Arroyo's trial for plunder to proceed

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The anti-graft court has denied former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's demurrer to evidence, paving the way for her trial for plunder over the alleged misuse of Philippine Chapter Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds. 

This means Arroyo's camp now has the burden to present counter-evidence to argue for her acquittal.

The resolution was promulgated late afternoon of Monday, April 6.

Arroyo is facing charges for having approved the utilization of P365.9 million in special charity funds, which complainants said was misused.

In a 55-page resolution, the Sandiganbayan First Division said the principal beneficiary of the misused funds was general manager Rosario Uriarte, with Arroyo and former PCSO budget and accounts manager Benigno Aguas acting as her co-conspirators in committing plunder. Uriarte remains at large.

In August 2014, the Sandiganbayan First Division allowed the former president, now Pampanga congresswoman, to file a demurrer to evidence. It is a motion to dismiss the charges against her on the basis of the prosecution's weak evidence, and would therefore not require Arroyo to present her own evidence.

Voting 3-2, members of a special division of justices voted to deny the petitions for demurrer to evidence of Arroyo, Aguas and former PCSO board chairman Sergio Valencia. 

The following former official's demurrer to evidence were granted, on the other hand: 

“Finding no conspiracy, these directors – either individually or collectively – …cannot be held liable for plunder. Simply put, there is no evidence on record that the directors herein had diverted any PCSO funds to themselves,” the resolution said.

In the demurrer, Arroyo's lawyers led by Jose Flaminiano argued that their client's participation in the subject disbursements was the mere approval of requests made by Uriarte.

"In affixing her 'ok' to the requests for CIF, President Arroyo gave her consent to the use of the CIF for the purposes described in the requests. That is all that she did," the document read.

Citing the long years of service of the PCSO and COA officials involved, the pleading said "there was no reason for President Arroyo to doubt their competence or integrity."

Arroyo's camp further argued that her approval merely "facilitated" the release of the funds and that the prosecution was unable to prove a conspiracy existed between her and the PCSO officials.

The absence of the element of conspiracy belies the claim of plunder, her lawyers argued.

"By reading a conspiracy into the President's act of approving the requests for CIF, the Prosecution is doing what the Supreme Court said it cannot do: It is allowing 'baseless suppositions' and 'frenzied theories' to fill in the gaps in its evidence," her demurrer read. 

Associate Justice Rafael Lagos penned the majority decision. Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz and Napoleon Inoturan concurred. 

Meanwhile, Associate Justices Rodolfo Ponferrada and Alex Quiroz concurred that the demurrer to evidence should be denied but disagreed that there was sufficient evidence for a plunder charge. with reports from Angela Casauay and Buena Bernal/Rappler.com