Today, April 5, is the 68th birthday of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Now on her second term as a congresswoman from her home province Pampanga, Arroyo has been under detention since November 2011. She has been in hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medial Center for most of the time, except for a brief period in 2012 and whenever she’s allowed to have a furlough.
The electoral sabotage case was the first one used to put her under detention. Contrary to popular belief, this case has nothing to do with the protest filed by the camp of Fernando Poe Jr. shortly after the tightly-contested 2004 presidential elections.
Instead, she is being charged of conniving with then-Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. to rig the results of the senatorial race in that province to put administration candidate Miguel Zubiri in the winning circle back in 2007. The case however suffered a serious blow in 2012 after Judge Jesus Mupas granted Arroyo’s request for a bail, citing weak evidence.
Mupas’ decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeals’ 9th division last week. Written by Associate Justice Elihu Ybañez, the decision noted that the evidence of Arroyo’s guilt “is not strong” and that because of it, “the grant of bail now becomes a matter of right.”
As mentioned above, Arroyo’s temporary freedom in 2012 lasted for just ten weeks. Just when the electoral sabotage case against her collapsed, the administration of President Benigno Aquino III found another way to keep her detained. In October 2012, plunder charges were filed against her and ten others in connection to alleged misuse of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), estimated to be around P366 million.
(By the way, ABS-CBN’s RG Cruz has outlined a very good summary of the case in his blog site, which you can visit in this link.)
With this plunder case now dragging on its third year, a bombshell testimony is yet to emerge. Instead of explaining clearly how Arroyo plundered the state lottery funds, two key prosecution witnesses, PCSO board member Ma. Aleta Tolentino in 2013 and Flerida Africa Jimenez from the Commission on Audit in 2014, separately said that there appears to be no irregularity in the way the money was liquidated.
In fact, one newspaper pointed out that no one among the 14 witnesses presented by the private prosecutors directly linked Arroyo to the PCSO fund scam. According to columnist Ellen Tordesillas, Arroyo faces two other graft charges – one involving the aborted NBN/ZTE deal and the other pertaining to alleged misuse of funds generated by the Malampaya gas project.
Arroyo’s lawyers has repeatedly tried over the years to persuade Sandiganbayan to have her released on bail, citing the former president’s health, the infirmity of the case, and the fact that every other named co-conspirator in the alleged crime to commit plunder has been granted bail. Despite support even from Arroyo’s former political opponents for her house arrest, the Sandiganbayan has been steadfast in keeping the Pampanga congresswoman detained at VMMC.
As widely reported recently, the local court’s continuous denial of Arroyo’s petition for house arrest has been elevated to the United Nations by Amal Alamuddin, an international human rights lawyer and wife of Hollywood superstar George Clooney.
Bear in mind that other cases filed against Arroyo over the years had been junked:
1) Plunder case re the sale of the old Iloilo airport in 2007 (dismissed last February 2012)
2) Graft case re the transfer of P530 million from OWWA funds to PhilHealth (dismissed February 2013)
3) Graft case re the construction of Libmanan-Cabusao Dam and Skybridge 1 and 2 projects in Camarines Sur (dismissed April 2014)
4) P728 million fertilizer fund scam (dismissed May 2014)
To state the obvious, Arroyo’s chances of getting released on bail (regardless of the fact that she may eventually be acquitted from all charges against her) may eventually depend on who wins the next presidential elections.
Vice President Jejomar Binay, the 2016 front runner according to all early pre-election surveys, has called on the administration to let Arroyo be placed under house arrest. The other leading potential contender is Senator Grace Poe, the daughter of the man Arroyo defeated in 2004.