Sandiganbayan defers to SC, orders Arroyo release
The Sandiganbayan First Division on Wednesday issued a minute resolution ordering the release of former president now Pampanga representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from hospital detention for a plunder case that the Supreme Court dismissed.
In its minute resolution, the court gave the go-signal for Arroyo to be released from four years in detention after it received the Supreme Court decision granting Arroyo’s petition to dismiss her plunder case over the alleged misuse of state lottery funds.
The anti-graft court’s minute resolution reiterated the SC’s directive ordering the immediate release of Arroyo from hospital detention after it dismissed her plunder case.
“The Court notes the Supreme Court decision in G.R. No. 220598 (Arroyo vs. People and Sandiganbayan) and G.R. No. 220953 (Aguas vs. Sandiganbayan) rendered on July 19, 2016,” the court said in its minute resolution.
The anti-graft court cited the SC ruling the dispositive portion of which read: “Wherefore, the Court grants the petitions for certiorari, annuls and sets aside the resolutions issued… by the Sandiganbayan on April 6, 2015 and demurrers to evidence; dismisses Criminal Case No. SB-12-CRM-0174 as to the petitioners Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Benigno Aguas for insufficiency of evidence; orders the immediate release from detention of said petitioners; and makes no pronouncements on costs of suit,” the Supreme Court ruled.
“In view thereof, accused Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Benigno Aguas are hereby ordered released from detention immediately, unless they are being held in custody for other reasons not related to this case,” the Sandiganbayan’s minute resolution read.
It was signed by Associate Justice Efren Dela Cruz as First Division chairman, as well as Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje Tang and Associate Justice Geraldine Econg sitting as special members of the division.
The court also ordered the release of PCSO budget officer Aguas, Arroyo’s co-accused detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center for plunder.
The Sandiganbayan ordered its sheriff to furnish copies of the minute resolution to the PNP, Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMCC), where Arroyo has been detained, the Police Security Protection Group, the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), and the PNP Custodial Center Headquarters Support Service.
The high court dismissed for “insufficiency of evidence” the plunder charge filed against Arroyo for allegedly diverting P366 million in PCSO intelligence funds intended for charity use for her personal gain during her term as president.
The anti-graft court issued the release order after receiving on Thursday afternoon its copy of the SC decision which was delivered by the process server.
The First Division ordered Arroyo’s release in deference to the SC decision even though it denied Arroyo’s petitions for bail four times and junked her demurrer to evidence in her bid to dismiss the case for weak evidence.
Arroyo’s lawyers said the dismissal of the case is equivalent to Arroyo’s acquittal from plunder.
In its decision, the SC said the evidence the prosecution presented was an “O.K.” affixed by Arroyo on the fund release which the prosecution alleged would prove that the former president committed plunder in the diversion of funds.
The SC said Arroyo’s affixing of an “OK” on the fund releases could not be considered an “overt act” of plunder because this was a “common, legal and valid” practice of approving a fund release by the president.
The high court also said the Sandiganbayan acted capriciously in not dismissing the criminal cases of plunder against Arroyo and Aguas, and thus gravely abused its discretion in trying the plunder case.
“In view of the foregoing, the Court inevitably concludes 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 ill-gotten wealth in the total amount of at least P50,000,000.00 through any or all of the predicate crimes,” the SC said.
“The Sandiganbayan thereby acted capriciously, thus gravely abusing its discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction,” it added.
In a text message, Cabotaje-Tang said the anti-graft court would not issue a comment on the SC’s observation.
She said the Sandiganbayan as a lower court to the SC is duty bound to respect the high court’s decision.
“The Sandiganbayan will not make any comment on it. Since the Supreme Court is the highest court of the land and the final arbiter of all justiciable issues, the Sandiganbayan is duty-bound to respect and abide by it,” Tang said.
Besides her plunder case, Arroyo also faces charges of graft and breach of Code of Conduct for public officials in connection with the $329 million National Broadband Network (NBN) deal with Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE.
Arroyo has filed before the Sandiganbayan her demurrer to evidence in her bid to dismiss the case for lack of evidence. A demurrer seeks to dismiss the grounds set by the prosecution against an accused.
Arroyo was charged with two counts of graft for approving the NBN deal despite being disadvantageous to government and despite knowing its irregularities. She was also accused of having personal gain in the contract.
Arroyo was also charged with one count of violating the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees or Republic Act 6713 for having lunch and playing golf with ZTE officials while the broadband project proposal was still being assessed by government.
The 2007 NBN-ZTE project would have interconnected government offices nationwide through broadband technology. IDL/rga
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