Ombudsman rests plunder case vs GMA

By Michael Punongbayan, The Philippine Star

Posted at May 15 2014 09:35 AM | Updated as of May 15 2014 05:35 PM

MANILA - Despite a pronouncement two weeks ago that they intend to present six to 10 more witnesses, lawyers from the Office of the Ombudsman rested their case yesterday in the plunder trial of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Government lawyers, led by Director Ma. Hazelina Tujan-Militante, told the Sandiganbayan’s First Division that they have no more witnesses to present against Arroyo and several others who stand accused of being involved in the misuse of confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) from 2008 to 2010.

The prosecution presented 14 witnesses, with Arroyo’s lawyers taking note that not even one testimony directly linked the former president to the disbursement of the PCSO funds.

Defense lawyers believe she was even cleared by a prosecution witness, Commission on Audit director Flerida Jimenez, who testified that all the funds subject of the case had been duly liquidated.

The prosecution’s main witness, PCSO director Aleta Tolentino, had also testified that they have no evidence to show if the accused, including the former president, pocketed or benefited from the disbursed funds.

Other remedies

Laurence Arroyo, one of the former president’s lawyers, said the announcement of the prosecution took them by surprise because of the earlier manifestation to the graft court that they were still going to present six to 10 witnesses.

He, however, welcomed the decision of the prosecution to rest its case since it will give them the chance to seek other legal remedies to effect the dismissal of the case against the former president and release her from detention.

“Just two weeks ago, the prosecution told the court that they intended to present six to 10 more witnesses. All of a sudden, they have no more witnesses to present, which is just as well,” Arroyo said.

“Our client has so far been in detention for one year and seven months and the Constitution still presumes her to be innocent, that is why we welcome the prosecution’s decision to abruptly rest their case,” he added.

According to his fellow defense lawyer Modesto Ticman Jr., Arroyo said they intend to file a demurrer to evidence as soon as the court resolves the prosecution’s formal offer of documentary evidence.

A demurrer to evidence is filed by an accused after the prosecution rests its case. It submits the case for judgment based solely on the prosecution’s evidence on the ground that the evidence presented against the accused is not enough or insufficient to warrant a conviction.

Arroyo said the prosecution was not able to present any evidence against the former president as the prosecution failed to present any evidence of conspiracy with the granting of bail of the other accused.

The former president’s “supposed co-conspirators have all been granted bail except for her and (former PCSO budget and accounts manager Benigno) Aguas. This seriously undermines the prosecution’s conspiracy theory,” he said.