SC: Arroyo OK on fund release not ‘overt act’ of plunder
All that the prosecution was able to show was former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s unqualified “OK” on the release of intelligence funds from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, the Supreme Court (SC) said on Thursday in a decision clearing her of plunder.
“[T]his was insufficient to prove that petitioner Arroyo had conspired to commit plunder because the affixing of the unqualified ‘OK’ could not be considered an ‘overt act’ for purposes of plunder because this act was a common, legal and valid practice of signifying approval of a fund release by the President and there was no causal relation to the intended crime,” the high court said in the decision written by Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin.
Arroyo, in her demurrer to evidence petition, sought the dismissal of her case for lack of evidence.
The plunder case is about the former President’s alleged misuse of P366 million in PCSO funds from 2008 to 2010.
In her petition, Arroyo sought the reversal of two Sandiganbayan resolutions dated April 6, 2015 and Sept. 10, 2015 that denied her demurrer to evidence plea.
A demurrer to evidence is in effect a motion to dismiss filed by the accused after the prosecution finishes its presentation of evidence. It is anchored on the ground that the evidence presented is insufficient.
“Not a single exhibit of the 637 exhibits offered by the prosecution nor a single testimony of the 21 witnesses of the prosecution was offered by the prosecution to prove that [Arroyo] amassed, accumulated, or acquired even a single peso of the alleged ill-gotten wealth amounting to P365,997,915.00 or any part of that amount alleged in the information,” Arroyo’s petition stated.
Apart from Arroyo also ordered released is her coaccused, PCSO officer Benigno Aguas.
The high court in its ruling agreed with Arroyo and Aguas’ separate petitions that the Sandiganbayan committed grave abuse of discretion in denying her demurrer petition.
The high court said the antigraft court failed to appreciate that the prosecution was not able to prove that there was conspiracy among all the accused.
Other the accused, PCSO board members Manuel Morato, Raymundo Roquero, Jose Taruc and former Commission on Audit Chair Reynaldo Villar, have been released after the Sandiganbayan granted their demurrer to evidence.
“The majority found that the Sandiganbayan ‘completely ignored the failure of the information to sufficiently charge conspiracy to commit plunder against the petitioners; and ignored the lack of evidence establishing the corpus delicti of amassing, accumulation and acquisition of gotten wealth in the total amount of at least P50,000,000.00 through any or all of the predicate crimes,” the high court said.
The prosecution also failed to state the essential element of “raiding the public treasury” to be able to prosecute and convict all the accused of plunder, which is where the money went and how the accused benefited from the fund.
The prosecution also failed to identify any one of those charged as the main plunderer, which is “a fatal flaw.”
“The law on plunder requires that a particular public officer, among several individuals, must be identified as a main plunderer and coconspirators,” the Supreme Court said.
“The prosecution did not pinpoint a particular main plunderer for whose benefit the agents or coconspirators agreed to accumulate, amass and acquire ill-gotten wealth. According to the majority, it then became very difficult, if not impossible, to establish plunder by virtue of the inadequacy of the averments of the crime charged,” it added.
On the part of Aguas, the high court said his certifications and signatures in the disbursement vouchers were not enough to conclude that he conspired to commit plunder or any crime for that matter./rga