Will Arroyo be finally free under the Duterte administration?
With only ten days to go before incoming President Rodrigo Duterte officially begins his six-year term, former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has a lot of reasons to be optimistic.
Even before he officially declared his presidential bid, Duterte accused the government of outgoing President Benigno Aquino III and his Justice Secretary Leila de Lima of “kidnapping” Arroyo. During the campaign period, Duterte pledged on different instances that he will free Arroyo. He also said yes when asked during a presidential debate if he is okay with her being on house arrest.
The former president has been detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City since November 2011 because of electoral sabotage (for which she was subsequently granted bail) and plunder in connection to the alleged misuse of P366 million in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds.
Speaking to members of the press three weeks ago, Duterte revealed that he already offered Arroyo a full pardon. He said he did so not because they are long-time allies but because he thinks that the cases against her are weak, citing his background as a lawyer and former city prosecutor.
Nevertheless, Arroyo turned down the offer, saying that she prefers to win her cases on the court. Article VII, Section 19 of the 1987 Constitution states that a President can only grant reprieves, pardons, and sentence commutations to individuals convicted by final judgment. So going by that, Duterte cannot pardon Arroyo unless the following conditions happen:
1) She pleads guilty in the pending cases filed against her, and
2) She is found guilty in any of the cases and her team decides not to appeal the conviction
In response to a query from The Filipino Scribe, Attorney Ferdinand Topacio, one of Arroyo’s lawyers, pointed out that all cases filed against the former chief executive has been dismissed at the Office of the Ombudsman. He added that the plunder case re the supposedly missing PCSO funds is the only reason why she remains in detention. TFS published an update on Arroyo’s cases last year.
Arroyo’s camp is actually the one urging the Sandiganbayan to have a speedy resolution of her plunder case. On the other hand, she has also steadfastly petitioned the court to grant her bail but it has been repeatedly rejected. Meanwhile, she appealed before the Supreme Court the Sandiganbayan’s rejection of her petition for demurrer to evidence for the same case. That said legal maneuver can effectively lead to the case’s dismissal.
With Duterte now set to assume the presidency, Arroyo can reasonably expect that the new administration will not be hostile to her, to say the least. For instance, incoming Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II will probably not object to Arroyo’s bail petition unlike his predecessor.
Postscript: The hashtag #JusticeForPGMA was a top trending topic on the social networking site Twitter three weeks ago. It can be a sign that slowly but surely, Filipinos are having a better opinion of her although it’s hard to quantify this since unlike in the United States, polling firms here do not ask track the approval ratings of former presidents.