Gloria Arroyo home for Christmas

Gloria Arroyo home for Christmas

For the first time since she was placed under hospital arrest more than two years ago for alleged plunder of charity funds, former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will be home for Christmas-a miracle holiday courtesy of Pope Francis.

The Sandiganbayan on Monday granted Arroyo's petition to spend Christmas with her family at their posh Quezon City home, citing next month's scheduled visit of the beloved Catholic Church leader as a reason for giving her a furlough.

In a three-page order, the antigraft court's First Division allowed the 67-year-old Arroyo, to be with her family from Dec. 23 to Dec. 26, at No. 14 Badjao Street, their residence, at La Vista subdivision in Quezon City.

The Philippine National Police was directed to coordinate with the court sheriff in providing security for Arroyo from her detention room at Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC), also in Quezon City, to her residence.

This was the first time the former President was given a Christmas furlough by the court since she was detained at the VMMC in October 2012 for plunder in connection with the alleged misuse of P300 million in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office funds.

Once known as the "Iron Lady of Asia" for her administration's strong stance on governance issues, Arroyo had originally asked the court's permission to be with her family for 12 days, citing, among reasons, her failing health.

Pope visit

"After a serious deliberation… and in light of the forthcoming visit of His Holiness Pope Francis, who is the personification of mercy and compassion… the court is inclined to partially grant the motion by allowing her to celebrate Christmas with her family," the court said in its resolution.

The decision was penned by Associate Justice Rodolfo Ponferrada, who was appointed by Arroyo to the antigraft court on Aug. 23, 2004. He previously voted to grant Arroyo's petition for bail.

In approving her motion for a holiday furlough, Ponferrada reiterated his earlier opinion that "there is no strong evidence that ill-gotten wealth was amassed, accumulated or acquired by any of the accused as in fact the existence of such ill-gotten wealth was not clearly established."

Associate Justices Rafael Lagos and Alex Quiroz concurred with Ponferrada's decision.

Humanitarian grounds

In a handwritten note beside his signature, Lagos wrote: "My concurrence is based only on humanitarian and compassionate grounds."

Besides barring Arroyo from giving interviews to the media during her furlough, the court also prohibited her from going to other places without its permission.

She was likewise ordered by the court to shoulder all the expenses of her security detail, who were given the task to supervise and control Arroyo's use of mobile phones and other communication devices.

Ferdinand Topacio, the Arroyo family's counsel, said the former President and her family were "grateful to the court for showing compassion and partially granting furlough on humanitarian grounds."

In a statement, the lawyer said the rare opportunity would be "a time for healing and prayer, and thanksgiving and hope" for Arroyo and her loved ones.

"The court's decision is wholly consistent with justice. We must emphasise, if only to put things in context, that former President Arroyo continues to enjoy the presumption of innocence as there is no judgment to date finding her guilty of any crime," Topacio said.

Surprise decision

Another Arroyo lawyer, Modesto Ticman Jr., told reporters the court's decision was "more than enough to make the former President happy."

"I think the court has shown compassion and magnanimity to the current plight of the former President," Ticman said.

"That would somehow assuage the sad feelings of the former President for the loss of her grandson Jugo, knowing that her other grandchildren would be with her during the Christmas season," he added, referring to Arroyo's late grandson by her only daughter, Luli Arroyo-Bernas.

The 13-month-old Jorge Alonzo "Jugo" Bernas died of congenital heart disease last month. The court had allowed Arroyo to visit the wake of her grandson and attend his burial.

Ticman admitted that he was surprised that the court noted the Pope's upcoming trip to the Philippines, the only Catholic nation in Asia, in granting Arroyo's motion.

He said Arroyo, who had filed a demurrer for the court to junk the plunder case against her for lack of sufficient evidence, would surely attend one of the Pope's activities if her petition "for demurrer of evidence is granted."

The much anticipated papal visit on Jan. 15-19, 2015, is also expected to ease the public bickering among the country's political leaders.

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