Aquino wants Arroyo back in jail for plunder

MANILA (Updated) — President Benigno Aquino III wanted his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, back in jail for a separate case of plunder filed against her by the Ombudsman last week.

Arroyo, who is now Pampanga second district representative, was released from hospital detention Wednesday after the Pasay City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 112 allowed her to post bail on electoral sabotage case filed against her by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in connection with alleged fraud in the 2007 midterm elections.
The former President posted a P1-million bail.

Arroyo on Thursday went to Tagaytay City to seek alternative treatment for her ailments from Dr. Antonia Park. The former President will stay in Tagaytay until Sunday, according to her camp.

“She’s left with no choice at this point. With all the legal limitations, this (alternative treatment) is the only thing she can pursue,” Arroyo spokesperson Elena Bautista-Horn said Thursday.

Aquino said, however, that Arroyo is not a free person yet since she has to face a non-bailable charge of plunder before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.

“Hinihintay natin ‘yung desisyon ng Sandiganbayan (We are waiting for the decision of the Sandiganbayan),” Aquino said.
The Ombudsman case is in connection with the alleged misuse of P365-million confidential and intelligence funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office from 2008 to 2010. It was filed days before Aquino was set to deliver his third State of the Nation Address (Sona).

Arroyo’s camp criticized the timing of the filing of case, saying it was meant to “demonize” the Pampanga lawmaker on the Sona.
Several groups also lambasted the Aquino administration for filing a “rushed” electoral sabotage complaint against Arroyo that allowed her to escape jail.

Bayan Muna party-list Representative Teddy Casiño said Arroyo’s release from hospital detention is a “big slap on the face” of Aquino, who boasted the administration’s efforts to hold the Pampanga lawmaker accountable just two days ago in his third Sona.
“The court decision was made apparently because the government’s complaint of electoral sabotage was rushed, owing to its failure to build up any of the major cases filed earlier by various citizens’ groups,” Casiño said.

But Aquino submitted to the decision of Pasay City RTC Branch 112 Judge Jesus Mupas finding no corroborative evidence to pin down Arroyo for poll fraud.

He said it would be impossible for Arroyo and her co-accused, former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., to testify against each other.

Emerging from a meeting with Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the prosecution will now focus for the pre-trial set next month.

“We are moving forward. The DOJ (Department of Justice) and the Comelec will work closely together. The Comelec will still be the lead prosecutor in the electoral sabotage cases but during the trial proper, the DOJ would take a more active role in handling the case,” she told reporters.

Brillantes said it is important to realize that Arroyo has not yet been cleared of the case and that the Comelec remains determined to make her accountable of her supposed crimes.

“If that is what the court believes, we cannot do anything about it but remember that it was only on the bail hearing, which is only an incident of the entire case,” he said. “We agreed that we will now proceed with the presentation of evidence on the trial on the merits.”

For the trial on the main merits of the case, the poll chief noted that their camp will insist on the credibility of the testimonies of their star witness, Norie Unas, over the role of Arroyo in the 2007 Maguindanao polls.

Among these, he said, are the findings of Mupas that Unas’s testimony is uncorroborated and that the latter is not a credible witness.
Brillantes said he does not agree that Unas’s statement should be corroborated since it was only him, Arroyo and Ampatuan that were in the said incident, where the supposed instruction from the Chief Executive to rig the poll results were given.

Aside from backing Unas, Brillantes also noted that they will enhance their line-up of witnesses that will stand in the trial on the merits of the case.

Still, he instructed the Comelec law department to hasten the filing of motion for reconsideration over the decision to allow Arroyo to post bail.

President Aquino, meanwhile, brushed off claims that the case against Arroyo weakened because the Budget department slashed Comelec’s budget.

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