Arroyo pleads not guilty to poll fraud-A A +A
Thursday, February 23, 2012
MANILA (Updated 8:58 a.m.) -- Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo entered Thursday a not guilty plea on the poll sabotage charge filed against her in connection with the alleged fraud in the 2007 senatorial elections.
Accompanied by lawyers, Arroyo personally vouched for her innocence before Judge Jesus Mupas of the Pasay City Regional Trial Court branch 112 at 8:55 a.m.
It was an expected move from the incumbent Pampanga lawmaker, who has since debunked accusations that she conspired with local politicians to rig the senatorial election results in vote-rich Maguindanao province.
To recall, former Maguindanao administrator Norie Unas told the joint Department of Justice-Commission on Elections (Comelec) panel that he heard Arroyo ordering then Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. to ensure the win of administration bets in the province.
Electoral sabotage is a non-bailable offense and carries a life imprisonment term. Seen as a last-ditch effort to stop Arroyo from leaving the country to escape prosecution on other high crimes such as plunder, the case, however, took three months to reach the arraignment stage.
This developed after Arroyo's lawyers questioned what they said was the “undue haste” of the court in ordering her arrest last November 18 on the basis of a complaint filed by the Comelec. Mupas ruled against the motion last January 25 for lack of merit.
More than a dozen patrol cars from the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) escorted the convoy that brought Arroyo from the presidential suite of the state-run Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) to the Pasay City court.
Wearing a cream suit and a neck brace, Arroyo arrived 10 minutes late for the hearing scheduled at 8:30 a.m.
Mobbed by reporters, former First Gentleman Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo rued the alleged injustice done by the Aquino government to his wife.
"There is no case against her," he said.
For his part, lawyer Ferdinand Topacio said the Arroyo family was happy over the latest development in the case.
"They are happy that the case is now moving. This is the first step towards conviction," he said.
The pre-trial is set on April 19, which happens to be the 75th birthday of Arroyo's political nemesis and predecessor President Joseph Estrada.
Arroyo, 64, is suffering from hypoparathyroidism and bone mineral disorder, which reportedly made her bones weak and brittle.
Her health condition and security concern had convinced the court to hold the arraignment earlier than her fellow accused, Ampatuan and former election supervisor Lintang Bedol.
Ampatuan, who is also facing multiple murder charges in connection with the Maguindanao massacre in 2009, is detained at the Metro Manila District Jail (MMDJ) at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.
Bedol, on the other hand, is serving a sentence for contempt at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City. The two are set to be arraigned on March 19.
Earlier, militant groups and even the Comelec said that Arroyo should recuperate soon so that she can be transferred to a regular detention cell. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)