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MANILA, Philippines - A Pasay court's decision allowing former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to post bail in connection with an electoral sabotage case stems from a general weakness in the evidence presented against her. This was the quickly emerging consensus among senators, politicians, and government itself, on Wednesday, as Arroyo posted a P1-million bail to secure her temporary freedom.
As bail was granted, the Veterans Memorial Medical Center on Wednesday also released discharge papers for Ms. Arroyo, effectively allowing her to go home from the hospital where she has been under house arrest since last summer.
Arroyo walked out of the hospital and boarded a van on her way home. Her daughter, Luli Arroyo, said they were not expecting the grant of bail, but were prepared to move out of the VMMC. She said her mother will likely stay in the family home in the gated La Vista Subdivision, in Quezon City, as she had been longing to spend time with her grandchildren.
Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, who was a victim of the widespread poll fraud in 2007, was not surprised by the decision of Pasay City Regional Trial Court Judge Jesus Mupas to grant Arroyo's motion for bail in connection with her electoral sabotage case.
Pimentel is convinced that the evidence presented against the current Pampanga representative is weak. Under the law, electoral sabotage is a non-bailable crime if the evidence against the accused is strong.
"Since there was only one witness against her, an alleged eyewitness, then the grant of bail means that the judge isn’t convinced that the evidence against Arroyo was strong," Pimentel said.
Pimentel, who was proclaimed senator last year after winning his electoral protest against rival Juan Miguel "Migz" Zubiri, said he respected Mupas' decision. "It's a good sign that the judicial processes are working in our country."
Malacañang itself acknowledged that the evidence against former President Gloria Arroyo may have been weak.
"These things happen," presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said. "When a case is filed before the courts, of course, there’s always a 50-50 chance that it (bail petition) would be granted or would not be granted. So when we heard today that the court granted the petition for bail, (we can only) recognize that it happened and move on."
Lacierda said the position of Malacañang to respect the approval of Arroyo's bail petition shows the executive branch respects the independence of the judiciary.
"Whatever the decision of the court is, we recognize because it was a court which had ample jurisdiction to hear the case," Lacierda added.
Last June 14, former Maguindanao provincial administrator Norie Unas, the star witness in the case, offered testimony against Arroyo. Unas, the only one so far who was able to link Arroyo to the poll fraud, was the 11th witness against the Pampanga representative, according to the Commission on Elections (Comelec), which filed the electoral sabotage case against the former chief executive.
Unas, the provincial administrator during the 2004 and 2007 elections and a close adviser to Andal Ampatuan Sr., said Arroyo had instructed the governor to ensure a 12-0 victory for the administration's 2007 senatorial candidates.
According to Unas, he accompanied Ampatuan to Malacañang for a dinner meeting with Arroyo a few days before the 2007 polls.
"When the President was about to exit from the hall as she was shaking hands with several participants, the President signaled Datu Andal to a cormer and I heard the President told Datu Andal, "Dapat 12-0 sa Maguindanao, kahit pa ayusin o palitan n'yo ang resulta," to which the Governor answered, "Opo, Ma'am."
["It should be 12-0 in Maguindanao even if it means that you need to fix or change the result," to which the Governor answered, "Yes, Ma'am."]
It was the second time during the same dinner meeting that Arroyo talked about the 12-0 victory for her candidates, according to Unas.
The first time Arroyo mentioned about it was when the then president was about to finish her speech. But there was no instruction to rig the results of the polls the first time she mentioned about the need for a 12-0 sweep.
Unas said that toward the end of Arroyo's speech, she strongly urged and directed all leaders present in the meeting to ensure a 12-0 victory for Team Unity senatorial bets.
"I remembered that towards the end of President Arroyo's speech, when she said: "Dapat 12-0 kayo sa inyong mga probinsiya, kailangan 12-0..."
Arroyo's camp dismissed Unas' testimony as hearsay.
"Does a person who said 'I overheard' have credibility? How close was he? He was just a foot away. That's not overhearing. Overhearing means that you are quite a distant far and you did not know who uttered the word," Arroyo's legal spokesperson Raul Lambino said.
The Comelec was supposed to present other witnesses against Arroyo, among them, Russam Mabang, former election officer of Pandag, Maguindanao, who was supposed to affirm that there was conspiracy in the alleged rigging of poll results in 2007.
However, Mabang backed out as a witness against the former president last month.
Earlier, Mabang claimed that that he had encoded tampered election documents submitted to former Maguindanao elections supervisor Lintang Bedol. - with Karl John C. Reyes