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Arroyo bails out

Court says poll fraud raps against former president weak
/ 08:23 AM July 26, 2012

Eight months after being placed on hospital arrest for election sabotage charges, former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was ordered released by the court after posting a P1 million bail yesterday.

Wearing a neck brace Arroyo, now a representative of Pampanga’s second congressional district, smiled and held her grandson’s hand as she left the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) to board a white Toyota coaster.

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News of Arroyo’s release angered militant groups, a handful of whom tried to block the vehicle she rode on and her convoy at the government’s hospital second gate heading to Mindanao avenue in Quezon City.

Police dispersed the protesters and Arroyo managed to go home to her La Vista Subdivision home where she was greeted by daughter Luli Arroyo and the rest of her family.

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Pasay Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Jesus Mupas dismissed the evidence presented by prosecutors linking the former president to the alleged vote rigging in Maguindanao province in the 2007 elections.

He said the testimony of former Maguindanao provincial administrator Norie Unas, whose credibility was supposedly in doubt, was not enough to deny bail.

Unas withdrew his testimony citing security concerns.

Permission

Her testimony was supposed to be corroborated by former Maguindanao elections officer Russam Mabang who had gone missing. Election sabotage is  a non-bailable offense.

But bail can be granted if defendants show that the evidence against them is weak.  Still, court spokesperson Felda Domingo said Arroyo cannot leave the country.

She said the former president, who suffers from a neck ailment and had undergone three operations, also needs court permission to visit her district in Pampanga.

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Arroyo and nine other officials face plunder charges filed last week by government prosecutors at the Sandiganbayan over the alleged misuse of P365 million worth of funds from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).

The Palace later voiced surprise over the court granting bail to the former president.

Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said despite the ruling it will not dampen their resolve to file and pursue graft cases against responsible officials.

Vendetta

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who prevented Arroyo from leaving the country last year, said she will meet with Chairman Sixto Brillantes of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to discuss their next move.

De Lima said she disagreed with Judge Mupas’s ruling, adding that she believes Unas’s testimony was sufficient to deny Arroyo bail.

Arroyo family spokesman Ferdinand Topacio said the former president has no pending arrest warrants.

He called the bail ruling “a triumph of justice … against  creeping authoritarianism that threatens to envelop our land and turn it into a judicial wasteland.”

President Benigno Aquino III, has targeted the former president for alleged corruption and other wrongdoings allegedly committed during her tumultuous nine years in office.

Arroyo says she’s innocent and accuses her successor of pursuing a political vendetta. Her trial is expected to begin next month.

As president, Arroyo oversaw years of corruption scandals, failed coup attempts and political unrest.

Brillantes said the court’s position about inadequate evidence against Arroyo was applicable only to her petition for bail, and has no bearing on the merits of the case against her.

“Remember, this is only the bail hearing; this is not the hearing on the merits. We can still present more evidence, which we intend to do if the court is really saying that the evidence is weak,” Brillantes told reporters.

Discretion

He said he felt bad about the Pasay regional trial court’s decision to grant bail, though he added that it was really up to the court’s discretion.

The Comelec earlier accused Arroyo of allegedly ordering local officials to tamper with the election results in Maguindanao so that all administration senatorial bets would win in the province.

The filing of the case, which subsequently led to the Pasay City regional trial court judge ordering Arroyo’s arrest, prevented the former president from leaving the country to seek medical treatment.

The Supreme Court had allowed Arroyo to fly abroad for treatment, but Justice Secretary Leila de Lima ordered her blocked at the airport.
The arrest warrant from the Pasay court came shortly after.

In Cebu, Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Meinrado Paredes said people should understand why Arroyo was released even if she is facing a non-bailable offense.

“Even in non-bailable offenses, if the evidence of guilt is not strong, the accused would be allowed to post bail,” Paredes said. He said this doesn’t mean that Arroyo would be cleared of charges.

“If the court grants the petition to post bail, it does not follow that the accused will be acquitted. On the same note, if the petition to post bail is denied by the court, it does not entail a conviction,” Paredes said.

Earl Bonachita, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Cebu City chapter, is hoping the prosecution will have enough evidence against the former president especially during the trial. Inquirer with stories from AP and Reporter Ador Vincent Mayol

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TAGS: bails, election sabotage charges, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Veterans' Memorial Medical Center (VMMC)
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