[PHOTO -The Sandiganbayan (roughly the Tagalog translation for "People's Advocate") is a special court in the Philippines which was established under Presidential Decree No. 1606. Its rank is equivalent to the Court of Appeals. The court consists of 14 Associate Justices and 1 Presiding Justice. The Sandiganbayan building is located at Centennial Building, Commonwealth Ave., Batasan Road, Quezon City in Metro Manila.]

MANILA, JULY 30, 2012 (PHILSTAR) By Michael Punongbayan - Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo scored another legal victory yesterday after the Sandiganbayan junked a petition by prosecutors to order her arrest for plunder.

In a six-page ruling, the anti-graft court’s First Division denied the prosecution’s motion for an arrest order against Arroyo who, after posting P1-million bail, was released from detention on Wednesday in relation to a separate case of electoral sabotage.

The Sandiganbayan granted Arroyo’s motion for the plunder proceedings to be suspended pending the resolution of her motion for reconsideration of the Office of the Ombudsman’s July 10 decision, which found probable cause to indict her for misuse of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds.

Sandiganbayan justices led by First Division chairman Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz also ruled in favor of similar motions filed by other respondents in the case, including seven former PCSO officials led by former general manager and vice chairman Rosario Uriarte and two former Commission on Audit (COA) officials led by former COA chairman Reynaldo Villar.

The Sandiganbayan said the Office of the Ombudsman through the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) should complete the process of preliminary investigation as prayed for by Arroyo’s lawyers.

“The motions of the accused-movants (except [former PCSO budget and accounts manager Benigno] Aguas who opted to file a motion for judicial determination of probable cause) should be granted,” the ruling said.

“Considering that the accused-movants either timely filed, or manifested their intention to file, their motions for reconsideration of the Review Joint Resolution before the Office of the Ombudsman, pursuant to the aforesaid provision of the Rules of Procedure of the Ombudsman, and considering also that the Information against them had already been filed in court, leave of court should be granted them to afford them the right to a full preliminary investigation,” the Sandiganbayan said.

“The Office of the Ombudsman, through the Office of the Special Prosecutor, is hereby ordered to resolve the said motions for consideration with dispatch,” the ruling read.

In a hearing last Thursday, Arroyo’s legal counsels and other defense lawyers representing her co-accused orally argued in court that the Sandiganbayan should suspend the proceedings of the case in respect of a person’s right to due process.

Lawyer Christian Diaz argued that the rules of the Office of the Ombudsman allow any respondent to a case to appeal any decision within a prescribed period, which means that a warrant of arrest should not be issued.

Government lawyers led by Diosdado Calonge and private counsel Lorna Kapunan objected to the motions and asked the anti-graft court to immediately order the arrest of the former president who, in supposed conspiracy with nine other individuals, allegedly amassed ill-gotten wealth through the misuse of PCSO confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) in the amount of P365.9 million.

In its ruling, the Sandiganbayann also granted the defense’s motion that Kapunan’s arguments in court during the hearing be stricken off the record since her appearance as a private prosecutor is yet to be approved by the anti-graft court.

In a statement, one of Arroyo’s counsels Anacleto Diaz said they are very grateful for the decision.

“We thank God and the Sandiganbayan for giving us the respite so that the Ombudsman can have all the time to take a second and hard look at its Resolution which indicted the former president for the crime of plunder,” he said.

“The former president can use this welcome respite to heal and restore her health in the comfort of her home and the company of her family,” Diaz told The STAR.

“This break will also enable all of us to better show that the former president did not and could not have committed the crime of plunder allegedly covering a period of three years from 2008 to 2010,” he said.

Another counsel of Arroyo welcomed the decision of the Sandiganbayan and maintained that there is no evidence at all to charge her with plunder.

“We’re happy that this decision came out,” Benjie Santos told The STAR, adding the Office of the Ombudsman did not follow the legal procedure in not letting the respondents file their respective motions for reconsideration before filing its plunder complaint before the Sandiganbayan.

He said only after the motions for reconsideration were resolved by the Ombudsman can it file the complaint before the anti-graft court.

“If we go by what we presented and the evidence presented by the Ombudsman, there is no probable cause,” Santos said.

He said the “three As” or amassing, accumulation and acquisition of ill-gotten wealth, which are the pre-requisites for plunder, are not present at all in the case.

