STANDARD: KEEP THE NECK BRACE HANDY

MANILA, JULY 27, 2012 (STANDARD) By Jojo Robles - If I were former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, I would enjoy my furlough.

That’s because her temporary freedom could end at any moment, when a new warrant for her arrest is issued on the separate, non-bailable charges of plunder filed against her by the Ombudsman.

That’s right – “when,” not “if.” This much can be gleaned from the statement of Malacañang Palace yesterday in reaction to the decision of a Pasay City regional trial court judge to allow the release of Arroyo on bail in connection with the electoral sabotage case filed against her before it.

Let’s go, as the sportscasters say, to the tape. This is what presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda had to say on the matter of Arroyo’s release:

“The fight against corruption continues,” Lacierda said. “That’s the reason why there is a PCSO case still before the Sandiganbayan.”

The other case Lacierda is talking about involves Arroyo’s alleged misuse of funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, which she is supposed to have committed with the help of the old board of directors of that agency. This was the plunder case filed by the current PCSO board just days before President Noynoy Aquino delivered his State of the Nation Address – where Aquino certainly gave no indication that he was, in his “kanto boy” harangue, about to “forgive and forget” the sins of his predecessor.

Even making allowances for the usual lying that is a major part of Lacierda’s job, I am forced to conclude that there will be no let-up in the current Malacañang tenant’s pursuit of Arroyo. Even the theory that Aquino may be giving in to “international pressure” to release Arroyo is, in my opinion, not acceptable, given the relentless campaign of this President to make his predecessor’s life a living hell.

(If the phrase “international pressure” meant anything to Aquino, he would have first secured the approval of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations before taking on China, thus avoiding a lot of embarrassment for himself and his country. No, this is one President who will not be swayed by what people outside this country – who do not vote here or do not turn up in popularity surveys – think.)

The PCSO case has already been submitted by the Ombudsman to the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court, which will probably issue a new warrant to lock up Arroyo once again. Best to keep the neck brace handy, is all I’m saying.

* * *

The electoral sabotage case, after all, worked to keep Arroyo in jail for eight months. In the political calculus of Aquino and his sympathizers, this fact more than makes up for the problem of having such a demonstrably weak case filed against her for supposedly rigging past elections that no sane judge would eventually refuse to grant her bail for.

As for the filing of the PCSO case, its timing is thoroughly suspect. I’ve been told that Malacañang has had advance information that the Pasay judge, Jesus Mupas, was about to grant Arroyo bail this month, which was why a new case would have to be filed immediately against the former President to ensure that she doesn’t stay out of jail so long that she forgets that she is still Aquino’s Enemy Number One.

For those who may have forgotten the PCSO case, that’s the one where Arroyo and the old sweepstakes board was accused of “willfully, unlawfully and criminally amass[ing]…ill-gotten wealth in the aggregate amount or total value of P365,997,915.00.” Arroyo has a new set of co-accused in this case: former PCSO general manager Rosario Uriarte; assistant general manager for finance Benigno Aguas; former PCSO board members Sergio Valencia, Manuel Morato, Raymundo Roquero, Jose Taruc V, and Maria Fatima Valdes; and former Commission on Audit Chairman Reynaldo Villar and COA Region 5 head Nilda Plaras.

If this new charge doesn’t stick, either, others will surely be found. And so on, until Aquino decides that he’s had enough fun with his predecessor and allows her to come and go as she pleases.

It would certainly be very convenient if Justice Secretary Leila de Lima is already chief justice of the Supreme Court when the PCSO case “runs its course” and “follows the process,” as this administration likes to say when it is employing supposedly legal means to persecute its political enemies. And if Arroyo and her lawyers contest the maneuvers of government prosecutors in the future, Chief Justice De Lima will surely be act accordingly and make sure no inconvenient temporary restraining order is issued on her former office. The lower courts, under the supervision of the high tribunal, can also be expected to do what their chief justice desires – and justice will finally be served seamlessly and without delay.

Again, I wouldn’t get too comfortable on the outside, if I were Arroyo. I’d consider her release on bail a short —maybe a very short—vacation.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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