Ombudsman urges SC to reverse Arroyo acquittal ruling

Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 03 2016 05:54 PM

Philippine former president Gloria Arroyo. Ted Aljibe, AFP

MANILA - Insisting on the strength of its plunder case against former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo over close to P366-million in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) confidential and intelligence funds (CIF), the Office of the Ombudsman formally urged the Supreme Court (SC) to reverse its ruling acquitting Arroyo of the charges.

In a 32-page motion for reconsideration (MR) filed on Wednesday afternoon, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales asked the high court to reverse its July 19 decision granting Arroyo's petition for a grant of her demurrer to evidence plea, a plea earlier junked by the Sandiganbayan. 

A demurrer to evidence is sought by an accused who believes that the prosecution's evidence is weak. 

The Ombudsman said that in ruling in favor of Arroyo's petition, the SC "finds nothing wrong with the irregularity-riddled CIF [confidential intelligence funds] disbursement and liquidation processes implemented by the concerned PCSO officer, even though this eventually led to the unbridled pilferage of public funds amounting to P365,997,915.00." These funds were released between 2008-2010.

The Ombudsman argued that the anti-graft court's denial of Arroyo's demurrer to evidence plea is not reviewable by appeal or by [petition for certiorari] before the judgment of the case. The Ombudsman cited Section 23, Rule 119 of the Rules of Court.

The Ombudsman said the high court "committed grave errors which amount to a violation or deprivation of the state's fundamental right to due process of law."

"The evidence presented by the [Ombudsman] was not fully taken into account, including but not limited to the irregularities in the [CIF] disbursement process, questionable practice of co-mingling of funds and [former PCSO Budget and Accounts Manager Benigno Aguas'] reports to the Commission on Audit (COA) that bulk of the P365,997,915.00 withdrawn from the [PCSO's] CIF were diverted to the Arroyo-headed Office of the President," the MR read.

The Ombudsman argued that Arroyo and co-accused Aguas, who was also acquitted in the assailed SC ruling, acted in conspiracy with their other co-accused "via a complex, illegal scheme which defrauded PCSO in hundreds of millions of pesos. 

The anti-graft office further pointed out that "personal benefit" is not an element in the crime of plunder, and what counts is the "plain meaning" of the offense itself -- "the act of taking public money through fraudulent or unlawful means."

"[T]he concept of actual personal gain, benefit or enrichment to the offender is immaterial as the important consideration in offenses involving the unlawful taking of property, as in plunder, is the intent to gain.

"Unlawful taking or apoderamiento is deemed complete from the moment the offender gains possession of the thing, even if he or she has no opportunity to dispose of the same," the MR read.

The Ombudsman insisted that Arroyo's approval of the requests for the release of the CIF was not ministerial but "deliberate and willful." 

SC: OMBUDSMAN HAD NO CASE VS CGMA, CO-ACCUSED

In granting Arroyo's petition, the high court ruled that "the [Ombudsman] had no case for plunder against petitioners," stressing that the anti-graft office failed to present evidence to prove the amassing and pocketing of the subject PCSO funds. 

"The corpus delicti of plunder is the amassment, accumulation or acquisition of ill-gotten wealth valued at not less than P50,000,000.00 The failure to establish the corpus delicti should lead to the dismissal of the criminal prosecution.

"[T]he [Ombudsman] adduced no evidence showing that either GMA or Aguas or even Uriarte, for that matter, had amassed, accumulated or acquired ill-gotten wealth of any amount," the SC decision read. 

The high court further held that "[t]here was no evidence, testimonial or otherwise, presented by the [Ombudsman] showing even the remotest possibility that the [CIF] of the PCSO had been diverted to either GMA or Aguas, or Uriarte." 

The high court also ruled that the Sandiganbayan's conclusion that Arroyo was the mastermind of the alleged plunder was "plainly conjectural and outrightly unfounded." 

As to Arroyo's marginal notes on the requests for approval of the subject funds, the SC said Arroyo's 'OK' notes constituted "a common legal and valid practice of signifying approval of a fund release by the President."