“There’s no evidence at all to show that the accused pocketed any portion of (PCSO) funds. Their (Ombudsman) only basis is conjecture and their supposition that it was impossible that the money went to assistance,” Santos said.

No evidence

In a 33-page motion for reconsideration of the anti-graft agency’s July 10 Joint Review Resolution which became the basis for the filing of a criminal charge before the Sandiganbayan, she said all she did was sign requests for additional CIF by PCSO and nothing else.

Arroyo believes that the Office of the Ombudsman erred in all of its findings during the preliminary investigation, which is why the complaint should be dismissed.

“Verily, a fact cannot be founded on mere surmise or conjecture. Suspicion cannot give probative force to testimony which in itself is insufficient to establish or to justify an inference of a particular fact for the sea of suspicion has no shore, and the court that embarks upon it is without rudder or compass,” she said.

Arroyo said the plunder case against her was based only on her approval of requests for additional CIF by the PCSO, which was not even illegal.

“The inclusion of respondent GMA in the indictment for plunder is based solely on her signature appearing on the requests for additional CIF, nothing more. Even this Honorable Office conceded that respondent GMA’s participation was limited to approving the requests for additional CIF,” her motion for reconsideration read.

Arroyo said the Office of the Ombudsman’s decision did not expressly find that the former president amassed, accumulated or acquired wealth since it did not even find that the respondent received any part of the money nor did it state any amount at all that she allegedly pocketed.

“To be sure, nowhere in the assailed Resolution did this Honorable Office claim that respondent GMA received any consideration for approving the requests for additional CIF, or that she used any part of such CIF for her personal use, gain or benefit,” her motion for reconsideration read.

“Neither did the assailed Resolution make a finding that the disbursements, releases and/or liquidations of the CIF were handled by respondent GMA or that she had interfered with or intervened in the disbursements, release and/or liquidation of the CIF of PCSO as to give her the opportunity to amass, acquire or accumulate any part of the funds of PCSO,” the lengthy appeal emphasized.

Though the former president, along with nine other former government officials from PCSO and COA, was charged with allegedly stealing P365.9 million from the public coffers, her lawyers said the funds supposedly unaccounted for is not even half of the minimum amount of P50 million required by Republic Act 7080 or the Plunder Law.

Arroyo’s lawyers explained that even assuming for the sake of argument that wealth was amassed, accumulated or acquired by any of the respondents, the claim that it is in the total amount of P365,997,915.00 is belied by the statement in the Office of the Ombudsman’s own ruling that the amount unaccounted for is only P24,469,625.00.

The Pasay City RTC has set on Tuesday the hearing on the motion for reconsideration filed by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) seeking the recall of the P1-million bail granted to former President Arroyo.

Court spokesperson Felda Domingo said Pasay City Judge Jesus Mupas has set the hearing to determine if the prosecution will present new evidence to prove that they have a strong case on the electoral sabotage charges filed against Arroyo in connection with the alleged cheating in the senatorial elections in Maguindanao in 2007.

“The court will determine if new evidence will be presented by the Comelec to prove they have a strong case,” she said.

Comelec lead prosecutor Esmeralda Ladra filed Thursday afternoon the 17-page motion for reconsideration.

In their petition the Comelec asked the court to set aside the bail bond granted to the former president, insisting that they have strong evidence to prove their case.

Domingo, however, said that the prosecution must present new evidence to collaborate the testimony of state witness Norie Unas, former Maguindanao provincial administrator.

Vice President Jejomar Binay agreed with Mupas that the evidence presented by prosecutors against the former president is weak.

Binay said bail is granted to an accused if the evidence presented is weak, even if the case is a capital offense.

“In court, even if the charge is a capital offense, like election violation, regardless of the fact that the penalty is capital punishment once the evidence is weak, bail is granted,” Binay said.

Binay said the court would be the one to appreciate the pieces of evidence to be submitted once the prosecution panel files a motion for reconsideration. With Paolo Romero, Perseus Echeminada, Jose Rodel Clapano

GMA returns to VMMC for physical therapy By Reinir Padua (The Philippine Star) Updated July 28, 2012 12:00 AMComments (2)

MANILA, Philippines - Two days after she was released on P1-million bail, former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo returned to the Veterans’ Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City yesterday morning to undergo physical therapy.

