Sandigan ‘duty-bound’ to respect SC decision on Arroyo plunder case
Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje Tang said she would respect the decision of the Supreme Court, which found that the anti-graft court acted “capriciously” in not dismissing the plunder case of former President and now Pampanga representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
In a text message on Thursday, Tang said the Sandiganbayan is duty-bound to respect the observation of the Supreme Court as the final arbiter of the law.
“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.
In its decision dismissing the plunder cases of Arroyo and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) budget officer Benigno Aguas, the Supreme Court said the Sandiganbayan acted capriciously in not dismissing the criminal cases of plunder against the two, and thus gravely abused its discretion in trying the plunder cases.
“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 Supreme Court said.
“The Sandiganbayan thereby acted capriciously, thus gravely abusing its discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction,” it added.
The high court said Arroyo’s mere affixing of an “OK” signature on the fund releases does not constitute an “overt act” to commit plunder in the alleged diversion of P366 million in PCSO intelligence funds.
The Supreme Court said Arroyo’s affixing of an “OK” was a “common, legal and valid” practice of approving fund releases.
In a minute resolution released Thursday, the Sandiganbayan First Division deferred to the Supreme Court and ordered the release of Arroyo and Aguas from detention for plunder.
The anti-graft court’s minute resolution reiterated the Supreme Court’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 Supreme Court 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 Custodial Center for plunder.
The Sandiganbayan ordered its sheriff to furnish copies of the minute resolution to the Philippine National Police (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 Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office 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 Supreme Court decision which was delivered by the process server past 3 p.m.
The First Division ordered Arroyo’s release in deference to the Supreme Court 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.
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. JE
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