Some senators see Arroyo back in jail soonBy Cathy C. Yamsuan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Some senators believe former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will be back in jail sooner than expected for the non-bailable charge of plunder that was filed against her earlier this month in connection with missing sweepstakes funds.
“Once the Sandiganbayan issues another warrant of arrest in relation to the plunder case, labas-masok siya sa kulungan (she will be in-and-out of jail),” said Senate justice committee chair Francis Escudero of Arroyo.
Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chair Teofisto Guingona III insisted that the evidence gathered in his panel’s hearings on the more than P300 million intelligence funds of the Philippine Charity [Sweepstakes Office] that went missing during Arroyo’s incumbency “is very strong.”
“We must remember that she has never denied her participation in the approval [of the release] of huge amounts of money. Her marginal notes of approval are on record, clearly affirmed and testified to by Rosario Uriarte, former general manager of the PCSO,” the senator said.
Administration senators who took part in the investigation later insinuated that the PCSO intelligence funds were later used to finance the candidacies of Lakas-Kampi candidates in the 2010 elections.
Guingona and other senators said they are at least consoled by the fact that when the Office of the Ombudsman lodged the plunder charge against Arroyo, Uriarte et al. in the Sandiganbayan, a hold-departure order was immediately issued against the former President.
Senator Francis Pangilinan said the hold-departure order would at least ensure that Arroyo remains in the country to face the charges against her.
Guingona agreed, noting Arroyo’s alleged “propensity to invent reasons to justify her grand plan to leave the country and escape prosecution for her crimes.”
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, who led two mutinies against Arroyo as a Navy lieutenant, said the possibility of the former President facing arrest for plunder somehow cushions the blow of Pasay City Judge Jesus Mupas’ decision to grant her P1 million bail.
Mupas noted the weak evidence presented against Arroyo in connection with the electoral sabotage case filed by the Department of Justice and the Commission on Elections stemming from fraud allegedly committed in the 2007 elections.
“She may have escaped the fraud charge but the case of plunder is stronger and non-bailable,” Trillanes said.
Senator Panfilo Lacson blamed the DOJ and Comelec for what he described as an ill-prepared electoral sabotage complaint that he believes forced Mupas to grant bail.
“Bail posits the existence of a weak electoral sabotage case filed by the DOJ and Comelec. One lesson learned here is we cannot build up a strong case through press releases and media interviews,” Lacson said. “Rather, it takes hard work and the gift of skill and well-rounded knowledge of law and the rules of court and proper procedures to do so.”
Trillanes also blamed the DOJ for not ensuring the protection of witnesses who could have bolstered the “hearsay testimony” of sole witness Norie Unas.
Trillanes said it is likely that witnesses who could have proven Unas’ story were intimidated and discouraged from coming forward to support his story.
Trillanes spared the Comelec from this accountability since the commission is not tasked to protect witnesses.
“In fact, if Comelec did not file the fraud complaint, (Arroyo) would have gone abroad earlier,” Trillanes said.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, poster boy of 2007 electoral fraud victims, said he could not blame Mupas for the decision to grant bail.
“Since there was only one witness against her, an alleged eyewitness, then the grant of bail means that the judge isn’t convinced that the evidence (against Arroyo) is strong,” Pimentel said. “I respect the judge’s decision and it’s a good sign that the judicial processes are working in our country.”
Other senators, agreed saying the court’s decision to grant bail to Arroyo indicates that the administration still operates under the rule of law and is not using judicial powers against an adversary.
“The most important issue especially with high-profile personalities like (Arroyo) is that due process and the rule of law are observed, avoiding perceptions of political vendetta, vindictiveness, partiality on the part of the courts and the government,” said Sen. Gregorio Honasan.
Senator Franklin Drilon recalled that President Benigno Aquino III, in his last State of the Nation Address, insisted that his anti-corruption efforts are not about vindictiveness.
“But government will not go slow in prosecuting (Arroyo) for the abuses and excesses of her nine-year rule,” he added. With a report from Katherine Evangelista