Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sandiganbayan Bars GMA From Leaving PH

MANILA, Philippines --- The Sandiganbayan First Division issued Tuesday a hold-departure order against former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and nine former officials of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) and the Commission on Audit (COA). However, the anti-graft courts Fourth Division granted several appeals made by Arroyo for various judicial actions. The Sandiganbayan panel also rejected a bid by the Ombudsman to withdraw the original records of the preliminary investigation on the two counts of graft charges and violation of the Code of Ethics for Public Officials filed against the incumbent Pampanga lawmaker. The HDO, the third slapped against Arroyo, was issued on account of plunder charges filed against her and her co-accused in connection with the alleged misuse of some P366 million PCSO intelligence fund allegedly reimbursed for fictitious expenses. Two HDO's were issued by the Sandiganbayan's fourth division for the criminal charges stemming from her alleged approval of the overpriced National Broadband Network Deal with China's ZTE Corporation. The $329 million dollar transaction was later scrapped on orders of Arroyo. An earlier HDO covered the non-bailable electoral sabotage case filed by the Commission on Elections before the sala of Judge Jesus Mupas of the Regional Trial Court of Pasay City. Included in the HDO list issued by the Sandiganbayan's First Division are Sergio O. Valencia, former PCSO board chairman; Rosario Uriarte, general manager and vice chairperson; directors Manuel Morato, Jose Taruc V, Raymundo Roquero and Ma. Fatima Valdez; Benjamin Aguas, budget and accounts chief; former COA Chairman Reynaldo Villar and Nilda Plaras, head of COA's intelligence and confidential fund unit. All accused were charged by the Office of the Ombudsman with conspiring to directly or indirectly accumulate P365.99 million in ill-gotten wealth from January 2008 to June 2010. They allegedly diverted PCSO's operating budget to the confidential and intelligence fund to avoid strict accounting and auditing rules for disbursement of funds. Meanwhile, the Fourth Division granted Arroyo's motion to be excused from filing a pre-trial brief of the pending criminal charges against her. The anti-graft panel also allowed the separation of the three criminal complaints and directed the Ombudsman to allow the production or inspection of material evidence against her and co-accused, former Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza. Chaired by Associate Justice Gregory Ong, the anti-graft court's fourth division, denied a motion by the Ombudsman to withdraw the records of the preliminary investigation of the cases. The court rejected as being "not well taken" the claim of the state prosecutors that the records were not part of the file submitted in the court and that these were "merely inadvertently left" with the docket section. The Fourth Division ruled that it cannot be swayed by such claim "given that there was apparently no duplicate or photocopy" attached with the case filed, thus, implying that it is actually the intention of the Ombudsman to attach the files. In granting Arroyo's motion not to file a pre-trial brief, the court agreed to since the court is "vested with discretion to require the filing of a pre-trial brief in criminal cases", it possesses the same authority to excuse the accused from presenting the said brief. Nevertheless, the court warned Arroyo that a pre-trial conference is "clearly mandatory" under Section 1, Rule 118 of the Rules of Court and that the Sandiganbayan is duty bound to consider plea bargaining, stipulation of acts, marking for identification of evidence and other judicial processes required under the conference. The separation of the cases pending before the Fourth Division was also ordered "to prevent further delay" in the proceedings and "prejudice the rights of the accused." Now on hospital detention at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center, Arroyo has not yet taken any steps to lift the HDO's against her despite claims by her camp that she requires special medical attention abroad. However, a motion to set bail has been filed by her lawyers before the Pasay City RTC.