World Bulletin / News Desk
Jailed for almost four years, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was freed Thursday after the plunder case filed against her was junked by the Supreme Court citing insufficient evidence.
“I consider this a setback. Obviously, it leads to some degree of demoralization. But I think it is appropriate that we pick up the pieces here, find out what went wrong,” said Ramon del Rosario, chairman of the Makati Business Club, in an interview with ANC news channel.
Makati is Philippines' premier business district and host to several multinational corporations.
Del Rosario urged government prosecutors to set up the “strongest possible” team to pursue future cases against Arroyo, who was defended in court by some of the country's most expensive and experienced lawyers.
The ailing 69-year-old politician and daughter of former President Diosdado Macapagal was charged with stealing P366 million ($7.82 million) in discretionary funds from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.
“I don’t think it’s the end of the world. Pro-integrity forces in the country can take heart that there are still other cases that are pending and hopefully there will be more success in the prosecution of those cases later on,” he said.
The high court on Tuesday upheld Arroyo’s defense that there was not enough evidence to implicate her in the alleged misuse of the funds.
Arroyo’s legal team include Estelito Mendoza and Jose Flaminiano, the same lawyers who defended her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, against a plunder charge for which he was convicted. Arroyo eventually pardoned Estrada.
Arroyo was released from the Veteran’s Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) late Thursday after nearly four years under hospital arrest.
She was scheduled for a check-up Friday for a degenerative bone disease.
On Thursday, former President Benigno Aquino III, under whose administration the case was filed, questioned the high court ruling.
"By ordering the release and exoneration of Mrs. Arroyo, what is the Supreme Court saying: That nothing anomalous transpired? That no crime happened? That no one should be held to account? That the funds were used properly?" he said in a statement.
Over the course of three years, a total of P365 million was transferred to the Office of the President and used for activities not sanctioned by the Sweepstakes Office's charter.
"I wonder: What kind of superior espouses such practice? How does one justify mismanagement to such a degree? With Mrs. Arroyo giving acquiescence and approval, doesn't this make her also accountable?" Aquino said.
Arroyo won the 2004 presidential election amid allegations of massive cheating.