SC orders Sandiganbayan to ‘drop’ Mike Arroyo from chopper deal case
MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered the Sandiganbayan to remove former First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo from the list of accused in the graft case filed in relation to the anomalous purchase of secondhand helicopters in 2009.
In a resolution promulgated December 1, 2021, but was made public only on Sunday, April 10, the high court’s Special 3rd Division has reversed its January 2020 ruling that dismisses Arroyo’s petition.
The recent ruling said “the element of conspiracy with a public officer was not established” by the Office of the Ombudsman and that they need to intervene “for the orderly administration of justice or to avoid oppression.”
The high court, through now-retired Associate Justice Rosmari Carandang said that while they are not a trier of facts, “after a judicial review of the case, the Court finds that the OMB (Office of the Ombudsman) has grossly misappreciated the attendant and clear facts in a manner that is tantamount to grave abuse of discretion amount to lack or excess of jurisdiction.”
Arroyo was implicated in the purchase of two secondhand helicopters and one brand new helicopter despite a warning from the National Police Commission to only buy brand new choppers.
The former first gentleman said the documents he has provided regarding true ownership of the helicopters should have been given weight by the investigators.
Arroyo said the Ombudsman was not able to distinguish him from Lourdes T. Arroyo Inc. (LTA Inc.), which had a hand in the financing of the helicopters. He also said that at the time of the transactions, he has already divested from LTA and only resumed interest there in 2010.
In order to be implicated in graft and corruption under Republic Act 3019 specification Section 3 (e), there has to be strong evidence that the public individual has conspired with a private individual.
Although conspiracy should be threshed out in a full-blown trial, the high court said the prosecution should have established it at the preliminary investigation stage level.
But the SC said that even the Manila Aerospace Products Trading Corporation (MAPTRA) witness admitted he does not personally know Arroyo.
“The quoted testimony is consistent with the theory that Arroyo could not have connived with MAPTRA, the business entity which sold the helicopters to PNP [Philippine National Police[, because its owner does not even personally know him,” the high court said.
“Here, a careful scrutiny of all the evidence the prosecution submitted to establish the existence of probable cause against Arroyo reveals that no evidence of the prosecution demonstrated the manner by which Arroyo connived with any public officer in the purported anomalous procurement,” it also said.
“Since the OMB cannot establish the element of conspiracy, the case of the State against Arroyo will immediately fall apart and there will be no need to provide proof for the other elements of the offense to support a reasonable belief that Arroyo is complicit in the purported irregularities in the procurement of the helicopters,” it added.
Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, in his dissenting opinion, said the SC should not have interfered with the Ombudsman’s exercise of its mandate unless there is clear grave abuse of discretion.
Leonen said the high court is not a trier of facts.
“As such, we must defer to the factual findings of the Office of the Ombudsman given its power to investigate. It is in a ‘better position to assess the strengths or weaknesses of the evidence on hand needed to make a finding of probable cause,” he said.
Leonen said that in establishing conspiracy, there is no need to present direct proof of an agreement regarding the commission of an offense.
“An accused’s act of conspiring with their co-accused may be inferred from their acts before, during, or after the commission of the crime, which, in totality, would reveal a community of criminal design,” he said.
In Arroyo’s case, Leonen pointed out that “there is a reasonable belief that petitioner was involved in the anomalous sale as the owner of the helicopters.”
“There are pieces of evidence establishing that petitioner retained his financial interest in Lourdes T. Arroyo, Inc. and that he exercised acts of ownership over the helicopters. He instructed Po to register the helicopters under the name of Asian Spirit merely for tax purposes and he personally paid for the hangar fees, take-off and landing charges, expenses for maintenance, pilotage, gasoline, oil, and lubricants, as well as fees for the renewal of the aircraft registration and certificate of airworthiness. Petitioner continued to pay for the maintenance and operating fees until 2011, even if he claimed that he merely leased the helicopters until 2004,” he said.
“Moreover, there were indications that the negotiation committee of the National Police Commission intended to unduly favor petitioner in the purchase of the helicopters. The prosecution showed petitioner was able to dispose of the helicopters with the participation and cooperation of the officers and personnel of the Philippine National Police,” he added.
Leonen further said that misappreciation of facts is not tantamount to jurisdictional error and disagreement with the findings of the Ombudsman is not considered “grave abuse of discretion.”
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