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MANILA, Philippines – The Sandiganbayan on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012, issued a hold-departure-order against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, her husband Jose Miguel, former election chief Benjamin Abalos Sr. and ex-Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza.
The anti-graft court’s fourth division order was made following a graft case filed against them by the Ombudsman on Dec. 28, 2011 in connection with the botched NBN-ZTE deal.
The former president and Abalos were already issued HDOs in a previous election case filed against them by the Commission on Elections before a Pasay court.
The Department of Justice previously lifted its HDO on Mr. Arroyo. But Monday’s order by the Sandiganbayan now bars him from traveling abroad.
The Office of the Ombudsman earlier asked that the case be raffled Thursday, Dec. 29, but Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Francisco Villaruz turned down the request, setting it to January 2, 2012.
On January 2, the case was raffled to Sandiganbayan Justice Gregory Ong, a controversial appointee of former President Arroyo.
The cases were based on plunder charges earlier filed before the Ombudsman by Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño, former Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Liza Maza and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) chairperson Carol Araullo.
The court gave the Bueau of Immigration 15 days to submit a written compliance to its directive.
However, the graft court held in abeyance the judicial determination of probable cause which would have been the basis for the issuance of arrest warrants against the defendants.
It declared that preliminary investigation into the case was incomplete because the case was filed on the same day that Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales approved the recommendation of indictment by the panel of investigators.
It noted that under the rules, the respondents should have been allowed five days to file their motions for reconsideration to the adverse ruling and the said motions should have been resolved first before the information were submitted to the court.
“Without a full and complete preliminary investigation, which includes the right (of the respondents) to file such motion for reconsideration/reinvestigation, the filing of these cases before the Sandiganbayan would be premature,” the court added.
The three-page ruling was signed by Associate Justices Jose R. Hernandez, Ma. Cristina J. Cornejo and Gregory S. Ong, division chairman.
“Wherefore, inasmuch as the accused were apparently not afforded the opportunity to file a motion for reconsideration/reinvestigation…within the period allowed by the rules and these cases were apparently filed in court waiting for such period to expire, the prosecution service shall afford accused the opportunity to file their motion for reconsideration/reinvestigation…,” the Sandiganbayan said.
In the case of Mendoza who has already filed his motion for reconsideration on Monday, the Ombudsman was given 15 days to submit its resolution to the court.
On the other hand, the court gave the anti-graft body 30 days to evaluate and issue a ruling on the MRs of the Arroyos and Abalos.
Former president and now Pampanga Rep. Arroyo, already in detention at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) over a non-bailable case of electoral sabotage, was named in two counts of graft and a case for violation of RA 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees in connection with allegations having unlawful interests in the scrapped $329 million proposal of ZTE Corp. to implement the national broadband network project.
Mr. Arroyo, Abalos and Mendoza were named co-accused in one count of graft.
An informant said the Office of the Special Prosecutor has yet to assign the cases to a specific prosecution panel in light of uncertainty about the next move of Ombudsman Morales.
This came about after Morales’ staff filed the case directly to the Sandiganbayan docket last December 28, bypassing the Records Section of the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP).
“We have no idea if the case will be handled by the OSP or if the Ombudsman will create a new panel from the Central Office to prosecute these cases. There has been no word from the Ombudsman,” said the source who declined to be named. – Rappler.com