“The Ombudsman, being an investigative and prosecutorial body, should take a pro-active role in the investigation of this case, rather than be a mere passive repository of evidence.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — Complainants were not satisfied with the Ombudsman’s filing of a graft case against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in connection with the aborted national broadband network (NBN) deal with ZTE of China.
In a motion for reconsideration filed before the Ombudsman Jan. 10, Carol Araullo, chairwoman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño and Liza Maza, vice president of Makabayan coalition, said there is sufficient evidence to prove that Arroyo and the other respondents committed plunder, a non-bailable offense.
In a resolution issued Dec. 23, the Ombudsman dismissed the plunder case and filed only two counts of graft and corruption, citing insufficiency of evidence.
The original complaint filed by Araullo, Casiño and Maza includes plunder, four counts of graft and corruption and violation of Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials against Arroyo, former Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos and former Secretary of Transportation and Communication Leandro Mendoza. Separate charges were filed against Arroyo’s husband Jose Miguel Arroyo as conspirator in plunder and graft and corruption and provisions on prohibition on private individuals and prohibition on certain relatives as stated in the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
“We totally disagree with the Ombudsman’s position that the witnesses cannot tend to prove that money changed hands,” Casiño said, citing the testimony of witness Dante Madriaga who testified that Arroyo received kickbacks from ZTE during the signing of the contract. Arroyo herself confirmed to Madriaga the delivery of the $30 million, Casiño said.
The $329-million NBN deal with China’s ZTE Corp is overpriced by $199 million and the alleged kickbacks pocketed by the respondents amounted to $110 million. The Arroyo administration scrapped the deal in 2007 amid allegations of overpricing and bribery.
Arroyo is now detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center for charges of electoral sabotage.
In their motion, the complainants also argued that Jose Miguel Arroyo, Abalos and Mendoza should also be charged with plunder because all of them conspired with Arroyo in having the NBN-ZTE contract signed.
“All of them had their own respective participation, which contributed and led to the signing of the contract and allowed GMA [Arroyo’s initials] to receive the $30 million kickback from ZTE. Thus, they should likewise be charged with plunder like GMA,” they said.
Casiño said they had hoped the Ombudsman did not solely rely on the evidence presented by the complainants and instead should have exercised its power to investigate to strengthen the case against the respondents.
In their motion, the complainants said the Ombudsman could have looked into the statement of assets and liabilities and net worth submitted to the Ombudsman by Gloria Arroyo and the other respondents, and could have interviewed other possible witnesses by issuing subpoenas to further establish the crime of plunder against Arroyo and other respondents.
“[t]he Ombudsman, being an investigative and prosecutorial body, should take a pro-active role in the investigation of this case, rather than be a mere passive repository of evidence …” they argued.
The complainants also pointed out that even as the contract was cancelled in October 2007, the government and the Filipino people still suffered undue injury arising from the contract.
“The logic is simple: government embarked on the NBN project because of its specific and quantifiable benefits, including cost benefits and savings, and the said project has not been implemented as a result of the criminal actions of respondents. Respondents were charged with entering into a contract disadvantageous to the government. Such act is certainly injurious to the government and the Filipino people. And such injuries resulting from the non implementation of the NBN project is not only specific but is also quantifiable and could be proven with moral certainty,” they said.
The direct injuries suffered were due to the corruption involved in entering into a contract disadvantageous to the government, the complainants said. The contract price in the ZTE contract is $329 million, whereas the unsolicited proposal of Amsterdam Holdings, Inc. (AHI) would only cost $240 million. The ZTE contract would also cover only 30 percent of the country, whereas the unsolicited proposal of AHI would already cover about 80 percent of the country.
Fr. Joe Dizon, convenor of the Gloria Panagutin! Movement, expressed disappointment that the offenses were downgraded.
Gloria Panagutin! Movement is a recently formed alliance seeking to prosecute Arroyo for the crimes she committed against the Filipino people during her nine-year term.
“Personally, this is my pain. How determined is the Aquino administration in holding Gloria Arroyo accountable for the bigger crimes?” Dizon told Bulatlat.com. He said the Aquino administration should do its part in strengthening cases against Arroyo and not to downgrade the charges.
“We hope that our motion for reconsideration would be granted by the Ombudsman so that GMA and her cohorts would be punished to the full extent of their sins against the people on this case. If granted, this will also serve as a good precedent on the other cases to be filed against her,” Casiño said.