The Sandiganbayan has dismissed the plunder case against a co-accused of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who never once saw a day in detention.
In a two-page minute resolution dated Oct. 4, the court’s First Division granted the motion to dismiss filed by former Commission on Audit confidential intelligence fund unit director Nilda Plaras.
This leaves tumor-stricken former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office general manager Rosario Uriarte to be the last remaining defendant for the alleged diversion of the agency’s P366-million funds to the Office of the President’s intelligence funds.
Although Plaras now works as COA secretariat director in a compound just beside Sandiganbayan, the court considered her to be “at-large” until the end as the arrest warrant was never enforced.
Despite the fact that Plaras never stood trial unlike Arroyo and several others, the Sandiganbayan ruled her plunder case has become moot thanks to an Aug. 23, 2016 resolution by the Supreme Court.
In the said resolution, the SC applied to Plaras its finding that prosecutors have failed to pinpoint a “main plunderer” in the PCSO case. This came a month after the SC’s precedent-setting July 19, 2016 ruling that acquitted Arroyo and added the requirement for prosecutors to hurdle.
Notably, the Arroyo ruling said the failure to identify a “main plunderer” violated the right of “each accused” to be informed of the charges against them.
The SC also said last year that COA head Reynaldo Villar’s designation of Plaras to the CIF unit was not shown to be “tainted with any criminal design.”
Following this SC ruling, the Sandiganbayan said “the instant case against accused Plaras has no more leg to stand on, thus, warranting its dismissal.”
“While admittedly accused Plaras has never submitted to the jurisdiction of this Court, the issue on jurisdiction advanced by the prosecution is, however, mooted by the foreqoinq pronouncements, which have effectively rendered the Court devoid of Information and proceedings in this case to take cognizance of,” read the resolution.
The resolution was signed by Associate Justices Efren N. de la Cruz, Geraldine Faith A. Econg, and Edgardo M. Caldona.
Prior to the July 2016 ruling, the officials who stood trial were Arroyo, Villar, former PCSO budget and accounts manager Benigno Aguas, and former PCSO board officials Manuel Morato, Raymundo Roquero and Jose Taruc V.
Morato, Roquero, Taruc, and Villar’s cases were dismissed by the Sandiganbayan in April 2015 due to insufficiency of evidence, but the antigraft court denied the demurrers of Arroyo and Aguas, prompting them to elevate the case to the SC.
Uriarte, as well as PCSO board member Ma. Fatima Valdes, managed to evade arrest for four years before surrendering to authorities last year in the aftermath of Arroyo’s July 2016 SC victory. The former is ailing from tumors as her plunder case remains pending, but Valdes, who is stricken with heart ailments, was already acquitted on March 30.