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‘Evidence vs GMA not enough for plunder’

The Office of the Ombudsman says more evidence is needed to charge GMA with plunder over the NBN-ZTE deal

MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the Ombudsman said there is insufficient evidence to charge former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo with plunder over the botched NBN-ZTE deal. Assistant Ombudsman Asryman Rafanan said the evidence presented for plunder so far is mere hearsay.

“The panel weighed the evidence and saw no evidence to prove there was a series or combination of acts to link them (respondents) to accumulation of wealth with the amount required under the charge of plunder,” Rafanan told Rappler in a phone interview.

Instead of plunder, the Ombudsman charged Arroyo with graft before the Sandiganbayan on Wednesday, Dec. 28. Unlike plunder, graft is a bailable offense. 

Also charged with graft were her husband, lawyer Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, former Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr., and former Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza. 

Bail has been set at P70,000 for former President Arroyo, and total of P30,000 for all her co-accused.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales approved the filing of the case on Wednesday, Dec. 28, after reviewing the report of a five-member investigating panel. The panel investigated the plunder complaint filed by Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño, former Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Chairperson Carol Araullo.

Rafanan said, though, Arroyo can still be charged with plunder. “If further evidence will surface to charge the respondents with plunder, another investigation will be necessary. That is possible but it will entail another investigation.”

Casiño told Rappler on Wednesday that efforts to establish a plunder case should not stop. He believes that there is enough evidence to prove plunder, citing the testimony of witness Dante Madriaga. Madriaga told the Senate that the former first family received at least US$20-million in exchange for approving the contract.

The National Broadband Network deal with China’s ZTE Corporation aimed to connect government offices through a broadband network. Allegations of bribery and overpricing, however, led to the project’s cancellation.  

Three offenses

In a statement, the Office of the Ombudsman said Arroyo was charged for committing three violations:

1) Section 3(g) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act

– for entering, on behalf of the government, into a contract or transaction disadvantageous to the state 

2) Section 3(i) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act

– for taking an interest, for personal gain, in an irregular or unlawful government transaction that requires her approval 

3) Section 7(d) of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees

– for soliciting or accepting anything of monetary value from any person in connection with any operation or transaction which may be affected by the functions of her office

Mike Arroyo, Abalos and Mendoza were charged with having conspired with former President Arroyo in committing the first offense listed above.

Rafanan said the Office of the Ombudsman already furnished the parties a copy of the complaint. The Arroyo camp has yet to issue a statement while the Palace welcomed the filing of the charges.

The Sandiganbayan will raffle off the case on January 2. – Rappler.com