Arroyo arrived in a three-vehicle convoy that included an ambulance and two sports utility vehicles at around 11 a.m. at the VMMC.

She left the hospital past noon and proceeded to the second district of Pampanga to meet her constituents in Lubao and Porac towns.

The 65-year-old Arroyo checked in early Thursday at the Green and Young Wellness Center in San Jose, Tagaytay City to attend an alternative healing session with Antonia Park.

The Philippine Medical Association (PMA) yesterday advised the former president not to stop her “principal” treatment protocol while undergoing alternative treatment.

PMA Governor for Manila Leo Olarte said that alternative treatment should only be “complementary” to Arroyo’s principal treatment. Otherwise, he cautioned, the former president’s condition may worsen.

“Alternative medicine is not recognized by doctors as a form of treatment, mainstay or principal treatment of an illness or a disease. I don’t think she should abandon her principal treatment,” he noted.

Department of Health (DOH) Assistant Secretary Paulyn Jean Ubial, on the other hand, refused to comment on the alternative treatment being undergone by Arroyo.

Ubial, however, maintained that there are “certain modalities of alternative treatment medicine” sanctioned by the DOH.

One of these is acupuncture, which Arroyo was reportedly undergoing in a wellness center in Tagaytay that is owned by Park, an oncologist who specializes in herbal medicine.

Arroyo stayed overnight in Tagaytay and drove to Metro Manila early yesterday.

The former President visited the grave of her father, the late President Diosdado Macapagal, at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani in Taguig City.

She said she was “very happy to be with my parents even just in spirit.” She prayed for a few minutes at the Libingan’s adoration chapel then proceeded to VMMC for her regular therapy.

Nona Legaspi, VMMC director, said physical therapy usually involves many modalities that produce heat to alleviate pain.

Legaspi said the therapy also includes exercises to strengthen muscles and to improve range of motion and a little massage to loosen up tensed muscles.

She said the former president would have physical therapy sessions at the government hospital thrice a week.

Before her release on Wednesday, Arroyo spent eight months under “hospital arrest” at the VMMC after she was charged at the Pasay City regional trial court (RTC) with electoral sabotage in connection with the alleged rigging of the senatorial elections in Maguindanao in 2007.

She was detained at the VMMC where she received treatment for her ailments since December last year on orders of the court.

Electoral sabotage is supposed to be a non-bailable offense but Pasay City Judge Jesus Mupas granted Arroyo’s petition for bail after the evidence so far presented against her was deemed “weak.”

Arroyo posted P1-million bail and was released last Wednesday from the VMMC. She returned to her house at the La Vista subdivision in Quezon City.

The former president arrived in Porac at about 2 p.m. wearing a blue dress and her neck brace.

She was greeted by supporters who repeatedly chanted “GMA, GMA.”

She shook hands with her constituents and then gave a brief message thanking them for their support and believing in her.

GMA to seek re-election

Arroyo’s spokesperson Elena Bautista-Horn said the former President would seek re-election in next year’s local elections even as she continues to battle attempts to put her back in detention and seek treatment for the degenerative disease afflicting her spine.

“Her desire to serve and to do more for Pampanga and to make up for lost time was the reason why (she chose to seek re-election),” Horn said.

Her scheduled physical therapy sessions at the VMMC were supposed to be for Monday and would continue four days a week.

“She (Arroyo) is in fact a candidate for another surgery but after three traumatic surgeries she isn’t physically and emotionally ready for another surgery, that’s why they (VMMC doctors) prescribed conservative treatment first in the form of intensive physical therapy,” Horn said.

She said doctors advised her to keep wearing her neck brace, especially while traveling, not to speak much, and to limit her land travel to two hours.

She said Arroyo was restless at the Green and Young Wellness Center run by Park “because she kept thinking she still has a lot to do for her constituents.”

“She said that it is her sworn duty as an elected lawmaker to make up for her absence while in detention. She really insisted on returning to see her constituents and she asked her children to allow her to go because this was her life and she would not get well if she was away,” Horn said.

She said according to Arroyo, she no longer minds the criticisms and political attacks against her as long as she can work.

“Of course, her constituents were eagerly waiting for her,” she said. – With Paolo Romero, Ding Cervantes

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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