Saying the scandal is already "well-documented" in the Senate, the complainants see no need to wait for a truth commission.
A day after she stepped out of Malacanang (presidential palace), former Philippine president Gloria Arroyo got hit by a ton of bricks, in the department of justice (DoJ).
The former president, who is now a congresswoman of Pampanga province, was the subject of a 12-page complaint filed by representatives of the party-list group Bayan Muna (Country First) Thursday (July 1) at the DoJ in connection with the aborted $329-million NBN-ZTE deal during her term. Asked why they filed the case at the DoJ and not the Ombudsman, Rep. Teodoro Casino replied, "We want the DoJ to do the case buildup. What we don't want to happen is to give everything to the Ombudsman because basically, we don't have faith anymore in the Ombudsman, that we could get justice there."
Casino was referring to the Ombudsman's decision last August not to include Arroyo in the case because she then enjoyed presidential immunity. Only Social Security System president Romulo Neri and resigned Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos Sr. were charged by the Ombudsman.
The complaint filed by Casino and fellow Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares said Arroyo violated Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act of 1960, RA 6713 or the 1989 Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, RA 9184 or the Government Procurement Act of 2003, and provisions of the Revised Penal Code such as those pertaining to qualified bribery and obstruction of justice.
Leave no stones unturned
Casino said it would be up to the DoJ to endorse the case to the Ombudsman, which in turn would decide if it should go to the Sandiganbayan. Colmenares said the DoJ and the Ombudsman have an agreement on this procedure.
"We believe that the DoJ's extensive investigative powers can be harnessed to ensure an impartial and thoroughgoing investigation, leaving no stones unturned, in order for a successful prosecution to be pursued," Casino said.
The two lawmakers said they disagreed with the Ombudsman's theory that Arroyo had absolute immunity when she was president. They said Arroyo's immunity did not extend to the acts not related to her official functions as president. If she were immune from lawsuit, they added, then she is "certainly" not immune from investigation.
"The dismissal of the criminal complaint against Arroyo by the Ombudsman on the ground of immunity shows the lack of intention to seriously investigate her and was without legal basis," the two said in their complaint.
Their accusations against Arroyo were culled mainly from the report of the Senate investigation into the National Broadband Network (NBN) project with China's ZTE Corp. to wire the country's bureaucracy electronically.
Litany of alleged crimes
Casno and Colmenares said Arroyo violated Section 3 of RA 3019 when she:
- Ordered or at the very least induced Neri and other public officials to approve the ZTE contract despite the circumstances of bribery and other irregularities affecting it.
- Received material benefits from the ZTE contract when she played golf at the ZTE headquarters and other material consideration.
- Was very partial to the ZTE as shown by the grant of privileges to it, the invitation of ZTE officials to attend a Cabinet meeting, among others.
- Neglected to investigate the irregularities involved in the ZTE contract and even pursued it so it may be consummated.
- Executed the ZTE contract despite knowledge that overpricing and irregularities attended it.
- Had interest for personal gain in the NBN contract since she caused its approval and awarding to ZTE despite the controversies.
Arroyo, the lawmakers said, was also liable for violations of the penal code:
- Article 211-A, for qualified bribery, when she refrained from arresting or prosecuting all those involved in corrupt acts in connection with the NBN project in exchange for some offer, promise or gift;
- Article 212, for corruption of public officials.
- Article 213, for entering into the ZTE contract to "defraud" the Philippine government.
- Article 216, for possession of prohibited interest by public officers, for allegedly entering into the contract despite her and her husband's material interests therein.
No need for commission
The two lawmakers said the case should also be considered administrative in nature so she could be suspended as lawmaker and even have her retirement pay withheld.
They added that the DoJ should also determine the liability, if any, of other people involved in the contract, such as former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, former Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza, Department of Transportation and Communications officials and ZTE executives.
Casino said he and Colmenares would not wait for President Benigno Aquino III's formal creation of a truth commission to be headed by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. to investigate the anomalies of the Arroyo administration.
"The NBN-ZTE case is well-documented and there are lots of testimonies. It doesn't need to wait for the truth commission, which should focus on things such as extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations," he said.
"This will be a test case, the first of many steps to the filing of plunder against Arroyo after we consolidated all other complaints such as the fertilizer fund scam, Hello Garci scandal, the PhilHealth cards vote-buying spree and the Venable contract," Casino said.
In a press conference, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda Thursday said that the truth commission would neither be a witch-hunt nor "an act of vengeance."
He pointed out that the commission was necessary because all efforts to unlock the truth in the NBN-ZTE deal, fertilizer scam and "Hello Garci" scandal were thwarted by the moves of Arroyo and high government officials.
With access to these documents, Lacierda said it would not be difficult to prosecute Arroyo especially if there was enough evidence. With a report from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.
- Philippines Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network