Sandigan acquits last accused in P366-M PCSO plunder case
The controversial plunder case which stemmed from the supposed misuse of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO)’s P366-million confidential intelligence fund has formally died at the Sandiganbayan.
In an 11-page resolution promulgated on May 11 and released to the media yesterday, the anti-graft court’s First Division has acquitted the last remaining accused in the case, former PCSO general manager Rosario Uriarte.
The First Division cited in its ruling the Supreme Court’s July 19, 2016 decision dismissing the case against the primary accused, former president and incumbent Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, as well as against former PCSO budget and accounts manager Benigno Aguas due to “insufficiency of evidence” of the prosecution.
The First Division said the prosecution failed to present any new argument or evidence to dispute the earlier finding of the SC that the element of conspiracy among Arroyo and her co-accused was lacking.
“The prosecution has not adduced any new or compelling evidence to warrant a finding different from what has already been rendered by the Supreme Court. Thus, as the high tribunal categorically cleared Uriarte of culpability from the instant charge of plunder, it behooves this Court to acquit her,” the decision penned by First Division chairman Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz read.
Associate Justices Geraldine Faith Econg and Edgardo Caldona concurred with the ruling.
The SC, in its July 2016 decision, overturned the Sandiganbayan First Division’s denial of Arroyo and Aguas’ demurrer to evidence, which sought the dismissal of the case. Instead, the high tribunal said the charges against Arroyo and Aguas must be dismissed as the prosecution failed to identify the main plunderer in the case.
The SC said there was also no evidence presented to prove the existence of conspiracy among Arroyo, Aguas, Uriarte and the PCSO board members to show that they had amassed, accumulated or acquired ill-gotten wealth of any amount.
The SC upheld its decision on April 18, 2017.
In its new ruling, the First Division sided with Uriarte’s argument that her mere act of requesting for the release of additional confidential intelligence fund (CIF), which Arroyo supposedly approved, was not tantamount to plunder or conspiracy between them, especially as Uriarte, in her letter of request, cited valid grounds for asking for additional fund.
“The insistence of the prosecution is unwarranted. GMA’s (Arroyo) approval of Uriarte’s requests for additional CIFs did not make her part of any design to raid the public treasury as the means to amass, accumulate and acquire ill-gotten wealth,” the First Division said.
Uriarte went into hiding abroad for almost four years while the First Division was hearing the case. She only surfaced in November 2016 after the SC dismissed the case against Arroyo and Aguas.
The First Division had earlier acquitted the other respondents in the case, namely, former PCSO board members Manuel Morato, Raymundo Roquero, Jose Taruc V and Maria Fatima Valdes; former Commission on Audit (COA) chairman Reynaldo Villar and former COA confidential intelligence fund unit director Nilda Plaras.
In April 2015, the plunder case against former PCSO board chairman Sergio Valencia was downgraded by the First Division to a bailable offense of malversation of public funds.
Filed by the Office of the Ombudsman in July 2012, the case stemmed from the alleged misuse of a total of P365,997,915 CIF of the PCSO in 2008-2010, during Arroyo’s term as president.