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A legal decision

THE response to the Supreme Court order dismissing the plunder case against former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and calling for her release after four years of hospital arrest has been generally positive, with many citing her frail health.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said that while he himself had suffered during the nine years of her administration, he welcomed her release from detention, saying she had suffered enough under difficult physical conditions. “Even for purely humanitarian consideration, I support the Supreme Court’s ruling to free her and accord her some comfort for the remaining years of her life, which are not really that many, considering her age,” he said. Rep. Martin Romualdez of Leyte, president of the Lakas-Christian Democrats and president of the Philippine Constitution Association, said she was a “victim of political persecution.” Gov. Lilia Pineda of Pampanga was concerned about her deteriorating health and loss of weight, noting that she had been detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center since October, 2012.

While there are indeed good humanitarian reasons for releasing the former president from detention, we must not lose sight of the fact that the Supreme Court ruled on the basis of a legal issue.

After so many years that the prosecution presented its case against her, her lawyers said the evidence presented did not amount to much. So, instead of presenting counter-evidence, they filed a demurrer to evidence – a petition to the court to simply dismiss the case. The Sandiganbayan rejected this petition for a demurrer to evidence and her lawyers went to the Supreme Court. After reviewing the case, the Supreme Court, by a vote of 11 to 4, ruled last Tuesday that there was indeed insufficient evidence for a plunder case. It ordered the Sandiganbayan to dismiss the PCSO case.

There is another pending case against President Arroyo – her alleged involvement in a proposed $329-million contract with China’s Zhing Xin Telecommunications Equipment, Inc. (ZTE) for a National Broadband Network. She also filed a demurrer to evidence in this case, saying the prosecution did not even come close to meeting the exacting standard of guilt. President Arroyo in fact had actually cancelled the deal with ZTE due to allegations of irregularity. Since this is not plunder case, she posted bail years ago, soon after it was filed.

After his election to office, President Duterte offered to pardon former President Arroyo and end all her troubles.

She declined the offer, pointing out that a pardon may be granted only to one who has been convicted. And she was certain she would be acquitted.

With the Supreme Court decision, the PCSO case is over. She can now turn her full attention to the remaining ZTE case – and to any other case that the Ombudsman plans to file against her.