SC: ‘Nothing more remained’ of the plunder case vs Arroyo after 2013
In a 48-page decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Sandiganbayan committed grave abuse of discretion in repeatedly denying the petition of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for demurrer to evidence in relation to her plunder case regarding the supposed misuse of P366 million in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds.
Voting 11-4, it was announced last July 19 that the SC granted Arroyo’s demurrer to evidence, which effectively means the dismissal of the plunder case against her. The High Court likewise ordered the immediate release of Arroyo and Benigno Aguas, former PCSO Budget and Accounts Manager and a co-accused in the case.
The full text of the decision was only released Thursday afternoon. The SC centered on three main points to dismantle the plunder case, for which Arroyo has been detained since October 2012.
I – The Prosecution did not properly allege and prove the existence of conspiracy among GMA, Aguas and Uriarte (pp. 28 to 40)
The SC majority stated that Sandiganbayan’s conclusion that GMA had been the mastermind in the plundering of P366 million in PCSO funds “was plainly conjectural and outright unfounded.” According to the magistrates, the Sandiganbayan acted capriciously and arbitrarily because the evidence presented by the prosecution did not show that Arroyo was the mastermind.
“The treatment by the Sandiganbayan of her handwritten unqualified “OK” as an overt act of plunder was absolutely unwarranted considering that such act was a common legal and valid practice of signifying approval of a fund release by the President,” the SC majority explained.
The SC likewise slammed the prosecution for failing to prove that everyone accused in the case acted in connivance with one another to steal PCSO funds.
“The Prosecution sought to show was an implied conspiracy to commit plunder among all of the accused on the basis of their collective actions prior to, during, and after the implied agreement. It is notable that the Prosecution did not allege that the conspiracy among all of the accused was by express agreement, or was a wheel conspiracy or a chain conspiracy. This was another fatal flaw of the Prosecution,” the SC explained.
II – No proof of amassing, or accumulating, or acquiring ill-gotten wealth of at least 50 Million was adduced against GMA and Aguas (pp. 41-42)
The SC then pointedly remark that the Prosecution had no case for plunder against the petitioners in the first place. According to the High Court, the Prosecution failed to show that Arroyo pocketed P50 million from the PCSO funds. Based on Republic Act 8070 or the Plunder Law, P50 million is the minimum threshold in sustaining a plunder case.
The SC pointed out that the plunder case against Arroyo collapsed when Aleta Tolentino, a former PCSO board member and a key witness for the prosecution, said during a testimony in 2013 that there was no proof that the supposedly missing funds went to the former president.
III – The Prosecution failed to prove the predicate act of raiding the public treasury (pp.43-46)
Quoting RA 8070, the SC chided the prosecution for its failure to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Arroyo and her co-accused committed the “act of raiding the public treasury” – one of the requisites in establishing a solid plunder case.
“Not only did the Prosecution fail to show where the money went but, more importantly, that GMA and Aguas had personally benefited from the same,” the SC explained.