MANILA, Philippines - Former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will be re-elected even if she is unable to campaign.
Arroyo’s spokespersons are confident about this, saying the former president, who is detained the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City on plunder charges, is well-loved by her constituents.
Three other candidates are running against Arroyo.
Raul Lambino said Arroyo might no longer seek permission from the Sandiganbayan to leave hospital detention given the difficult conditions imposed by the court.
Arroyo, who is reported to be suffering from a life-threatening neck ailment, has been detained at the VMMC since last October after the Office of the Ombudsman filed plunder charges against her in connection with the alleged misuse of P366 million in intelligence and confidential funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).
The former president was previously detained at the VMMC on electoral sabotage charges. The Pasay Regional Trial Court (RTC) granted her bail after a year.
Ma. Elena Bautista-Horn, Arroyo’s chief-of-staff, said the lawmaker has authored and co-authored over 200 bills since 2010 despite being under detention and being subjected to harassment.
Horn, Arroyo’s staff members, her children Luli Arroyo-Bernas and Juan Miguel Arroyo often represent the former president in official engagements.
“The people are happy whenever they see her children and are thankful for all the projects she put in her district. But we have to work hard to make sure she get reelected,” Horn said.
Arroyo signed the pre-trial order on the electoral sabotage charges she is facing at her hospital bed yesterday.
Pasay RTC Branch 112 sheriff Rodelio Buenviaje told The STAR that the former president signed the pre-trial order in the presence of the prosecutors of the Commission on Elections and her lawyers.
The pre-trial order was also served on Arroyo’s co-accused, former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. at the Bicutan detention center and Lintang Bedol at the Camp Crame detention facility.
Felda Domingo, Pasay RTC Branch 112 spokesperson, said the pre-trial order will determine if the accused wants the trial of the case to proceed.
“If the accused will not sign the order the trial will be suspended,” she said.
Judge Jesus Mupas cancelled the court appearance of Arroyo and her co-accused, citing a possible “security nightmare” when heavily armed policemen and jail guards crowd the limited court space.
The trial of the case is set on Jan. 31 and Feb 7.
Motion to travel
Meanwhile, the anti-graft court’s Fourth Division has granted the motion of former first gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo to travel to Japan and Hong Kong from Feb. 3 to 10.
Mr. Arroyo was ordered to post a travel bond of P90,000.
Mr. Arroyo said he is confident that the Sandiganbayan Second Division will also grant the motion.
Mr. Arroyo was charged with graft before the Fourth Division for his alleged involvement in the national broadband network anomaly and the Second Division for his alleged participation in the police’s helicopter deal anomaly.
Mr. Arroyo said his trip to Japan would be for a dialogue with the Association of Oversees Filipino Community in Tokyo. He said he would travel to Hong Kong for the yearly corporate planninof LTA Inc., of which he is president.
“He is not a flight risk,” Mr. Arroyo’s lawyer, Edna Batacan, said told The STAR.
No personal knowledge
Taking the witness stand again yesterday, PCSO board member Aleta Tolentino said she has no personal knowledge on the alleged plunder committed by Arroyo over the alleged misuse of the agency’s confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs).
Tolentino, in response to a question by Peter Bantilan, former PCSO chairman Sergio Valencia’s lawyer, said her knowledge on the case was based solely on documents given to her when she assumed office in August 2010. She testified on how the CIFs were spent from 2008 to 2010.
Lambino said Tolentino’s testimony proves that the charge against Arroyo has no basis and was “going nowhere.”
“It’s becoming clearer that the charges against the former President are all politically-motivated,” he said.
Arroyo, Valencia and PCSO directors Manuel Morato, Raymundo Roquero, Jose Taruc V and Fatima Valdes; former PCSO budget officer Benito Aguas, former Commission on Audit (COA) chairman Reynaldo Villar and auditor Nilda Plaras have been charged with plunder before the Sandiganbayan.
The former president and three of the respondents, who are accused of misusing P365.9-million in PCSO funds, have filed separate petitions for bail. They said they could still be granted temporary liberty if the prosecution could not show any strong evidence against them.
Tolentino reiterated that Arroyo exercised her powers to approve the release of additional CIFs for the PCSO based on COA rules and as required by law.
The former president is using the same argument in questioning her indictment, saying she could not be held liable for signing requests for additional funds for the agency.
Meanwhile, Roquero, who recently surrendered to authorities, was arraigned yesterday but refused to enter a plea. He earlier questioned his indictment before the Supreme Court. – With Michael Punongbayan