SC orders release of Arroyo
FORMER President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, portrayed as the face of corruption by then President Benigno Aquino III and placed under hospital arrest for four years, was ordered freed on Tuesday by the Supreme Court on an 11-4 vote dismissing plunder charges against her in connection with the alleged misuse of intelligence funds.
“My most profound appreciation to His Excellency, Rodrigo Duterte, for allowing due process to take its course,” Arroyo said in a press statement, warning she would go after those who had tormented her.
Arroyo also thanked God, the Supreme Court “for finally stopping five years of persecution,” and her supporters for their moral support.
Arroyo said that with the high court making a final decision, “I sincerely hope that everyone will respect and recognize the truth that has been established.”
“It is my fervent hope that nobody else will suffer the persecution that had been levied on me through self-serving interpretation and implementation of the law. And that the disregard of truth for which I was made to suffer be dealt with accordingly at the soonest possible time,” Arroyo said.
Insufficiency of evidence
The high tribunal thumbed down the criminal case, one of several filed by the Aquino administration against the 69-year-old Arroyo, citing “insufficiency of evidence” in its allegation that she and officials of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office diverted P366 million in PCSO funds intended for charity for her personal use, according to Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te.
Arroyo, who is suffering from neck problems and has been detained at Veterans Memorial Medical Center since October 2012, was still awaiting her release order from the Sandiganbayan upon its receipt of the Supreme Court decision late last night.
Arroyo’s lawyers hailed the ruling, handed down barely a month into the new Duterte administration. She had rejected President Duterte’s offer to get her out of detention, saying she wanted to see through the case.
“I am with President Arroyo, and we’re grateful for the decision,” lawyer Raul Lambino said in a radio interview. “We are all in tears.”
Ferdinand Topacio said in a statement that the charges against Arroyo were “nothing more than disingenuous attempts by a corrupt and inept Aquino administration intent on covering up its gross lack of accomplishments by harassing its political opponents.”
The court upheld Arroyo’s petition for a demurrer of evidence—a plea to dismiss the case for weak evidence—filed by Estelito Mendoza in 2014 in the Sandiganbayan, where the plunder case was being tried.
“She is really happy because she was so patient to suffer all this. She has long sacrificed and waited for this day to come,” Mendoza told reporters at the hospital gate.
Former first gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo was elated. “Thank God. They took away six years of her life, (she’s) an innocent woman,” Arroyo said in a brief statement.
Aquino jailed Arroyo and subsequently directed the ouster of her Chief Justice, the late Renato Corona, purportedly for ordering the distribution of the Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita to its farmers.
Those who voted for Arroyo’s release were Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita de Castro, Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Jose Perez, Jose Mendoza, Bienvenido Reyes, Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Francis Jardeleza.
The dissenters were Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, and Associate Justices Marvic Leonen and Benjamin Caguioa. Carpio was an Arroyo appointee, the three others were Aquino’s.
Also ordered released was former PCSO budget officer Benigno Aguas, who is detained at Camp Crame.
Lawrence Arroyo, one of the Arroyo counsels, told reporters that he would bring a copy of the Supreme Court’s order to the Sandiganbayan and the antigraft court’s sheriff would then facilitate her release.
But Arroyo might have to wait another day at the medical center as the order for her release did not make it to the Sandiganbayan late on Tuesday.
The docket section of the Sandiganbayan closed promptly at 4:30 p.m.
“Let us respect and abide by the high court’s decision,” said Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar.
“I rejoice over this decision that has already given her what she rightly deserves which is justice,” said Jesus Dureza, who served as adviser on peace talks with communist and Moro rebels under Arroyo.
Arroyo finished her tumultuous nine-year term in 2010 but was arrested the following year on an election fraud charge, for which she was allowed to post bail. She was later charged with plunder.
Despite her detention and her neck ailment that prompted her to be moved around on a wheelchair, she was reelected to the House of Representatives in May.
Scandals hounded her
A daughter of a former Philippine President and a classmate of former US President Bill Clinton at Georgetown University, Arroyo had been a senator and Vice President before suddenly rising to the presidency in 2001 after then President Joseph Estrada was ousted in a “people power” revolt that she helped lead. Estrada was accused then of plunder, for which he was convicted.
She won the presidency in regular elections in 2004 but her presidency was rocked the following year by a series of corruption and vote-rigging scandals, including wiretapped conversations with an election official where some alleged she discussed ensuring her vote lead.
She’s suffered enough
Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito said he supported Arroyo’s release for humanitarian reasons.
Ejercito, son of former President and now Manila Mayor Estrada, had reservations, however.
He said “absolute acquittal might send a wrong message to the people that the former President has committed no crime.”
He said the government “should continue its fight against plunder and efforts to eliminate corruption.”
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Arroyo had “suffered enough.”
“Even for purely humanitarian consideration, I support the Supreme Court’s ruling,” Lacson said.
“As I have repeatedly said, while I will never forget who they are, I have forgiven all my tormentors for the past nine years under her administration, living or dead,” Lacson said.
Sen. Gregorio Honasan II said the court decision was “a triumph of the rule of law and of due process.” With reports from Maricar Brizuela, DJ Yap, Tarra Quismundo, Leila B. Salaverria and AP
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.