Supreme Court (File photo)

MANILA – The Supreme Court (SC) cleared former First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo of criminal charges arising from the purchase by the Philippine National Police (PNP) of three helicopters in 2009 for PHP105 million.

In its resolution uploaded online on Sunday, the SC granted the motion for reconsideration filed by Arroyo and ordered the Sandiganbayan to drop the husband of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from the information filed in the criminal case "at any stage of the proceedings,".

The Dec. 1, 2021 resolution reconsidered a January 2020 decision which dismissed Arroyo's petition.

The court said "the element of conspiracy with a public officer was not established" and said the intervention of the SC is "necessary for the orderly administration of justice or to avoid oppression".

"(T)he court finds that the OMB (Office of the Ombudsman) has grossly misappreciated the attendant and clear facts in a manner that is tantamount to grave abuse of discretion," the resolution read.

Arroyo had claimed that the Ombudsman failed to distinguish him from Lourdes T. Arroyo Inc. (LTA Inc.) which had originally had a hand in financing the purchase of the helicopters.

He argued that at the time of the transactions, he had already divested from LTA (in 2001) and resumed interest only in 2010 after repurchasing shares.

Arroyo claimed that the documentary evidence he provided of the helicopters' true ownership and his divestment from LTA should have been given more weight by investigators instead of the sworn statement of Lionair Inc. and Asian Spirit Inc. owner Archibald Po.

Po told a Senate inquiry that Arroyo had personally approached him for the purchase of Robinson R44 helicopters.

The helicopters were eventually bought by the PNP from the Manila Aerospace Products Trading Corp.

LTA Inc. transacted with Po for the advance of funds so Po's LionAir could acquire the aircraft from the manufacturer.

Po's Lionair was the registered owner of the helicopters and were also on the applications of export certificate of airworthiness issued and authenticated by the United States Federal Aviation Administration, listing the firm as the purchaser.

Invoices issued by the manufacturer as well as the certificates of registration by the Air Transportation Office also listed Lionair as the owner.

In finding probable cause, the Ombudsman was not convinced that Arroyo had already divested himself of any interest in LTA Inc. before the procurement.

The SC said "conspiracy between the public officers and Arroyo has not been proven by any connection to achieve even the low threshold of probable cause", adding that "even if the unverified statements of the prosecution’s witnesses are admitted, these still fail to show how Arroyo connived with any public officer".

The court also said the Ombudsman did not violate Arroyo’s right to a speedy disposition of the case.

While the case had been pending for almost a decade now from the date (May 30, 2012) the information against Arroyo was filed, there is no proof to show that the period was characterized by vexatious, capricious or oppressive delays amounting to a violation of his right to speedy disposition of the case against him. It must be highlighted that the administrative and criminal aspects of the subject procurement involved approximately 33 respondents, the SC said. (PNA)