Ombudsman wants Arroyo rearrested
The Office of the Ombudsman wants Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo rearrested in connection with a plunder case even as the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) appeal the bail for electoral sabotage that the Pasay City Regional Trial Court granted her on Wednesday.
Ombudsman’s Special Prosecutor Diosdado Calonge on Thursday asked the Sandiganbayan to immediately issue a warrant of arrest against Arroyo in connection with the nonbailable offense of plunder it had filed against her.
Calonge made the motion in open court, citing the “risk of flight” on the part of the former President and now Pampanga representative.
His motion came despite a hold-departure order issued by the Sandiganbayan’s First Division, which is trying the plunder case and an urgent motion by Arroyo’s counsels to suspend the proceedings and any further action on the plunder information filed by the Ombudsman.
Dismayed by the grant of bail to his predecessor, President Benigno Aquino himself is pinning his hopes on the plunder case to get Arroyo detained anew.
“Well, there is still the case pending in the Sandiganbayan. Plunder is not bailable. So we’re waiting for the decision of the Sandiganbayan,” Mr. Aquino said when asked about the options left for the government to bring her back to jail and stop her from fleeing the country.
Mr. Aquino was referring to the plunder charges filed by the Ombudsman against Arroyo, and former officials of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) and Commission on Audit (COA) over the alleged misuse of P366 million in PCSO funds.
Calonge said a hold-departure order was no guarantee that Arroyo would not leave the country because she could ask the court, through a motion, to be allowed to travel.
“That she can file, and in ordinary cases, the motion to be allowed to travel is generally granted by the court,” Calonge said.
But lawyer Anacleto Diaz, lead counsel for Arroyo, said it was premature for public prosecutors to ask for a warrant of arrest when the resolution of the Ombudsman charging the accused was not yet final and executory.
He said counsels of the accused were still entitled to file their respective motions for reconsideration before it within five days.
Diaz said his client received the plunder information on July 20 and thereafter filed a corresponding motion for reconsideration on July 25, well within the prescribed five-day period.
“So how can a warrant of arrest be issued when this incident is still pending resolution by the Ombudsman?” he asked.
On July 16, the Ombudsman filed the information finding probable cause to indict Arroyo, and eight former officials of the PCSO and the COA on charges of diverting PCSO operating funds to “fictitious” expenses in confidential or intelligence funds.
Included in the plunder charge were former PCSO Chairman Sergio Valencia, former General Manager and Vice Chair Rosario Uriarte, ex-PCSO board directors Manuel Morato, Jose Taruc, Raymundo Roquero and Ma. Fatima Valdez, former COA Chairman Reynaldo Villar, and Nilda Paras, the head of intelligence/confidential fund of COA and Anti-Fraud Unit.
No-show at hearing
All the accused did not show up at the first hearing Thursday, but their respective lawyers entered their appearances and were unanimous in asking the court to suspend the proceedings on the ground that it was premature to hear the case as the preliminary investigation had not been completed by the Ombudsman.
A day after Arroyo posted bail and walked out of a detention facility, Mr. Aquino raised a point of technicality in the ruling of Pasay City Judge Jesus Mupas.
The President said Mupas appeared to have set an “impossible” criterion by demanding a corroborating testimony in the case against Arroyo from the alleged three key players: Arroyo herself, then Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and then Maguindanao Administrator Norie Unas.
“From what I understand in Judge Mupas’ decision, there was no corroborative testimony. Based on the charges, three persons were talking—Mrs. Arroyo, Ampatuan and this was heard by Unas (the Comelec’s lone witness). So it’s unlikely that two of them would testify against themselves. That leaves just one person to testify,” Mr. Aquino told reporters after speaking at the 114th anniversary of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
“So how can we have a corroborative testimony on what the two others had talked about? It appears that the test was too high; it appears impossible to attain because nobody else heard their conversation on the issue of electoral fraud,” the President added.
Mupas granted Arroyo’s petition for bail, saying the case against her in connection with alleged fraud in the 2007 senatorial elections in Maguindanao was weak.
He said the prosecution failed to establish conspiracy on the part of Arroyo, and that the credibility of Unas was tainted with doubt.
Unas testified that he had overheard then President Arroyo order then Maguindanao Governor Ampatuan to ensure the victory of administration senatorial candidates in the 2007 midterm elections.
With the setback, Mr. Aquino said the government would pursue other options to prosecute Arroyo and keep her in the country.
Gearing for trial
Smarting from the legal setback, the Comelec is gearing for a full-blown trial with at least 20 witnesses to prove that Arroyo sabotaged the 2007 elections.
Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes said the trial on the merits of the case would be an all-out bid to disprove the assertion of Mupas that the case was “weak.”
Brillantes, in a media briefing, said the poll body would ask Mupas to overturn his decision to allow Arroyo to leave hospital arrest on a P1-million bail.
But Brillantes acknowledged that motions for reconsideration were often denied.
Motion for recon filed
The Comelec filed a motion for reconsideration in the Pasay City Regional Trial Court late yesterday afternoon. The court has set the hearing for the motion on Monday at 1 p.m.
Brillantes and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima met Thursday to discuss their next legal move against Arroyo.
“Even though she was granted bail, we will still have a good chance of getting a conviction after the full-blown trial of the case. That’s our position,” Brillantes said.
“If the judge set it for hearing, we will attend and argue our case … If he denies our motion, we will go through the formal full-blown hearing on the merits of electoral sabotage. We will still depend on the testimony of Unas, who we think is very credible,” he added.
Brillantes said they would have to make sure that their arguments against Arroyo, given Mupas’ decision on the bail, would be airtight. The pretrial hearing is scheduled for next month.
De Lima said those trying to blame the government for having a supposedly weak case against Arroyo should understand first the case.
She said if the government had mishandled this case, the court would grant bail for Ampatuan and former Maguindanao Election Supervisor Lintang Bedol.
At the hearing in the Sandiganbayan, Ray Montri Santos, counsel for Uriarte, said suspending the proceedings and remanding the case to the Ombudsman to complete the preliminary investigation would give an opportunity to the Ombudsman to revisit the complaint.
Private prosecutor Kapunan
Lorna Kapunan, acting as private prosecutor, said private counsels could not use emotional arguments to stop the proceedings as they all knew that the Rules of Court and the internal rules of the Ombudsman should be applied to the case.
Kapunan said a decision was already duly made by the Ombudsman as early as July 10, therefore a warrant of arrest should have been issued by the Sandiganbayan within 10 days, or as early as July 20.
“A motion for reconsideration will not stay (the arrest order) because this is a plunder case. So serious is the charge that the right to liberty, to post bail is suspended,” she said. With reports from Jaymee T. Gamil and Christine O. Avendaño