Aquino questions SC ruling, says Arroyo accountable for PCSO case
Former President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday broke his silence on the Supreme Court decision acquitting his predecessor and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of plunder charges for alleged misuse of state lottery funds.
Listing his points against the high court’s ruling, Aquino maintained that Arroyo was accountable for the alleged misuse of P366 million in intelligence funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) when she was President.
“By ordering the release and exoneration of Mrs. Arroyo, what is the Supreme Court saying: That nothing anomalous transpired? That no crime happened? That no one should be held to account? That the funds were used properly? What is the recourse now of the Filipino people, when it is clear that a substantial amount of public funds did not go to the intended services, which would have alleviated the suffering of many of our countrymen?” Aquino said in a statement.
In its decision, the high court said Arroyo’s “unqualified OK” on the release of PCSO intelligence funds could not be considered an overt act 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,” SC said in its decision written by Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin.
Citing Republic Act No. 1169, Aquino noted that the bulk of funds released by the state lottery and transferred to the Office of the President in the course of three years were not used for purposes sanctioned by the PCSO charter.
“Nowhere does it state that the funds of the agency charged to manage sweepstakes and provide charity can be reallocated for actions related to ‘Bomb threat, kidnapping, destabilization and terrorism’ or for ‘Bilateral and security relation’—purposes stated in the accomplishment report forwarded by then-PCSO General Manager Rosario Uriarte and Mr. Benigno Aguas to the Commission on Audit, to justify the transferring of additional funds from PCSO to the Office of the President, during the time of Mrs. Arroyo,” Aquino said.
“Reviewing RA 1169 and the actions approved by Mrs. Arroyo, one may wonder: Were such acts allowable under the law? To answer this question, we can actually glean the spirit of the law in the same Charter, which has penalties for those who utilize PCSO funds beyond what is enumerated. Section 8 states: ‘The following shall be punished by imprisonment of not less than one month and not more than three years… Any officer or employee of a hospital or other charitable or hygienic institution or organization who uses funds obtained from the Office under this Act for purposes other than those herein authorized,’” he added.
Aquino also accused Arroyo of supporting, tolerating, and encouraging the “poor managerial performance” of those who supposedly failed to prepare the right budget instead of penalizing them.
“An unforeseen event would perhaps make the request for additional funds understandable. However, such a practice was tolerated for 3 years, to the extent that the letters of request issued by Mrs. Uriarte to Mrs. Arroyo appeared to be very formatted,” he said. “I wonder: What kind of superior espouses such practice? How does one justify mismanagement to such a degree? With Mrs. Arroyo giving acquiescence and approval, doesn’t this make her also accountable?”
Arroyo was arrested in 2011 on electoral fraud charges in connection with the 2007 elections but was granted bail in 2012. But before she could be freed, the Sandiganbayan ordered her arrest on charges of plunder involving alleged misuse of PCSO funds.
The Sandiganbayan on Thursday ordered Arroyo’s release in deference to the Supreme Court ruling after four years of detention at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center. JE/rga