Arroyo receives 3rd hold departure order
MANILA, Philippines—The Sandiganbayan First Division on Tuesday barred former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and nine other former officials of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office and Commission on Audit (CoA) from leaving the country without the court’s permission because of their plunder case over the alleged misuse of charity funds.
The anti-graft court issued the hold departure order shortly after the plunder case was assigned to it via raffle. The order was signed by Justices Efren de la Cruz, Rodolfo Ponferrada and Rafael Lagos. This is the third hold-departure order (HDO) issued against Arroyo. The two other HDOs were issued by the Pasay court, which is hearing her electoral sabotage charge, and the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division, which is handling her graft cases for the approval of the national broadband network deal.
Besides Arroyo, who is already detained on a non-bailable electoral sabotage charge, restrained from leaving the country are her co-accused former PCSO officials General Manager Rosario Uriarte; chairman Segio Valencia; budgets and accounts manager Benigno Aguas; and board members Manuel Morato, Jose Taruc V, Raymundo Roquero and Ma. Fatima Valdes.
Also included in the hold departure order are former Commission on Audit chairman Reynaldo Villar and former CoA intelligence/confidential audit unit chief Nilda Plaras.
They were charged for the alleged misuse of nearly P366 million in PCSO funds, which supposedly went to “fictitious” expenses for two years. They allegedly diverted funds from the agency’s operating budget to the confidential or intelligence fund, which could be accessed with few restrictions.
The PCSO case is the first plunder charge against Arroyo, who is the second former President to be charged with the offense. Plunder is a non-bailable offense.
Arroyo has a pending motion seeking to stop the proceedings in her case, including her arrest, because she intends to file a motion for reconsideration before the Office of the Ombudsman to contest its resolution indicting her for plunder. Her co-accused—Uriarte, Morato and Valencia— earlier also filed similar motions.
On Tuesday co-accused Aguas filed a motion asking the court to determine if probable cause exists to charge him with the plunder, and to rule that no such basis for a case exists.
Aguas, through his counsel, contended that there was absolutely no evidence that he had acquired ill-gotten wealth of at least P50 million, which is an important element of plunder.
He also said the witness failed to show how he had committed the alleged plunderous acts or benefited from the funds. It was Uriarte who had handled the money as shown by the witness’ evidence, he further said.
“On the contrary, the bulk of the evidence which he submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman all show and prove that almost all the P365 million in intelligence funds were actually withdrawn only by former Vice-Chairperson and GM Uriarte, being the sole disbursing officer of said intelligence fund,” he said.
Allegations that the accused in the case conspired to take PCSO funds was a conclusion that the witness came up without valid facts to support it, Aguas further said.
He also said his act of preparing the vouchers to support the use of intelligence funds was not enough to indict him. These are not criminal acts, but just part of his ministerial duties as the former budget and account manager of the PCSO.
“Worse, it is simply unthinkable and even contrary to ordinary human experience to expect or conclude that … Aguas, a mere Budget and Accounting Manager, would be in a position or would have the clout to conspire and connive with any and all the other accused who were all his superiors and holding the highest positions in the PCSO,” he said.
It was crystal clear that he did not profit from the alleged misuse of the funds or that he had connived with his superiors, he contended.
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