MANILA - Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's legal counsel accused the Sandiganbayan of erroneously creating a new offense in connection with the plunder charge filed against her over the alleged misuse of P365.9 million in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds from 2008 to 2010.
In a press conference on Thursday, Atty. Estelito Mendoza argued that the Sandiganbayan created a new offense of plunder committed when the national treasury is raided.
Under Republic Act 7080, plunder is committed when a public officer must have amassed, accumulated or acquired ill-gotten wealth of at least P50 million. Mendoza claimed that these circumstances have not been not proven in Arroyo's case.
He added that not one of the 687 documentary pieces of evidence and 21 witnesses presented by the prosecution showed that the former president got hold, received or used a single peso of the P365-million alleged ill-gotten wealth.
He pointed out that the Sandiganbayan thus redefined the plunder law with its decision to pursue the charges on the basis of the former president's approval of the release of funds, which supposedly "aided and abetted accused former PCSO General Manager Rosario Uriate's successful raids on public treasury."
"She [Arroyo] authorized the release of P365 million under the request of PCSO. She did not get hold of the money, she authorized the release of money. It cannot be disbursed unless the PCSO appointed a disbursing officer. The COA approved the liquidations because they found no irregularities. The Sandiganbayan acknowledged all these but ruled she is guilty of plunder because she authorized the release," explained Mendoza.
He also questioned why the Sandiganbayan allegedly never arrested the PCSO executives also included in the case, but still pinned down Arroyo and Benigno Aguas.
Meanwhile, Mendoza maintained that they are pushing for the former president's acquittal, claiming there is no distinction in Arroyo being charged and penalized.
The former justice minister argued that Arroyo has been detained in the Veterans Memorial Medical Center for the past three years despite her "worrisome" health state.
"She is treated like a person who is convicted. She is like punished. The court...is liable if she dies in custody. The release of the DAP [Disbursement Acceleration Program] fund is worse...the release of PCSO fund is not unconstitutional," Mendoza stated.
Arroyo's camp is determined to seek her acquittal despite not filing a United Nation (UN) working group's resolution condemning the detention of Arroyo as part of any supplemental petition.
"The UN opinion is not part of the records of the Sandiganbayan," said Mendoza.
Arroyo has filed an opposition to any extension of time for the Sandiganbayan to comment on the petition for certiorari filed before the Supreme Court.
The Sandiganbayan First Division is supposed to release their comment on or before Monday.
Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje Tan has yet to comment on the issue.