By Evelyn Macairan
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – Former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is seeking prayer from the country’s prelates.
“I was asked by the President to attend this forum to make a plea to the bishops to please help her pray for courage. Courage to accept the things she could no longer change,” Arroyo’s counsel Anacleto Diaz told yesterday’s forum of the Catholic Media Network (CMN) held in Intramuros.
Diaz said Arroyo is also asking the bishops for divine guidance in the face of the spate of lawsuits filed against her.
The former president is now facing plunder charges before the Sandiganbayan over her involvement in the fund mess of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).
Arroyo is under hospital detention while facing a non-bailable offense of electoral sabotage before the Pasay City regional trial court.
Diaz admitted the challenges that Arroyo is facing are “way beyond the task” of lawyers defending her and the doctors overseeing her medical condition.
“This is no longer a legal problem. It is not even a political problem or a public relations problem because no matter what we say or do we come out as a demon. We have been demonized,” he said.
Diaz clarified their request for prayers are not for an immediate acquittal of Arroyo’s cases.
“All we are saying is that for your help (to pray) that the Ombudsman and the courts decide cases solely and purely on the basis of evidence,” he said.
Former Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz, an Arroyo critic, told Diaz that he would pray for her.
“Justice is different from vengeance. Please tell the former president that I was not known as a GMA (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) admirer during her term and she knows this, but when she was down I did not step on her anymore,” Cruz told Diaz during the forum.
When asked if he would send a letter to the bishops to relay Arroyo’s request, Diaz said, “I would leave it to her judgment. I’m just a lawyer.”
Former senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said that while the judicial process should still be observed, he believed Arroyo should receive justice and compassion.
“I think that since former president Arroyo is sick she deserves compassion… Arroyo is not convicted. She is only charged and she has to clear (her name). But as much as possible they would allow her to seek medical treatment,” Pimentel added.
While there had been several instances when the prelates criticized the Arroyo administration, Diaz said he is hoping that in the end, their being men of God would prevail.
“I don’t know if it is strained but they are bishops and they are men of the cloth, they are men of God. If I ask a bishop to help me pray to God for guidance for courage, for help, I think any bishop would grant me that on that basis,” he said.
Diaz said the recent turn of events, particularly the Ombudsman on Monday filing a P365.9-million plunder case against Arroyo and some officials of the PCSO before the Sandiganbayan, raises questions if this was connected to the upcoming State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Aquino.
Diaz questioned the timing of the filing of the case, a week ahead of the President’s SONA.
“It cannot take away from us the suspicion that this resolution was released to time with the coming SONA of the President. You and I are aware that every time the President goes on his SONA he does not fail to say a thing or two about the former president. This gives him another opportunity to demonize the former president, and worse… it enables the government to continue the president’s detention without bail,” he said.
Diaz said they received information that apart from the election sabotage case and newly filed plunder case, there would be four other cases that will be lodged against Arroyo as a ploy to keep her in prison.
Diaz, however, refused to identify the four other cases.
Laurence Arroyo, one of the former president’s legal counsels defending her in a separate graft case involving the national broadband network (NBN) deal anomaly, also said the filing of the case was obviously timed to coincide with Aquino’s SONA.
Arroyo’s lawyers yesterday asked the Sandiganbayan to suspend the proceedings on the P365.9-million plunder case filed against the former president.
The lawyers also urged the Sandiganbayan to defer the issuance of a warrant of arrest. They argued Arroyo has not even received a copy of the Review Resolution that found probable cause to indict her.
“Accused GMA (Arroyo) desires to avail herself of her remedies under the law, foremost of which is the filing of a motion for reconsideration from the adverse Resolution of the Office of the Ombudsman,” the defense lawyers said in their motion.
“For this purpose, accused GMA will need a copy of the said Resolution of the Office of the Ombudsman finding the existence of probable cause against her for plunder,” they said.
Arroyo’s lawyers argued that any person under preliminary investigation by the Ombudsman is entitled to file a motion for reconsideration under its rules of procedure.
“The Supreme Court has held that the filing of a motion for reconsideration is an integral part of the preliminary investigation proper. The denial thereof is tantamount to a denial of the right itself to a preliminary investigation and would render the preliminary investigation conducted in a case incomplete,” they added.
“A denial of the right to file a motion for reconsideration would also amount to a deprivation of an accused’s right to a full preliminary investigation preparatory to the filing of the information against him.”
Lawyer Christian Bautista, Arroyo’s counsel, told The STAR the former leader was visibly distraught at the news that she was charged with plunder.
“She is deeply saddened. There is absolutely nothing to support the complaint,” he said.
Bautista said he was disappointed with the reaction of some people over Arroyo’s plea for prayers. “Some asked me ‘so she’s already desperate because she is turning to prayers?’” he said.
“How do you answer a question like that? Is it a sin to pray? Is it wrong to turn to God? So who do we turn to?”
Arroyo has always been known to be prayerful, he added.
Bautista said there is no evidence to show that Arroyo pocketed P50 million – the minimum amount for one to be charged with plunder – much less P365 million as the Office of the Ombudsman had alleged in the charge sheet.
“She is not an official of the PCSO,” he said. “All the confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) of the PCSO were liquidated and the COA approved the liquidation as regular.”
Bautista and Ferdinand Topacio, Arroyo’s legal adviser, said the plunder complaint was obviously meant to ensure that she remains under detention even if the Pasay Regional Trial Court grants her bail.
“Sadly, the Constitution is but selectively applied by the present government: swift exoneration for its allies, while strict and excruciating bending of the rules against its political opponents, is the order of the day,” Topacio said.
“We are no longer in danger of dictatorship; it is now wholly upon us.”
At Malacañang, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said yesterday the charges against Arroyo were not “props” for the SONA of Aquino.
“Various Cabinet clusters had presented their reports and we’re just going to go through several drafts right now,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are not allowed to disclose any of the details. But certainly there will be an enunciation of what the President has done during the past year and what we look forward to. And it’s still a fluid SONA, still being drafted as we speak, still being improved on as we speak.”
The public will not be disappointed at Aquino’s SONA, he added.
Lacierda said the executive has no control or influence over the Office of the Ombudsman.
“Time and again, there were certain instances or cases where the (Office of the) Ombudsman has dismissed a case against the former president or lowered the crime charge,” he said.
Lacierda said “this is not political” as the Office of the Ombudsman had taken on an objective evaluation of the cases filed before them and “it is up to them to determine whether a case can be filed.”
“And it so happened in the case of the PCSO, there was probable cause to file before the Sandiganbayan,” he said. “So we would like to categorically state that this was not a case filed on account of the upcoming State of the Nation Address by the President.”
Lacierda said it was “very speculative” on the part of Arroyo’s camp to state that the charges were filed because the former president’s petition for bail would be granted.
“So this was, again, a separate issue, a separate case – one case is for the regional trial court of Pasay City, the other case is before the Sandiganbayan,” he said.
“So there is no relation between the two insofar as imputing that the reason it was filed is in order to detain her longer. That’s not true.”
Lacierda also said they “could perfectly understand” if the Arroyo camp would consider this a “dark day” for the rule of law.
“There was probable cause in indicting her for the case of plunder and certainly they would say that,” he said. – Paolo Romero, Aurea Calica, MichaelPunongbayan