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National

6th plunder charge filed against Gloria Arroyo

InterAksyon.com
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE 2 - 3:43 p.m.) A sixth plunder case was filed Thursday against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, this time over the allegedly graft-ridden $329-million National Broadband Network deal with China’s ZTE Corp.

Also named respondents in the case filed by Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casino, former Gabriela Representative Liza Maza and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan chair Carol Araullo are Arroyo’s huband, Jose Miguel, former Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. and former transportation secretary Leandro Mendoza.

The complaint is the first plunder case filed against Arroyo since Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, assumed office.

Casino said, “Ombudsman Carpio-Morales herself administered the oath and received the complaint docketed as CPL-C-11-2013. "

(Click here to read the full complaint)

The couple immediately belittled the complaint and said their accusers were merely seeking “media mileage.”

“Complainants hope that with the appointment of the new Ombudsman, this particular complaint, among other complaints filed against the officials of the former administration for their involvement in graft and corruption, election fraud and human rights abuses, will be seriously and genuinely investigated and the perpetrators of such a large scale fraud will be expeditiously and seriously prosecuted,” the complainants said.

Arroyo, who now represents the second district of Pampanga, is still recuperating from three operations to treat her damaged cervical spine.

She and the other respondents are accused of violating Republic Act 7080 or the Plunder Law, Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, the Revised Penal Code, and Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

The complaint is mainly based on records of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee investigation into the NBN deal.

The former president’s spokesman, lawyer Raul Lambino, said in a text message that "the NBN ZTE contract was cancelled by GMA and there was no damage incurred by the government in that aborted transaction. Again, this is another political grandstanding by (her accusers) to keep on persecuting the Arroyos in media to advance their respective agendas."

In a separate statement, Mike Arroyo echoed Lambino’s observation and said those who filed the case did so “all in the name of media mileage.”

He also reminded their accusers that he and his wife “have already been cleared of the same chargers being filed now,” both by the Office of the Ombudsman, then headed by his classmate Merceditas Gutierrez, who resigned earlier this year before she could be subjected to an impeachment trial by the Senate.

“Without a doubt, these leftist groups are doing this not so much to seek justice as they so claim but solely for publicity because they know this case will not prosper,” Arroyo, himself a lawyer, said.

But Casino said, “Even if the contract was eventually cancelled due to its anomalies, the fact is that money already changed hands."

He claimed that the Arroyo couple received the money "in exchange for the approval and signing of the contract."

"The crime of plunder does not presume that the wealth amassed is public funds. It is enough that the money is amassed illegally by taking undue advantage of one's official position, authority, relationship, connection or influence,” he added.

The Arroyo couple, the complaint said, “amassed, accumulated and acquired ill-gotten wealth in the aggregate amount or total value of more than Fifty million pesos (P50,000,000.00) or in this case, at least US$35 Million, which she received as commission or kickbacks from ZTE.”

This was attested to by ZTE consultant Dante Madriaga during the Senate investigation, the complaint said.

“Gloria Arroyo cannot deny the existence of the NBN-ZTE contract because she was the one who granted DOTC Secretary Mendoza full powers to sign the same with ZTE Corporation. Malacañang even bragged about the signing of said contract in its Official News Release (Release No. 5) issued by the Presidential News Desk/Office of the Press Secretary on 21 April 2007. Gloria Arroyo also personally witnessed and attended the signing of said contract at Boao, China,” the complaint pointed out.

“The fact that Gloria Arroyo allegedly suspended the implementation of the contract and eventually cancelled the same is of no moment since the said contract was already perfected from the time DOTC Secretary Mendoza signed it in behalf of the President.”

“With the receipt of said amount US$35 Million, Gloria Arroyo surely enriched herself at the expense and to the damage and prejudice of the Filipino people and the Republic of the Philippines. Thus, she should be charged and prosecuted for the crime of plunder,” the complainants said.

The NBN contract called for the installation of a telecommunications network linking government offices throughout the country.

According to revelations made during the Senate probe, the deal was allegedly overpriced by about $130 million to cover commissions.

In September 2007, Jose de Venecia III, son of the then Speaker of the House and cofounder of Amsterdam Holdings Inc., which lost in the bidding for the NBN contract, testified before the Senate that then Mike Arroyo intervened to have the deal go to ZTE.

Mike Arroyo has denied this.

De Venecia also claimed that Abalos appeared to have brokered the deal as the former Comelec chairman allegedly offered him $10 million in December 2006 to back off from the project.

Then National Economic Development Authority head Romulo Neri, said Abalos offered him P200 million to approve the NBN contract.

And in February 2008, Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada, Neri’s consultant in the project, told the Senate that Arroyo and her husband were the “masterminds” of the deal with ZTE and that Abalos stood to gain a hefty commission.

Abalos resigned from the poll body at the height of the NBN scandal.

Just as the Senate began its investigation into the NBN deal, Arroyo cancelled the contract.

A case had been filed earlier against Arroyo before the Office of the Ombudsman over the NBN deal, but this was dropped in 2009 because she still enjoyed immunity from suit as president at the time.

The NBN-ZTE deal was also used to file two impeachment charges against Arroyo, but both were killed in the House of Representatives, overwhelmingly dominated by her allies at the time.

The other plunder cases filed against the former president thus far are by tax whistleblower Danilo Lihaylihay for her alleged failure to remit the P72-million capital gains tax from the sale of the old Iloilo City airport to property giant Megaworld; by former solicitor general Frank Chavez for the diversion of P550 million in funds kept by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to Philhealth during the 2004 presidential campaign; another case by Chavez over the so-called fertilizer fund scam, which involved the alleged diversion of more than P730 million in government money to Arroyo’s 2004 campaign; by Bayan Muna for the alleged misuse of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office funds; and, by the Akbayan party-list, also over the PCSO funds. (with a report from Jaime Sinapit, InterAksyon.com and Fiona Nicolas, TV5)

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