following a draw inside the courtroom of the Third Division at 11:30 a.m. Friday.
“It will just be an ordinary case,” a smiling Dela Cruz curtly told reporters after the brief draw.
The Office of the Ombudsman last Monday filed the case against Arroyo, who has been detained at the Veterans Memorial Hospital in Quezon City on charges of electoral sabotage since November 2011.
It was the first plunder case against Arroyo, who is also facing two counts of graft and one count of breach of ethics in the Sandiganbayan in connection with her approval of the overpriced $329-million National Broadband Network deal with China’s ZTE Corp.
Her co-accused in the plunder case, former PCSO chairman Sergio Valencia and former general manager Rosario Uriarte, filed separate motions with the Sandiganbayan seeking to defer the proceedings against them to allow them to pursue their motions for reconsideration with the Ombudsman.
Also charged with plunder were former PCSO board members Manuel Morato, Jose Taruc V, Raymundo Roquero and Ma. Fatima Valdes; and former budget and accounts manager Benigno Aguas; former Commission on Audit Chair Reynaldo Villar and Nilda Plaras, erstwhile intelligence and confidential fund audit unit head.
Arroyo and the former PCSO and COA officials were accused of conspiring to directly or indirectly accumulate P365.99 million in ill-gotten wealth from the PCSO, an agency tasked with providing aid to the poor.
The Ombudsman said that from January 2008 to June 2010, the accused diverted funds from the PCSO’s operating budget to the confidential or intelligence fund, which could be withdrawn or accessed any time and with few restrictions.
The accused then allegedly converted, misused and illegally transferred the funds for their own use “in the guise of fictitious expenditures.”
Also on Friday, the graft case against Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and seven Cebu officials over the purchase of P99 million worth of land that was mostly under water was raffled off to the Second Division, chaired by Associate Justice Oscar Herrera.
On the other hand, the graft case against Zamboanga del Sur Representative Aurora Cerilles and six others over the questionable purchase of P6.8 million medical supplies in 2001was raffled off to the Third Division, chaired by Associate Justice Francisco Villaruz Jr.