MANILA (UPDATED/CORRECTED) - The Sandiganbayan junked former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's plea to dismiss the plunder case against her in connection with the release of the confidential and intelligence funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) from 2008 to 2010.
In a 55-page decision, the Sandiganbayan 1st Division said it found sufficient evidence to sustain plunder charges against Arroyo and two other co-accused, and thus denied their demurrers to evidence.
A demurrer challenges the sufficiency of evidence presented by the prosecution to sustain a verdict.
The plunder charges stem from the release of confidential and intelligence funds by the PCSO, upon the request of co-accused Rosario Uriarte with Arroyo's approval.
In at least seven instances, the PCSO board approved the release of amounts ranging from P10 million to P150 million: April 2, 2008 - P25M, August 13, 2008 - P50M, January 19, 2009 - P50M, April 27, 2009 - P10M, July 2, 2009 - P10M, October 19, 2009 - P20M, and January 4, 2010 - P150M.
In total, the Sandiganbayan found that Uriarte obtained P352,681,646 in cash advances from the PCSO.
According to the Sandiganbayan, Arroyo's unqualified "OK" notation and signatures on Uriarte's letter requests approved not only the requests but also the use of the funds by Uriarte.
Uriarte and former PCSO budgeting and accounting officer Benigno Aguas said the funds were used for counter-terrorism purposes but these were not covered by any documentation.
The plunder charge against former PCSO chairman Sergio Valencia was downgraded to malversation, giving credence to Valencia's theory that he merely implemented what he believed to be an existing policy that the chair is given P5 million a year, which he failed to liquidate.
The Sandiganbayan granted the demurrers of, and acquitted, PCSO board members Manuel Morato, Raymundo Roquero and Jose Taruc V from plunder charges, finding no sufficient evidence that they diverted funds to themselves.
The counsel of Arroyo on the PCSO case, meanwhile, said they will file a motion for reconsideration.
"We remain hopeful that we can yet persuade the court that the prosecution failed to meet its burden of proving beyond reasonable doubt, the elements of Plunder and the existence of a conspiracy. The reported acquittal of the other accused weakens even more the prosecution's conspiracy theory," said Atty. Laurence Arroyo.
The Sandiganbayan also acquitted former Commission on Audit (COA) chair Reynaldo Villar with the granting of his demurrer to evidence.
CORRECTION: Our story uploaded yesterday (April 7, 2015) erroneously reported in the 9th paragraph that the former PCSO chairman was Reynaldo Villar.
The former PCSO chairman was Sergio Valencia. Our apologies to Mr. Villar. -- Eds.