Gloria Arroyo cleared of electoral sabotage in 2007 polls case

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Pasay City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 112 has cleared Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of electoral sabotage, a case that stemmed from the alleged rigging of the 2007 senatorial elections.

“For failure of the prosecution to prove the guilt of accused Arroyo beyond reasonable doubt and moral certainty despite ample opportunity and even without evidence in favor of said accused, the demurrer to evidence is granted and the charge of electoral sabotage against accused Arroyo is hereby ordered dismissed,” Judge Jesus Mupas said in an order dated December 17.

Mupas granted Arroyo’s Demurrer to Evidence, which means that the former president never presented evidence in trial.

The 6-page decision dismissed the credibility of the whistle blower, former Maguindanao provincial administrator Norie Unas, who said that he heard Arroyo say “Dapat 12-0 sa Maguindanao, kahit ayusin o palitan pa ang resulta (It should be 12-0 in maguindanao, even if you have to fix or change the results).”

The court said none of the other 12 prosecution witnesses “was able to establish any element of conspiracy with respect to accused Arroyo.”

The court will return to Arroyo her previous bail of P1 million. 

The case

In October 2011, Unas and 15 other election officers from Maguindanao came forward to tell a joint panel of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Commission on Elections (Comelec) that there was cheating during the 2004 presidential elections and the 2007 senatorial elections.

The electoral sabotage case eventually filed by the DOJ was the one that got Arroyo jailed in 2011, as she was put under hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC). Arroyo stayed at the VMCC for almost 5 years until July 2016 when the Supreme Court acquitted her of plunder.

The court noted that Unas’ testimony was given on the condition that he enjoyed immunity from suit. Judge Mupas doubted the credibility of Unas as early as 2012 when he granted Arroyo bail.

Unas said Arroyo’s instructions were for former governor Andal Ampatuan Jr to secure the landslide victory of her slate at the time, the so-called Team Unity. 

Unas said Ampatuan then instructed him to provide logistical support for former Maguindanao Election Supervisor Lintang Bedol to ensure the 12-0 victory. Bedol never testified during trial, though he was initially on the prosecution’s list of witnesses.

Without Bedol, the court said Unas’ testimony “remains uncorroborated” and that the prosecution was not able to sufficiently explain how the cheating happened.

“There is no allegation in the information that accused Arroyo ordered, or even suggested, that election documents be tampered with, or that votes for any candidate be increased or decreased. This defect cannot be remedied by any testimonial evidence without violating the Constitutional rights of the accused,” said the court.

The court also sided with Arroyo’s argument that even if the instruction is proven, it cannot constitute the crime of electoral sabotage alone.

Among the 2007 Team Unity "winners" was Juan Miguel Zubiri. Koko Pimentel contested Zubiri's narrow victory over him before the Comelec in 2007, and was declared the rightful winner in the senatorial elections in 2011, but a week before the Senate Electoral Tribunal reached the decision, Zubiri had already resigned as senator amid electoral fraud allegations.

There is a remaining criminal complaint against Arroyo pending preliminary investigation at the Office of the Ombudsman, related to the P365-million Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) intelligence fund scam. The plunder aspect of this case had been closed, with all accused now clearedRappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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