SC halts Arroyo plunder trial for 30 days
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Stop the plunder trial of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for 30 days.
This was the unanimous order of the Supreme Court to the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan on Tuesday, October 20, in relation to the alleged illegal diversion of funds from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).
At least two sources from the High Court said a status quo ante order has been issued, putting a temporary halt to the Sandiganbayan proceedings.
Arroyo is facing charges for having approved the use of P365.9 million in PCSO or state lottery intelligence funds, which complainants alleged, was misused from 2008 to 2010.
On April 6 and September 10 this year, the Sandiganbayan's First Division denied Arroyo's demurrer to evidence, paving the way for her trial for plunder. This means Arroyo's camp now has the burden to present counter-evidence to argue for her acquittal.
Her camp however filed a 100-plus-page petition, challenging the Sandiganbayan's decision. This motion will be rendered moot if Arroyo is forced to present evidence in her defense. Arroyo is also appealing the denial of her plea for bail.
The former president and current Pampanga Representative is being held at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City, still awaiting a decision by the High Court on her petition seeking a reversal of the Sandiganbayan's previous resolutions.
She has cited an opinion by the United Nations that said under international law, her continued detention was arbitrary and illegal.
Comment within 10* days
Sources said that in the meantime, the Solicitor-General is required to comment within the usual 10 days.
Her co-accused – the PCSO officials who proposed the approval of and utilized the funds – have been allowed to post bail and were granted demurrer to evidence.
The High Court also ordered the Sandiganbayan to comment on Arroyo's petition last week seeking resolution of her bail petition.
In April, Arroyo challenged the denial of her bail before the High Tribunal, pointing out that the anti-graft court committed grave abuse of discretion. Her lawyers cited the impairment of her health and her not being a flight risk as reasons for granting her bail.
Three years earlier, on October 24, 2012, Arroyo asked the SC to stop the ongoing plunder trial against her before the Sandiganbayan. She also asked the High Court to dismiss the plunder charges filed against her by the Ombudsman.
The petition pointed out that the Sandiganbayan "acted in precipitate haste" when it declared the existence of probable cause to charge her with plunder. It described the case as "defective," since it lacked the so-called elements of plunder, such as evidence that Arroyo personally amassed P50 million or more as a result of her orders concerning PCSO funds. – Rappler.com
*Editor's Note: In an earlier version of this story we indicated 20 days. This has been corrected to say 10 days.