Court denies house arrest bid of Arroyo co-accused in PCSO case
The Sandiganbayan First Division has denied the request of former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) general manager Rosario Uriarte to place her under house arrest as she faces trial for the non-bailable charge of plunder in a charity funds mess.
Uriarte, the so-called “missing link” in the plunder case of former President Gloria Arroyo over the misuse of P366 million PCSO intelligence funds earlier dismissed by the Supreme Court, arrived in the country Nov. 16 last year and was arraigned on Nov. 23 to face her plunder charge.
Uriarte had pleaded the Sandiganbayan to place her under house arrest at her residence in Barangay Paligsahan, Quezon City for six to 10 months or during the period she would undergo chemotherapy or surgery.
She said she was diagnosed by her doctor with a tumor in her breast and she asked for house confinement due to “medical and humanitarian considerations.”
She added that her detention cell at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) would not allow her to take adequate rest after chemotherapy and would expose her to infection.
Uriarte said her home is close to St. Luke’s Medical Center, which would allow her to be rushed to the hospital in case of complications.
But the anti-graft court said Uriarte’s motion has no merit and that she failed to convince the court that the St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City and the NBI could not provide her medical needs while she is under detention.
The court said Uriarte’s medical condition is presently being attended to by St. Luke’s Medical Center, where she is confined.
“Her apprehensions of complications from the treatment which she claims can be best addressed in the confines and comfort of her home are general possibilities and concerns once she is discharged from the hospital,” the court said.
The court said Uriarte failed to convince the court that the NBI and the St. Luke’s Medical Center are ill-equipped posing a great risk to her life that would warrant her house arrest.
Uriarte also asked the court to grant her bail, citing the Supreme Court decision saying the prosecution failed to prove conspiracy among Uriarte, Arroyo, and PCSO budget officer Benigno Aguas to amass ill-gotten wealth.
Uriarte also cited the Supreme Court decision granting the elderly former senator Juan Ponce Enrile bail due to his political stature and health condition. Enrile faces a plunder charge over a pork barrel scam.
Prosecutors said Uriarte could not compare her situation to that of Enrile because unlike Enrile who respected the judicial process, Uriarte evaded the court when she fled her case for four years before surrendering.
The court said Uriarte’s act of fleeing her case meant that Uriarte is a flight risk.
“Indeed, considering that accused Uriarte submitted to the jurisdiction of the Court only after four years despite knowledge of the present case against her negates her contention that she is not a flight risk,” the court said.
The court also said it would be premature for Uriarte to cite Arroyo’s case because that Supreme Court has yet to rule on the motion for reconsideration filed by government prosecutors in the dismissal of Arroyo’s plunder case.
Lastly, the court could not give Uriarte a “procedural short-cut” by granting her simple motion for bail because the prosecution under the Rules on Criminal Procedure is still entitled to oppose the bail petition by showing strong evidence of guilt.
“Wherefore, in view of the foregoing premises, accused Uriarte’s Omnibus Motion is hereby denied for lack of merit,” the court said.
The resolution was penned by First Division chairperson Associate Justice Efren Dela Cruz and concurred by Associate Justices Geraldine Faith Econg and Bernelito Fernandez.
Uriarte was one of the two who surfaced after the Supreme Court dismissed the plunder case of Arroyo and Aguas for lack of evidence and released the two from detention.
Ma. Fatima Valdez, a PCSO board member, also surfaced and was arraigned Oct. 27 last year for plunder.
Both Uriarte and Valdez entered a not guilty plea.
Valdez also pleaded to the Sandiganbayan that she be placed under hospital detention at the Makati Medical Center under the custody of the NBI.
Valdez said she has not been feeling well since she turned herself over to the NBI after arriving in the country on Oct. 11.
She said she underwent open heart surgery for a post aortic valve replacement and that she has a simultaneous dual chamber pacemaker.
This developed as both Uriarte and Valdez face more legal woes, after the Ombudsman prosecutors filed graft and breach of ethical conduct charges against them for allegedly receiving an all-expense paid trip to Australia in exchange for a joint venture agreement.
The plunder cases of the following PCSO officials were earlier dismissed by the Sandiganbayan: board officials Manuel Morato, Raymundo Roquero, Jose Taruc V, and former Commission on Audit head Reynaldo Villar.
Meanwhile, former PCSO board chairman Sergio Valencia’s plunder charge was downgraded to malversation.
Arroyo walked free from four years of hospital detention last July after the Supreme Court junked Arroyo’s plunder case for insufficiency of evidence.
The plunder charge filed against Arroyo involved allegedly diverting P366-million in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office intelligence funds intended for charity use for her personal gain during her term as president from 2008 to 2010.
The high court said Arroyo’s approval of the P366 million intelligence fund releases were only ministerial and did not constitute an “overt act” to commit plunder. JE
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