MANILA, Philippines - The Sandiganbayan entered yesterday a not guilty plea for former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on plunder charges in connection with the alleged misuse of P365.9 million in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds.
Arroyo, wearing a pink shawl over a light pink dress, a pair of white patent wedge shoes and a neck brace, arrived in court in a wheelchair, smiling for photographers. She had two spinal operations more than a year ago.
She presented herself before the Sandiganbayan but refused to enter a plea in the plunder case filed against her by the Office of the Ombudsman.

If found guilty, she could face a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Facing justices of the anti-graft court’s First Division, Arroyo sat quietly as the criminal case against her was read. She was asked if she understood what was read, and then asked to respond to the allegations.
Arroyo’s lead counsel Anacleto Diaz spoke on her behalf, explaining that because of a petition they filed with the Supreme Court last week, seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the case, his client would not enter a plea.
The Sandiganbayan, pursuant to the rules, entered a not guilty plea for the former president, who is accused of involvement in the alleged misuse of P365.9 million in PCSO confidential and intelligence funds from 2008 to 2010 during the last years of her presidency.
Arroyo’s co-accused in the PCSO plunder case include former PCSO chairman Sergio Valencia, former PCSO vice chairman/general manager Rosario Uriarte, members of the PCSO Board of Directors Manuel Morato, Jose Taruc V, Raymundo Roquero, and Ma. Fatima Valdes, former PCSO budgets and accounts manager Benigno Aguas, former COA chairman Reynaldo Villar, and former head of COA’s Intelligence/Confidential Fund Audit Unit Nilda Plaras Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz, chairman of the First Division, after allowing Arroyo to return to her seat, scheduled the preliminary conference of the case on Dec. 3, 2012 and the pre-trial on Feb. 14 next year.
Arroyo’s husband Jose Miguel Arroyo and their children Mikey, Dato, and Luli accompanied her in the courtroom but refused to give interviews after the hearing.
Doctors and nurses from the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) where Arroyo is under hospital arrest sat behind her.
“We are all here, family, friends, lawyers, as a show of support,” said Ferdinand Topacio, one of Arroyo’s lawyers.
“We want to show her that we are here for her. Sila ay nagdadalamhati sapagakat may sakit na nga yung tao nakukuha pang tustahin at alipustahin ng kasalukuyang pangulo (They are commiserating because one who is sick is being persecuted by the present president),” he told reporters.
Topacio said the fact that Arroyo was granted bail in the separate electoral sabotage case filed against her before the Pasay City Regional Trial Court (RTC) shows that evidence against her is weak and they believe that the same is true for the plunder charge.
He said they are hoping that the Supreme Court will rule in their favor regarding the petition for a TRO.
On Arroyo’s decision not to enter a plea for the time being, Topacio said “it is the right of the accused not to enter a plea, that is in accordance with the rules of court.”
“We do not recognize the court’s (Sandiganbayan) jurisdiction over this case,” Raul Lambino, a lawyer and spokesman for the former president, said.
“She is sad over this case,” he said, adding that Arroyo has a petition before the Supreme Court questioning the validity of the case and the court’s jurisdiction to hear it.
Members of the group Karapatan staged a rally outside the Sandiganbayan to express support for the former president and ask for fair treatment.
The police guarded them to prevent the rallyists from disrupting traffic in the area and becoming unruly, considering the tight security being implemented by the Quezon City Police District (QCPD).
Even media were restricted and television cameramen and photographers were not allowed to enter the building until after Arroyo left.
GMA wants to visit parents’ graves
Meanwhile, Arroyo’s lawyers asked the Sandiganbayan to allow her to visit her parents’ graves at the Libingan ng mga Bayani on All Saint’s Day on Thursday.
In a four-page motion filed shortly after the arraignment and after Ombudsman prosecutors presented their first witness for the bail hearings of three other respondents to the plunder charge, the former president said Nov. 1 would also be her mother’s 97th birthday.
“Accused Arroyo intends to visit the tomb of her deceased parents, President Diosdado P. Macapagal and Dra. Evangelina M. Macapagal, at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City on 1 November 2012,” her pleading read.
Arroyo said she would comply with such terms and conditions that the Sandiganbayan may require in granting her urgent request for authority to travel and visit the tomb of her parents.
Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes said that Pampanga Rep. Arroyo should be permitted to pay her respects to her deceased parents.
Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos, known to be close to the former president, said, “Why not? If President Aquino has a Christian heart.”
MalacaƱang welcomed the arraignment of Arroyo on plunder charges, which will pave the way for the trial to start at the Sandiganbayan.
Lacierda said that Arroyo is now under the jurisdiction of the anti-graft court, most especially since it was the justices who made a plea of not guilty on her behalf, owing to her refusal to make any plea.
“Under criminal procedure, if an accused refuses to enter a plea… it is considered as a not guilty plea. So, at the very least, the former president has already been arraigned and the court has acquired jurisdiction over her person,” he said. With Delon Porcalla, Edu Punay, Evelyn Macairan, Paolo Romero, AP

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