Sandi­gan ac­quits last ac­cused in P366-M PCSO plun­der case

The Philippine Star - - NEWS - By EL­IZ­A­BETH MARCELO

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.

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