WEAK EVIDENCE: GLORIA ARROYO RELEASED ON P1-M BAIL, RETURNS HOME

[PHOTO -Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo waves to supporters after being released from ‘hospital arrest’ at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City yesterday. At left, an employee of the Pasay City Sheriff’s Office counts part of Arroyo’s P1-million bail. BOY SANTOS/MANNY MARCELO]

MANILA, JULY 27, 2012 (PHILSTAR) Former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo waved at her cheering supporters as she arrived at the La Vista Subdivision in Quezon City, hours after she was ordered released from hospital detention on Wednesday afternoon.

Mrs. Arroyo was released from her detention room at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) after a Pasay City court judge allowed her to post a P1 million bail in connection with her electoral sabotage case.

The convoy of the former president, escorted by policemen and followed by several media vehicles, entered the La Vista Subdivision shortly before 3:30 p.m.

"Nagpapasalamat kami at nakauwi na rin siya. Siyempre ang katarungan ay nananaig pa rin sa ating bayan. Hindi naman talaga malakas ang kanilang ebidensya kaya naman po nakapagpiyansa ang dating pangulo," said Elena Bautista-Horn, spokesperson of the former president.

Horn said that the former president was very excited to return to her home province of Pampanga.

She said that the former president's lawyer are also preparing for her defense on the plunder case filed against her by the government regarding the alleged misuse of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office's intelligence fund during her administration.

Despite the release order, Mrs. Arroyo cannot leave the country because of a pending hold-departure order issued against her in connection with the plunder case filed by the Office of the Ombudsman before the Sandiganbayan, which has yet to issue an arrest order against the former president.

Angry mob

Shortly before 3 p.m., the convoy slipped past a mob of angry protesters through the Gate 2 of the VMMC, where the former president spent the last seven months in detention.

A large group of protesters tried to block the convoy as it was making its way out of the VMMC. An orange pickup truck was even used by the protesters to block the convoy.

Mrs. Arroyo was ordered arrested in December last year on charges of electoral sabotage in connection with the alleged massive cheating during the 2007 mid-term elections.

Earlier, Mrs. Arroyo came out of the VMMC's presidential suite while holding a young boy, probably one of her grandchildren. She was then escorted to a waiting white coaster and went for a brief prayer at the government hospital's chapel.

Before the former president left the presidential suite, lawyer Ferdinand Topacio announced in his Twitter account that the former president has been "officially released." Topacio was at the VMMC witnessing the serving of the release order issued by Pasay City Regional Trial Court Branch 112 Judge Jesus Mupas.

"CGMA officially released. Everyone singing 'Please release me, let me go," Topacio announced in his Twitter account @FerdieTopacio.

He also announced that Mrs. Arroyo will be transferred to her home at the La Vista Subdivision in Quezon City, where she will join former first gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo.

Mrs. Arroyo was ordered released after posting a P1 million cash bond at the Pasay City Regional Trial Court (RTC).

After the posting of the cash bond, Mupas signed the release order for the former president.

From the Pasay RTC, Court Sheriff Rodelio Buenviaje went to the Philippine National Police's national headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City, to serve the release order to Chief Superintendent Wilhelm Barles.

Shortly before 2 p.m., Buenviaje was already back at the VMMC to serve the release order.

The order was also addressed to Dr. Nona Legaspi, director of the VMMC.

"You are hereby directed to discharge from custody the person of Cong. Gloria Macapagal ARroyo," the order stated.

Mrs. Arroyo's lawyer posted the cash bond after Mupas sign a resolution on Tuesday, granting the former president's petition for bail.

Weak case

Court spokesperson Celda Domingo said that Mupas granted the bail petition after finding that there were no strong evidence presented by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) that would prove Arroyo's direct involvement in the massive cheating during the 2007 elections.

"The evidence against GMA (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo) is not as strong as [those presented against] Bedol and Ampatuan," Domingo said in media briefing after the court issued the omnibus order on the case.

The former president was ordered arrested and detained at the VMMC in December last year. She was charged with electoral sabotage in connection with the alleged massive cheating in the 2007 elections.

Domingo, meanwhile, said that the bail petitions of former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and former election supervisor Lintang Bedol were denied because they were directly implicated by prosecution witness Norie Unas in the alleged rigging of the 2007 elections.

Domingo said the Comelec lawyers handling the case can file a motion for reconsideration on the decision.

Several groups trooped to the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City where former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when they heard the news of the Pasay City granting her to post a P1 million bail for the electoral sabotage case.

Members of the militant group Bayan gathered in one of the gates of the VMMC to protest the granting of bail to Mrs. Arroyo.

Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr. said that aside from the electoral sabotage case, the government seems to have been filing weak cases against the former president.

FROM INQUIRER

Thank God, says Arroyo now out on bail By Cathy C. Yamsuan, Christian V. Esguerra, Niña Calleja Philippine Daily Inquirer 12:13 am | Thursday, July 26th, 2012

[PHOTO - FEELING FANCY FREE Former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo waves to her supporters outside the gate of La Vista subdivision in Quezon City, where she lives. A Pasay City judge has allowed her to post a P1-million bail for her temporary release in connection with the electoral sabotage case filed against her. JOAN BONDOC]

MANILA - She walked free from eight months in detention on Wednesday after a court granted her bail on the ground that the electoral sabotage case against her was weak. But her freedom may be short-lived.

“Thank God,” former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, 65, said before exchanging embraces with a small group of relatives and friends gathered in her room at Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City.

That’s vintage Gloria Arroyo, one who kept strong when others showed weakness, her only daughter Lourdes “Luli” Arroyo-Bernas said.

