Palace, Comelec caught off-guard by Arroyo bail
Like the rest of the country, Malacañang was taken aback by the decision of Judge Jesus Mupas of the Pasay City Regional Trial Court (RTC) granting the petition for bail of former President and now Pampanga Representative 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,” Lacierda said in a briefing at the Palace.
The Comelec said it would ask Mupas to overturn his ruling.
“We will file a motion for reconsideration if it’s not too late because we know that the order is immediate and executory,” said Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr.
He acknowledged that he was not expecting the decision of the court but expressed confidence that the case would prosper.
He said the “setback” was merely on the bail petition and not on the main case.
“It’s OK. The fight is not over yet. There is still a trial on the merits of the case,” said the Comelec chief.
Also caught off-guard by Mupas’ ruling, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said she would meet with Brillantes and the panel of the Comelec and Department of Justice (DOJ) to discuss the government’s next move.
“I’m going to discuss that with Chairman Brillantes and we will see what remedy we can do. Of course we did not expect it. If the bail was granted there’s only one meaning: the judge was not convinced that the evidence was strong. But of course, we disagree. We will look at the basis of his decision and we will take the appropriate remedy,” De Lima told reporters.
“We are of the different view that even if there’s only one witness who pointed at the former President, for us it’s enough. Because when Unas [the government’s lone witness] testified, he really stood pat on his testimony that he himself heard the instruction of the former President to former Governor Ampatuan to rig the 2007 elections,” she said.
PCSO plunder case
Lacierda also invoked the separation of powers between the executive and judiciary to explain the unfortunate turn of events for the 2-year-old Aquino administration, which has made the prosecution of Arroyo the centerpiece of its anticorruption drive.
Lacierda said the executive branch had no control over the workings of the judiciary.
Although its most prominent detainee is now out on bail, the Aquino administration still vowed that the “fight against corruption continues.”
Lacierda cited the plunder case recently filed by the Office of the Ombudsman against Arroyo in the Sandiganbayan in connection with the misuse of P366 million in funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).
“And that’s the reason why there is a PCSO case still in the Sandiganbayan. This will not dampen our resolve to file and to continue to institute corruption cases against responsible officials,” he said.
He said the election body could not understand why Mupas of the Pasay RTC Branch 112 granted Arroyo’s petition for bail on the electoral sabotage filed against her involving the senatorial elections in Maguindanao in 2007.
“I really don’t get it why Judge Mupas granted the petition when no evidence whatsoever was presented. [Arroyo’s] camp also didn’t even reply or rebut the statements of our witnesses during the bail hearing,” Brillantes said.
While maintaining that the Comelec has a strong case against Arroyo, allowing her to walk out of hospital detention would somehow “imperil” its bid to make the former President accountable for the allegedly rigged 2007 balloting.
“The judge might be saying that the evidence is weak and so we need to get more,” Brillantes said.
Norie Unas, the election supervisor of Maguindanao during Arroyo’s term, is the Comelec’s main witness.
During a hearing on Arroyo’s petition for bail last month, Unas claimed that Arroyo had instructed then Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. to deliver a 12-0 vote in Maguindanao in favor of Team Unity senatorial candidates during a meeting in Malacañang two weeks before the elections.
The Senate blue ribbon committee chairman, Teofisto Guingona III, and other senators said they were at least consoled by the fact that when the Office of the Ombudsman lodged the plunder charge against Arroyo et al. in the Sandiganbayan, a hold-departure order (HDO) was immediately issued against the former President.
Senator Francis Pangilinan said the HDO would at least assure the people that Arroyo remained in the country to face the charges against her.
Guingona agreed, noting Arroyo’s “propensity to invent reasons to justify her grand plan to leave the country and escape prosecution for her crimes.”
The Sandiganbayan said there was no legal impediment yet that would require Arroyo’s detention.
“There is no conflict since the Sandiganbayan has not issued any warrant of arrest (against her),” Sandiganbayan’s executive clerk of court and spokesperson Renato Bocar said in an interview.
He said a warrant of arrest may be issued only after the determination of probable cause in the pending cases against Arroyo in the Sandiganbayan.
Senator Panfilo Lacson blamed the DOJ and Comelec for the ill-prepared electoral sabotage complaint that he believed forced Mupas to grant bail to Arroyo.
“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,” he said.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV also blamed the DOJ for not ensuring the protection of witnesses who could have bolstered the “hearsay testimony” of Unas.
But Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, poster boy of the 2007 electoral fraud victims, said he could not blame Mupas for his 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,” he added.
A big slap
In the House of Representatives, Bayan Muna Representative Teodoro Casiño said the granting of Arroyo’s petition for bail was “a big slap on the face of President Benigno Aquino, who had been actively campaigning against his predecessor.
In his State of the Nation Address on Monday, Mr. Aquino “boasted of his administration’s efforts to hold Arroyo accountable for her crimes.”
Former President Joseph Estrada criticized the “rush” with which the electoral sabotage case against Arroyo had been filed.
“That only goes to show that the prosecution did not study the case very well,” Estrada told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a phone interview. With reports from Cathy Yamsuan, Christian V. Esguerra and Cynthia D. Balana
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