Sandiganbayan dismisses NBN-ZTE graft case vs Arroyos

Carolyn Bonquin, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 16 2016 06:47 PM | Updated as of Sep 17 2016 03:07 PM

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - The Sandiganbayan has dismissed the remaining NBN-ZTE deal graft case of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, and former Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos. 

The demurrers to evidence of the three accused were granted and the case dismissed by the anti-graft court. 

A demurrer to evidence is a motion to dismiss the case for lack of sufficient evidence to convict the accused. It urges the court to decide on the case halfway through the trial, based solely on the evidence submitted by the prosecution.

The Sandiganbayan said the prosecution failed to prove that the former President, who sought dismissal of the case, had personal interest on the allegedly anomalous National Broadband Network (NBN)-ZTE telecommunications deal.

The court said public bidding was not a requirement for the deal, noting that since the NBN project would have been financed by a foreign bank, therefore the government would have been bound by the bank’s requirements instead.

Further, since no public bidding was in line with the project, former president Arroyo did not have a personal interest in the project.

The court noted that Mrs. Arroyo’s decision to cancel the NBN project on October 2, 2007 proved she had no vested interest in the transaction.

“The failure of the prosecution to establish in evidence the irregularities, inequitableness or anomalies of the NBN-ZTE contract should have prompted them to establish in evidence the proof that accused PGMA had interest for personal gain in the said contract. But again, the prosecution did not bother to prove the same,” the Sandiganbayan decision read.

The Arroyo camp, in a press statement Friday, welcomed the Sandiganbayan decision.

"It's a well-reasoned decision," it said. "Former President Arroyo has been vindicated anew. She has always kept her faith in the judiciary and our courts have not failed to fearlessly render justice. Our courts have not allowed themselves to be swayed by public opinion or perception. They are bound by the evidence and the evidence alone."

Jose Miguel Arroyo's lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio, said the former first gentleman is jubilant over the decision.

"We have always maintained that the cases against the Arroyos are merely fabrications based on outright lies," he said. "This most recent in a series of acquittals is a vindication not just of the Arroyo Family, but of the justice system in this country." 

DEMURRER TO EVIDENCE

Based on the witnesses and pieces of evidence presented, the now Pampanga congresswoman said in her demurrer to evidence motion that the prosecution fell short in proving her guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

She cited the prosecutors' failure to present the original and complete NBN contract, as the document showed before the court lacked several attachments.

She added the contract was not evidence since it was cancelled on October 2, 2007, and none of the conditions set was fulfilled.

Prosecutors also allegedly failed to prove that she had personal interest in the contract and that she had knowledge of Abalos' supposed attempt to bribe then Economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri with P200 million for the immediate approval of the ZTE proposal, she said. 

Last May, Abalos was acquitted of graft in connection with the case.

The prosecution also allegedly failed to prove that the NBN contract was disadvantageous to the government, Arroyo argued.

She said a witness from NEDA testified that the contract was a reasonable investment. She also argued that the ZTE's 15-year re-payment period was less costly.

The prosecution, Arroyo said, also allegedly failed to prove the former president solicited a lunch or a golf game from ZTE. She added that the value of the supposed lunch and golf game from ZTE was insignificant to influence the deal.

"It is absurd to suggest that the fee for the golf game (and the lunch were) given in anticipation of or in exchange for the granting of a multi-billion peso project," her motion read.

Arroyo also saw nothing wrong in her presence in the signing of the NBN-ZTE contract.

"There is no such thing as an 'unnecessary presence' by the President of the Republic of the Philippines at a contract signing where one of the contracting parties is the Republic of the Philippines, especially when the contract involves a multi-billion national project and where the counter-party is a company owned by China, an important trading partner of the Philippines," she said. 

"President Benigno Aquino III himself has appeared at many such contract signings."

With a report from Carolyn Bonquin, ABS-CBN News