Several senators, however, said Arroyo could be detained anew sooner than expected for the nonbailable charge of plunder that was filed earlier this month in connection with the misuse of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) intelligence funds.

“Once the Sandiganbayan issues another warrant of arrest in relation to the plunder case, she will go back to prison,” said Senator Francis Escudero, chairman of the justice committee.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada joked that Arroyo should have left behind her clothes at VMMC.

“She might be back very soon,” said Estrada, who himself once faced a plunder case but was later acquitted in connection with the jueteng funds pocketed by his father, former President Joseph Estrada.

Senator Teofisto Guingona III, chairman of the blue ribbon committee, said the evidence gathered by his panel during its hearings on the P366 million in PCSO funds that went missing during Arroyo’s incumbency “is very strong.”

Setback for Palace

“We must remember that she has never denied her participation in the approval (of the release) of huge amounts of money. Her marginal notes of approval are on record, clearly affirmed and testified to by Rosario Uriarte, former general manager of the PCSO,” Guingona said.

Administration senators, who took part in the investigation, later insinuated that the PCSO intelligence funds were used to finance the campaign of Lakas-Kampi candidates in the 2010 presidential elections.

The granting of bail represented a major setback for President Benigno Aquino, who had said that bringing his predecessor to justice for crimes she allegedly committed while in power was crucial to his high-profile antigraft campaign.

Arroyo’s spokesperson, Ferdinand Topacio, described the ruling by the Pasay Regional Trial Court as “a triumph of justice and a resounding denial of dictatorship” that proved her earlier assertions of innocence.

“It is a reaffirmation of what our camp has been saying all along,” Topacio said, before borrowing from a quote by the late US President Abraham Lincoln. “That the charges against the former President are as thin as the soup made from boiling the shadow of a chicken that had been starved to death.”

Arroyo was arrested at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Taguig City in November last year shortly after immigration authorities prevented her at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport from leaving the country.

Mr. Aquino said Arroyo was trying to flee to escape imminent charges against her, although she said she needed specialist treatment overseas for her spinal ailment.

Arroyo was charged shortly after with “electoral sabotage” for allegedly conspiring with a feared political warlord to rig the 2007 senatorial elections.

She was transferred to VMMC, where she had been detained while awaiting trial. No date has yet been set for the start of the trial, which could take years to complete.

P1-million bail

The Pasay City RTC, which is hearing the case, said on Wednesday that the case against Arroyo was weak, and that she should be released on a P1-million bail.

However, the court said she could not leave the country and would still stand trial for the offense.

“The court believes that the prosecution failed to establish with the required quantum of proof that conspiracy exists on the part of accused Arroyo,” said Judge Jesus Mupas of Pasay City RTC Branch 112.

Mupas said the credibility of a former Maguindanao provincial administrator, Norie Unas, the only witness to implicate Arroyo in the case, was “tainted with doubt.”

Unas testified that he had overheard then President Arroyo order a coaccused, then Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., to ensure the victory of the administration’s senatorial candidates.

Others accused of electoral fraud were Election Supervisor Lintang Bedol and former Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos.

At a press briefing, Pasay City RTC spokesperson Felda Domingo said that after a careful examination “the court doubted Unas’ testimony,” which was the only evidence linking Arroyo to the case.

“It is not sufficient for us to render a resolution against her petition for bail,” Domingo said.

Bundles of P1,000 bills

Shortly before 10 a.m., two of Arroyo’s lawyers brought to court 10 bundles of P1,000 bills amounting to P1 million.

It took an hour for the Office of the Clerk of Court employees to count and check the bills before a receipt of the cash bond was forwarded to the RTC branch.

Arroyo was not exactly jubilant when told that she could leave her hospital suite where she had been under arrest since December last year.

“I was the one who was emotional because whenever she saw that her family was emotional, she’s the one who remained strong. That’s what happened,” Arroyo’s daughter Luli told GMANewsTV.

“I cried even if I wasn’t the one who was supposed to cry. I hugged her tightly…. I couldn’t believe that she now has a chance to defend herself,” she said.

She said the past months had not been easy. “We placed ourselves under the process of the law, knowing that so long as it is followed, we can show that she is innocent.”

Prayed over

Before her release, Arroyo was prayed over by Bishop Efraim Tendero, one of her spiritual advisers who read her the Scriptures. The message was not unrelated to her temporary victory: the Lord will “never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

Also in the hospital suite at that time were Luli, her month-old son Juan Alvaro, and her uncle Art Macapagal. More guests poured in especially after the release order was finally served.

But Tendero, national director of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, said the mood was more of surprise than festive.

“They couldn’t believe that the petition (for bail) was granted and that she could now leave,” he recalled in a phone interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Topacio tweeted about the arrival of Arroyo’s eldest son, Representative Juan Miguel Arroyo, and later, the sheriff who was to serve the release order.

The lawyer also reported the arrival of Representative Girlie Villarosa, a close confidante of Arroyo, saying Villarosa was “demolishing chocolate cake.”

Visibly thin

Tendero said Arroyo considerably lost weight, visibly thin in her dark gray dress. Luli said her mother now weighed less than 100 pounds.

“We really want her to rest first,” the daughter said, shortly before accompanying her mother back to the family residence at La Vista subdivision in Quezon City.

Once she’s fit, Arroyo could attend the budget hearings set next month, said House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez.

Vice President Jejomar Binay expressed confidence that the administration would again take steps against Arroyo.

“I am certain that the government will exhaust all legal options. Let’s wait for developments,” Binay said in a statement.

When he was mayor, Binay led multisectoral protests against Arroyo in his turf in Makati City and called for her ouster amid allegations that she was involved in rigging the 2004 presidential election. With reports from Tarra Quismundo and AFP


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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