Arroyo under arrest again
Ex-President back in hospital; cops looking for 9 other coaccusedBy Cynthia D. Balana, Julie M. Aurelio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
It’s back to Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) for embattled former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Lying on a bed and with an IV drip, Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative, was served an arrest warrant issued Thursday afternoon by the Sandiganbayan on plunder charges.
The case stemmed from the alleged misuse of P325 million in intelligence funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).
The warrant was issued on Oct. 3 following determination of probable cause by the anti-graft court’s First Division, supporting a resolution of the Office of the Ombudsman denying a motion for reconsideration by the accused.
Also ordered arrested were former PCSO Chairman Sergio Valencia, General Manager Rosario Uriarte, Board Directors Manuel Morato, Raymundo Roquero, Jose Taruc V and Ma. Fatima Valdes, Assistant General Manager Benigno Aguas, former Commission on Audit Chair Reynaldo Villar and COA Region V head Nilda Plaras.
This is the first plunder case filed against Arroyo and the third criminal case she is facing. She has been charged with election sabotage and corruption in connection with the botched National Broadband Network deal with China.
Elements of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit – National Capital Region (CIDU-NCR) served the warrant on Arroyo at 3 p.m. inside the VMMC presidential suite.
More than two months after she walked out of an eight-month stay at VMMC after posting a P1 million bail on the election sabotage charges, Arroyo found herself under arrest again—and in the very same room she occupied before.
“The former President is now under arrest, and under the custody of the Philippine National Police,” said CIDG-NCR head Senior Supt. Joel Coronel, chief of the CIDU-NCR, in an interview with reporters outside VMMC.
Mug shots, fingerprints
The 65-year-old Arroyo, who is suffering from a rare neck ailment, was in the hospital earlier in the day for consultation and therapy when the police team arrived with the warrant.
Dr. Nona Legaspi, VMMC director, said Arroyo was complaining of choking, pain in the neck as well as numbness in her hands and weakness in her body.
“She is now on IV, hydration. She will be spending the night here,” Legaspi said in a phone interview.
Coronel told reporters that Arroyo’s lawyers Anacleto Diaz, Raul Lambino and spokesperson Elena Bautista-Horn were present when the warrant was served.
“They were very cooperative. There was no resistance and the former President waived her right to be read her constitutional rights,” he said. Coronel’s team took Arroyo’s required mug shots and fingerprints.
Asked if Arroyo will remain at VMMC under hospital arrest as before, Coronel said: “It is up to the court where the place of detention will be or if it will issue an order for transfer. But as of now she is under PNP custody.”
Coronel said he will go to the Sandiganbayan Friday to report Arroyo’s detention. “In our consultation with VMMC and PNP doctors, we learned that she is suffering from hypertension and hydration. So the physical movement of the patient is not advised,” he said.
5 trucks of cops
Outside the presidential suite, at least five trucks of policemen in full battle gear from the Special Action Force were seen guarding the road leading to Arroyo’s room. Police officers also were deployed at the hospital lobby.
There were no members of her immediate family when police came to serve the warrant, a police source said. Several dozen supporters showed up in the afternoon, bearing placards saying “We love GMA.” There were no untoward incidents.
Senior Supt. Keith Singian, CIDG deputy chief for operations, said five teams were sent to enforce the arrest warrants against the accused.
Singian said most of the accused were still in Metro Manila, adding that a Valencia, Roquero and Aguas had sent surrender feelers. Immigration officials said that Taruc left on July 19 on a Cathay Pacific flight, ostensibly for Hong Kong. Morato told the Philippine Daily Inquirer his lawyers were studying the court order.
Earlier Thursday, Anacleto Diaz, lead counsel for Arroyo, moved in open court for an oral motion for reconsideration of the court’s resolution that found probable cause against all the accused. This was denied by the court later in the day.
“After evaluating the oral arguments raised by the parties as well as the documents submitted by Attorney Diaz in support of his aforesaid motion, the court sees no cogent reason to modify or disturb its aforesaid resolution,” said the court resolution.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda welcomed the court action. “We respect whatever decision they issued,” he said.
Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, chairman of the Senate blue ribbon committee that investigated the PCSO case, called on the court to issue a hold-departure order on Arroyo, saying she is a “flight risk.” He said Arroyo “has a penchant to invent reasons to justify her grand plan to leave the country and escape prosecution for her crimes.”
Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. in a statement asked the court to consider Arroyo’s physical situation.
“She is very sick. What our former President is facing isn’t a laughing matter. As Filipinos, I hope we find compassion in our hearts,” the Arroyo ally said. “We are also appealing to the administration to join us in this call. This is an opportunity for Malacañang to show that it isn’t vindictive.”
In Guagua, Pampanga, Arroyo’s allies expressed sadness over the latest development.
“She is close to us, she is our congresswoman and she has helped us improve the lot of our constituents in the second district,” Guagua Mayor Ricardo Rivera told the Inquirer by telephone.
On Wednesday, Arroyo, through her son, Ang Galing Pinoy Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo, filed her certificate of candidacy for her reelection bid.
Emmanuel Ignacio, Comelec assistant director in Central Luzon, said the issuance of the arrest warrant against Arroyo will not impact on her candidacy. “It is only a pending case. Only when [she is] convicted by final judgment and it has become final and executory will we bar her [from] running,” he said. With reports from Marlon Ramos, Jeannette I. Andrade, Norman Bordadora, Leila Salaverria, Michael Lim Ubac, Jerome Aning and Jerry E. Esplanada; and Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon