Gloria Arroyo walks free after nearly 4 years

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – After nearly 4 years under hospital arrest, former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo finally walked away from her plunder charge. 

The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan issued her release order from the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) Thursday afternoon, July 21. The order was brought to Camp Crame, and members of the Philippine National Police executed her release past 6 pm. 

This was two days after the Supreme Court (SC), voting 11-4, acquitted Arroyo and former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) board member Benjamin Aguas of plunder over their alleged misuse of P366 million in PCSO funds from 2008 to 2010.

"She felt really happy and really relieved," Laurence Arroyo, Arroyo’s legal counsel, said in an interview after his client's release.

The lawyer said that, in his view,  it might have felt like a "dream" on the part of Arroyo "that finally, she was leaving her place of detention for the past 4 years."

Asked whether Arroyo plans to file cases against former president Benigno Aquino III for alleged political persecution, the lawyer said: "Let's not discuss that at this time. This is supposed to be a happy moment. We're full of gratitude and we're supposed to be magnanimous.... It's a blessing that she has been acquitted and we'd like to focus on that."

Arroyo's children – sons Mikey and Dato, and daughter Luli – and some former Cabinet members, such as former justice secretary Agnes Devanadera and former presidential assistant for special concerns Medy Poblador, were with Arroyo as she awaited her release.

Former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo was abroad with their grandchildren for a “long scheduled” trip and is due back on July 27, the lawyer said in an interview on ANC.

He also said that after going back to her La Vista residence and spending a few hours there, the former president was due to have an overnight executive check-up at Saint Luke’s Medical Center, most likely in the branch at Bonifacio Global City in Taguig.

Arroyo, who suffers from multiple cervical spondolysis or the wearing off of the bones, has been detained at the VMMC since 2012. Aguas had long been out on bail. (READ: Lawmakers react to SC ruling on Gloria Arroyo case)

Eight of the 11 justices who ruled in their favor are Arroyo appointees.

Arroyo, however, had to stay for two more days at the VMMC – where she had been detained since October 2012 – because the SC failed to issue its decision to the Sandiganbayan before closing time on Tuesday.

Her camp said the SC ruling was proof of Arroyo's "political persection" by former President Benigno Aquino III, a view shared by former president Joseph Estrada.

Hours before Arroyo's release, Aquino expressed dismay over the decision, which was promulgated barely a month after he left Malacañang. (READ: Aquino hits SC: What option is left for Filipinos vs corruption?)

Arroyo was acquitted a week before the opening of the 17th Congress, where she is serving a third term as Pampanga 2nd District Representive. (READ: TIMELINE: Gloria Arroyo – from plunder to acquittal)

She is expected the attend the first State of the Nation Address of President Rodrigo Duterte, whom Arroyo thanked for ensuring due process for her case. Duterte had earlier said that during the campaign, he told Arroyo through a phone conversation that he would pardon her but the former president refused, saying this would require an admission of guilt.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, who charged Arroyo for plunder 4 years ago, said her office plans to file a motion for reconsideration before the High Court.

The Ombudsman is still investigating Arroyo on another plunder complaint concerning P57 million in PCSO intelligence funds from 2004 to 2007.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Associate Justice Marvic Leonen dissented from the majority opinion on the plunder case against Arroyo, and asserted conspiracy was established by the prosecution.

Senate President Franklin Drilon said in a news briefing hours before Arroyo's release that the "missing link" in the case against Arroyo is former PCSO general manager Rosario Uriarte, whose location remains unknown.  Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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