MANILA, Philippines – Like the rest of the country, Malacañang was taken aback by the decision of Judge Jesus Mupas of the Pasay City Regional Trial Court to grant the petition for bail of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
However, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda lost no time in passing the buck to the Commission on Elections (Comelec), which filed the case for electoral sabotage against the former President on Nov. 18, 2011.
“It’s Comelec that filed the case, not us,” said Lacierda in briefing at the Palace.
He also invoked the separation of powers between the executive and judiciary to explain the unfortunate turn of events for the two-year-old Aquino administration, which has made the prosecution of Arroyo as the centerpiece of its anticorruption drive.
Lacierda said that the executive had no control over the workings of judiciary.
Although its most precious detainee is now out on bail, the Aquino administration still vowed that the “fight against corruption continues,” with Lacierda citing the plunder case recently filed by the Office of the Ombudsman against Arroyo in connection with the misuse of P366-million funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).
“And that’s the reason why there is a PCSO case still before the Sandiganbayan. This will not dampen our resolve to file and to continue to institute corruption cases against responsible officials,” said Lacierda, adding:
“So let’s see, anyway Mrs. Arroyo still has a (pending plunder) case.”
At the Palace briefing, reporters repeatedly raised the issue of the weak evidence submitted by the Comelec to Mupas, which was cited by the judge to justify the issuance of a release order for Arroyo Wednesday.
Quoting Mupas, Lacierda said: “Apparently, according to the judge, the evidence against the accused is weak.”
But Lacierda was quick to pass the buck to the poll body, saying:
“I would not be able to admit that (it was weak) because we were not involved in the resolution of that case. Apparently, it was a case filed by the Comelec. And, based on the joint DOJ (Department of Justice)-Comelec study, they found that there was a probable cause.
“Now, the judge has made a decision with respect to the granting of bail, not necessarily on the merits. So we don’t know yet how it will proceed further down the road.”
Asked about the President’s reaction, Lacierda said that Aquino was presiding a meeting at Palace while the briefing was ongoing.
“He is presently in a meeting right now, so I wasn’t able to talk to him. But I will assume that he already knows the information,” said Lacierda.
Asked if Malacañang had expected the RTC to reject the petition of the former President, Lacierda said: “When I say I was surprised, it was, in fact, that there was news on that. Whether it was granted or whether it was not granted, I would still be surprised because we were not following the case. So the surprise wasn’t because the decision was granting the petition, but I was surprised because it came out today.”
“We recognize the jurisdiction of the court. It was based on a review by Judge (Jesus) Mupas on the petition (for bail),” said Lacierda, adding:
“When a case was filed already before the courts, of course, there’s always a 50-50 chance that it would be granted, it would not be granted. So when we heard today (Wednesday), this morning, that the court granted the petition for bail, all we have to do is just recognize that it happened, so we move on.”
Seeing a silver lining to this latest legal debacle, Lacierda said that this proved the independence of the judiciary from any interference by Malacañang.
He said Aquino was elected “to uphold the law.”
“Certainly, we respect the independence of the judiciary in this case and the fact that she has been allowed to leave the hospital is proof positive of our respect for the judiciary,” said Lacierda.
He also expected Arroyo to be back at the VMMC in no time.
“There is nothing that bars the former President from leaving the hospital detention other than the fact that, should the Sandiganbayan issue a warrant of arrest against the former President, then she will have to be confined again or detained again based on a valid judicial order,” he said.
Lacierda also assuaged fears that this could deal a fatal blow to the administration’s campaign promise to make Arroyo accountable for alleged illegal acts done during nine years of crises-wracked presidency.
“Remember, there are two cases right now pending before the courts. One is the PCSO case (for plunder) which is before the Sandiganbayan—which, I understand, the court has already issued an HDO or a hold departure order; that’s what I have heard—the one that was filed by the Ombudsman.
“The other case (on electoral sabotage) was filed by Comelec. So we will leave it with the courts, we will leave it with the prosecution, with the Comelec and with the Ombudsman to prosecute the cases,” he said.
He denied that the issuance of HDO by the Sandiganbayan was not timed to make sure that the former President would not jump bail and leave the country.
“I think it would be too presumptuous for us because we have no say, we have no discretion, we have no control over the judiciary. And I think the Sandiganbayan would … take umbrage on the assumption that we had any say on the issuance by the Sandiganbayan justices of that HDO,” said Lacierda.
He also belied claims that the Palace could pressure Comelec to appeal Mupas’ decision because the poll body was a “separate constitutional office,” adding:
“We don’t know what actions (Comelec) Chairman (Sixto) Brillantes would take. But, again, what our President is saying (is) the fact Judge Mupas allowed (Arroyo) to post bail shows the independence of the judiciary. … so that should be settled. That issue that we are going to control the judiciary, obviously that is not true.”
At least, Lacierda said Arroyo could not accuse the government of maltreatment while at VMMC.
“While she was in hospital detention, she was a ward of the state because we took care of her in the hospital. So Attorney Ferdie Topacio said that now that she is out, she can seek medical treatment wherever she wants to,” said Lacierda.
The government has lined up other cases against Arroyo, but Lacierda said he was “not at liberty to disclose” them. He, however, hinted that the Sandiganbayan case was a “strong case.”
“You must remember that the Ombudsman is very, very strict when it comes to appreciation of evidence. There have been instances—I have mentioned this prior—that the Ombudsman has dismissed some of the charges against the former President or she has diminished the charge against the former President. In her estimation, when she decided to file a case of plunder against the former President, I would assume—and this is my own assumption based on her history of filing, dismissing, and diminishing charges against government officials—I would assume that this is a strong case otherwise she would not have pursued this case against the former President,” he said.