MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE 2) - The Office of the Ombudsman on Thursday asked the Sandiganbayan First Division to immediately issue a warrant of arrest for former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who was released on bail yesterday.
Prosecutors from the Ombudsman filed a motion asking the court to issue an arrest order for Mrs. Arroyo after she was charged with plunder over the misuse of P360 million in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds.
Prosecutor Diosdado Calonge said the anti-graft court should restrict the liberty of the accused since plunder is a non-bailable offense.
"Even if there is a hold departure order, they can still ask the court to allow them to travel abroad,” he said.
In an ANC interview, Calonge said Mrs. Arroyo remains a flight risk after she tried to leave the country last November before the government could file electoral sabotage charges against her.
“She is a flight risk…The fact is – there was a precedent. We want to avoid another scenario where the accused will leave (for) abroad and will not be reached by the law,” he said.
Asked if Mrs. Arroyo should go to a regular jail or placed under hospital arrest again, he said: “Generally, she should be detained in jail but of course they can, in the past the accused may be given a house arrest or in the case of GMA a hospital arrest.”
Arroyo’s attempt to leave the country last November was blocked after immigration officials ignored a Supreme Court order allowing her to seek medical treatment abroad. She was arrested after the filing of the poll sabotage charges against her before a Pasay City regional trial court.
On Wednesday, the same court granted her petition to post bail, citing the weakness of the prosecution’s evidence.
Arrest warrant unnecessary
During Thursday’s hearing, Mrs. Arroyo's lawyer said issuing a warrant of arrest for his client is unnecessary at this stage.
“She is not a flight risk. May hold departure order nga eh issued by Sandiganbayan mismo,” Atty. Christian Diaz said.
Diaz would not say if Mrs. Arroyo is planning to go overseas to seek medical treatment.
He argued that from a legal standpoint, the warrant of arrest cannot be issued because the Ombudsman has yet to finish the preliminary investigation (PI) and that his client is entitled to a complete preliminary investigation before being subjected to arrest.
Once the Ombudsman accomplishes this, the court can determine if the evidence of guilt is strong that the accused has to be arrested immediately.
He also noted that Mrs. Arroyo’s arrest last November was ordered prior to the conduct of a preliminary investigation.
Calonge, however, said the Ombudsman had already conducted its own preliminary investigation before the filing of the plunder case.
In the new plunder case, the Ombudsman said Mrs. Arroyo approved the use of P360 million in PCSO operational funds for the agency’s intelligence funds. Intelligence funds of agencies are usually liquidated with a mere certification from the head of the agency.
Aside from Mrs. Arroyo, there are nine other co-accused in the case who are allegedly involved in the whole process of illegal transfer of funds. They are Sergio Valencia, Rosario Uriarte, Manuel Morato, Jose Taruc, Raymundo Roquero, Ma. Fatima Valdes, Benigno Aguas, Nilda Planas, and former Commission on Audit chairman Reynaldo Villar.
Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño said the use of the intelligence fund was allegedly hidden in the regular accounting procedures of the PCSO.
"Unlike the electoral sabotage case, may documentary at testimonial evidence ito," Casiño said.
“Isang taong inimbestigahan ng Ombudsman ito. Siguro naman matibay-tibay ito," he added.
Casiño, who is a complainant in the case, said one of the strongest pieces of evidence they have is the memorandum signed with Arroyo’s initials allowing the conversion from operational to intelligence fund.
He said former PCSO General Manager Rosario Uriarte also admitted during a Senate inquiry that she was authorized by the former President to undertake the conversion of funds.
The Sandiganbayan First Division, presided by Hon. Efren de la Cruz, together with Hon. Rodolfo Ponferrada and Hon. Rafael Lagos, has accepted the motions for resolutions and will issue a decision on the warrant of arrest at any given time.
No need to finish PI
The lawyers of Arroyo and other co-accused also questioned during the hearing the presence of a private prosecutor, Atty. Lorna Kapunan, who represented private complainant Risa Hontiveros-Baraquiel.
The court asked the defense lawyers to file an argument on why Kapunan should not be part of the prosecution team.
During the hearing, Kapunan argued that the court should have already issued a warrant of arrest by today, July 26, since it is 10 days from the time the motion was filed before the presiding judges.
She disagreed with the argument that a preliminary investigation should be completed first before issuing a warrant of arrest. She said that since plunder is a non-bailable offense, the liberty of the accused must be restricted.
“We do not condemn the person (Arroyo), we condemn the act,” she said. With a report from ANC