The Philippines’ anti-graft body has cleared former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of corruption charges filed against her in 2016 for allegedly misusing more than P73.6 million (U.S. $1.4 million) in intelligence funds from the state-run lottery agency.
In a statement released over the weekend, the Office of the Ombudsman said it had dismissed the last plunder complaint against Arroyo and four other defendants as prosecutors found “no probable cause” to pursue a case against them.
“Absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, therefore, respondents, as public officers, enjoy the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties,” the Ombudsman’s ruling said.
The plunder case against Arroyo, 72, and several officials of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) stemmed from allegations of misuse of the agency’s funds from 2004 to 2007. PCSO raises funds for health programs and medical assistance through daily lotteries.
Conchita Carpio Morales, former chairwoman of the Office of the Ombudsman, an independent agency that investigates and prosecutes government officials, filed the case in 2016, the same year the Supreme Court acquitted Arroyo of a separate plunder case involving the alleged misuse of PCSO funds from 2008 to 2010.
Aside from Arroyo, PCSO Vice Chairman and General Manager Rosario Uriarte, former Chairman Sergio Valencia, former Manager Benigno Aguas and former Manager Gloria Araullo were also cleared.
The 10-page ruling, a copy of which was given to BenarNews, was approved by Ombudsman Samuel Martires and written by graft investigation officer Lucielo Ramirez Jr.
Arroyo’s legal counsel, Laurence Arroyo, welcomed the dismissal of the complaint.
“It takes as much moral courage and intellectual honesty to dismiss a case as it does to file and prosecute one," he said.
“What has been said of a public prosecutor can be said of the Ombudsman: ‘Its interest in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case but that justice shall be done,’” he added.
A daughter of former President Diosdado Macapagal, Arroyo served as a senator and vice president before she rose to the presidency in 2001 when a popular revolt led to the ouster of then-President Joseph Estrada. But allegations of corruption plagued her administration.
In 2005, a recorded conversation over the phone between Arroyo and the then-Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano appeared to show that she was instructing to rig the 2004 national elections in her favor. She had repeatedly denied the allegations.
Arroyo finished her term as president in 2010, but was arrested the following year under former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III over electoral-fraud charges. She was released on bail, but was later charged with plunder.
She was detained for almost five years at a hospital in suburban Quezon City until the Supreme Court ordered her freed in July 2016, two months after she was re-elected to Congress. She was allowed to stay in the hospital because her doctors said she suffered from neck ailment and a degenerative lumbar spine disease.
Arroyo, President Rodrigo Duterte’s ally, staged a major political comeback in July 2018 when she was elected speaker of the House of Representatives – the fourth most-powerful position in the Philippines.
Her government was also plagued by allegations of kickbacks when China’s ZTE Corp was trying to set up a U.S. $330-million broadband network in the country in 2007. Arroyo’s name and that of her husband, Mike, came up in a Senate probe, but neither of them faced charges related to the deal.