Court defers Arroyo arraignment
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED 2) - The Sandiganbayan has deferred the arraignment of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was unable to attend the hearing on Monday, October 15. Her arraignment was reset to October 29.
The court ruled in favor of Mrs Arroyo's petition which was filed last Friday, when she was rushed to the intensive care unit (ICU) of the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City, where she is being held under hospital arrest.
The prosecution did not object. Lead prosecutor Diosdado Calonge told the court that that he has "confidential information" that laboratory tests of Arroyo showed negative results. But government is giving in to the motion of the defense so that they won't be seen as "vindictive," Calonghe added.
The defense sought to defer Arroyo's arraignment on the ground that they need more time to seek remedy before the Supreme Court.
The subsequent medical reports provided additional reason to defer her arraignment. On Friday, VMMC director Nona Legaspi told reporters that Mrs Arroyo was suffering from ischemia, a heart-related problem characterized by chest pain, among others. The court has summoned her doctors to a hearing on Wednesday, October 18.
VMMC did not allow Arroyo to attend Monday's hearing.
Mrs Arroyo and at least 9 other former government officials are facing plunder charges over their alleged misuse of P366-M funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).
Last October 4, the Sandiganbayan issued an arrest warrant against Mrs Arroyo in connection with the plunder case.
Mrs Arroyo had already been arraigned for two cases this year. She faced arraignment for alleged electoral sabotage in February, and for alleged graft in April. She pleaded not guilty in both proceedings.
The prosecution asked for 3 conditions for the deferment of the arraignment: That Arroyo be detained in a government hospital, preferably the PNP General Hospital; that she shoulder all medical expenses; and that she be arraigned immediately, even if the prosecution has to go to the hospital where she is detained.
The court reset the arraignment to October 29 but Arroyo's defense lawyer Anacleto Diaz opposed the date. He said his client needed more time to seek relief from the Supreme Court. (Two of Arroyo's co-accused already pled "not guilty" for plunder)
"We are asking for more time. We are moving to enjoin further proceedings whilst the Supreme Court decides whether or not probable cause truly exists against the former President," Diaz said. But he said he is yet to draft the petition before the High Court.
Diaz also argued against moving Mrs Arroyo to the PNP General Hospital. Citing security reasons, it's easier to keep her at the Veterans hospital because it is nearer the Sandiganbayan, he said.
Diaz said Mrs Arroyo has been paying for her hospital arrest, but maintained that some amenities should be given to the former President.
"Out of deference, we should accord her some amenities or concessions due her as former President. After all, she's still entitled to the presumption of innocence," he said.
Thankful Arroyo lawyer
The court will decide on 2 major issues: 1) Mrs Arroyo's continued hospital arrest, and 2) her stress echo test at the Philippine Heart Center.
On further postponing Arroyo's arraignment, Sandiganbayan First Division chairman Efren De La Cruz said: "Let's see what happens."
Diaz said he is happy with the result of Monday's hearing. He said the Arroyo camp is thankful to both the PNP and the prosecutors for issuing the Sunday medical certificate and for dropping objections to Mrs Arroyo's hospital arrest, respectively.
"We are very thankful, with all sincerity, that they withrew motion to object hospital arrest. Many may not like the former President, but she doesn't deserve this. She deserves something better," Diaz told reporters after the Monday hearing.
A VMMC cardiologist gave on Sunday, October 14, a certificate to the Philippine National Police (PNP) doctors that says it would be risky for her to attend without a stress echo test, according to Legaspi.
In the same certificate, the government hospital instructed Mrs Arroyp to seek court permission to allow her to undergo the said test at the Philippine Heart Center to determine why she losing so much weight. VMMC does not have the equipment for such procedure. – Rappler.com