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July 22, 2016

What The Heck Is A Demurrer?

The Supreme Court (SC) of the Philippines has decided that Gloria Arroyo (GMA) be released and the charges against her dropped. Take note, the SC didn’t declare her as innocent. They didn’t have to. Why? Because we all have the constitutional presumption of innocence. Whether you opined that GMA is really guilty, that is, for all intents and purposes, still an opinion.

The SC granted the Demurrer to Evidence filed by GMA against the division of the Sandiganbayan that is hearing her case. What is a “demurrer”? By strict definition, the word means an objection that an opponent’s point is irrelevant or invalid. In legal procedure, a demurrer is actually a “Motion to Dismiss”. It is a type of pleading that asks the court to dismiss the case because the case wasn’t proven. For civil cases, a demurrer means that the plaintiff’s evidence was insufficient to prove the claim. For criminal cases, it is more specific. A demurrer in a criminal case means that the prosecution didn’t overcome the burden of disproving innocence.

To be more precise, the prosecution (the State) has the burden of proving the allegations in a criminal complaint. The evidence against the accused must be “solid” that it leaves no doubt as to the commission of the criminal act. The prosecution must convince the judge of the guilt beyond any reasonable doubt. Couple that with the presumption of innocence of the accused, a state prosecutor has to do double duty.

For the case of GMA, it is plunder. That crime (only made criminal by law post EDSA 1) occurs when a government official “earns” or “acquires” Php 50 Million or more while in office. I have not read the whole decision and opinions here were based on the news reports read. But looking at the crime, the Ombudsman had to prove that GMA “actually” received the P50M. If all she signed were the approving authority documents, then it was her duty or at least an official act. If that was a crime, then all the Secretaries of the budget department would be guilty of plunder.

Why is this remedy allowed by law? A person accused of a crime can actually spend time in jail even before being convicted. Picture this, an innocent man of meager income is accused of a crime and arrested by the police. He is locked up in a city jail. That accused has to present his innocence. How is he going to do that while in jail?

Whereas the prosecutor has all the resources of the state. He has the ear and the favor of the judges and the police. He can subpoena any piece of evidence from anyone. An accused in jail does not have the liberty of calling his lawyer anytime. And if the public defender is his lawyer, the hardships are multiplied.

In summation, the SC determined that the Ombudsman failed in its mandate to prove the guilt of GMA despite the hundreds of pieces of evidence. And it does mean that GMA is innocent because that is her constitutional presumption which has not been controverted.

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