Philippines' ex-leader Arroyo freed

by Abel Hampton July 22, 2016, 1:49

The Philippines' Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a plunder case against influential former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and ordered her immediate release after five years under hospital arrest.

The court, voting 11-4, ruled that there was insufficient evidence to bring a case against Arroyo in connection with the misuse of about $8.8 million in lottery funds during her administration.

In a statement issued by her lawyers on Wednesday, Arroyo thanked the Supreme Court and newly-installed President Rodrigo Duterte for not standing in the way of her release.

The 69-year-old Arroyo was whisked off a military veterans' hospital in suburban Quezon city and driven to her home in the upscale La Vista residential enclave in the Manila metropolis, her lawyer, Lawrence Arroyo, said.

The Supreme Court justices on Tuesday voted 11-4 to grant Arroyo's petition to dismiss the plunder charge against her for a lack of evidence in the final criminal case that kept the once-powerful leader in detention.

In the 48-page decision penned by Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin, the SC ruled that Arroyo could not be convicted as she did not commit the act of raiding the national coffers, a predicate to the crime of plunder.

"It's a happy day today because she has just been freed", Arroyo's lawyer, Laurence Arroyo, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Sereno cited the admission of Arroyo's co-accused, PCSO assistant manager Benigno Aguas that P244 million of the P366 million had been diverted to the Office of the President.

Her lawyers said that after being freed Arroyo would go to a private hospital for a check-up. She attended Georgetown University at the same time as former President Bill Clinton and was a popular senator before being elected vice president in 1998. Lourdes Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, they said last Tuesday's ruling set a risky precedent.

Arroyo was arrested in 2011 on electoral fraud charges but was allowed to post bail.

"B$3 ecause the affixing of the unqualified "OK" could not be considered an "overt act" for purposes of plunder because this act was a common, legal and valid practice of signifying approval of a fund release by the President and there was no causal relation to the intended crime", the decision said. Three months later, she was charged with plunder for which she was again detained for almost four years.

Duterte succeeded Aquino in June, and said he was willing to pardon Arroyo.

There was no evidence that former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo accumulated any amount of illegal wealth from intelligence funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office from 2008 to 2010.

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