(UPDATED) Former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has been cleared of any wrongdoing by the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the P900-million Malampaya fund scam.
In a statement Tuesday, the Ombudsman said the charges against Arroyo, the current House deputy speaker; former executive secretary Eduardo Ermita, and Dominador Sison Jr. and Nilda Baui of the agrarian reform department were dismissed because of "insufficiency of evidence."
"Complainants failed to prove that they conspired with their co-respondents in the illegal diversion of the P900-million Malampaya fund or that they deviated from the regular procedure," the Ombudsman said in a joint resolution.
But the Ombudsman found sufficient evidence to charge 25 others, including former agrarian reform secretary Nasser Pangandaman, former budget secretary Rolando Andaya Jr., undersecretary Mario Relampagos and Janet Lim Napoles, alleged pork barrel scam mastermind.
They are facing two counts of plunder and multiple charges of graft and malversation through falsification, along with undersecretary Narciso Nieto and director Teresita Panlilio; former Candaba mayor Rene Maglanque; Ruby Tuason, Jo Christine Napoles, James Christopher Napoles, Reynald Lim, Evelyn De Leon, Ronald Francisco Lim, Ronald John Lim, Eulogio Rodriguez, Simplicio Gumafelix, John Raymund De Asis, Rodrigo Galay, Alejandro Garro, Paquito Dinso Jr., Gerald Apuang, Napoleon Sibayan, Winnie Villanueva, Angelita Cacananta and Ronald Venancio.
The Ombudsman said the officials of the budget and agrarian reform departments conspired with non-government organization representatives in illegally disbursing P900 million in Malampaya funds in 2009.
The funds, meant for relief and rehabilitation efforts in the aftermath of typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009, were allegedly misused and coursed through NGOs controlled by Napoles, for which huge kickbacks were paid, it said.
It said Napoles forged signatures and wrote fake request letters for financial assistance and Villanueva, as manager of the Metrobank-Magdalena branch, facilitated the siphoning of funds.
Arroyo's lead legal counsel Ferdinand Topacio welcomed the decision, which he said was an affirmation of "everything we have been saying all along: that the cases against Mrs. Arroyo are mere political noisemaking."
Topacio also slammed Arroyo's critics, including media organizations "whose sole purpose…is to ruin her character," according to him.
Earlier this year, Arroyo was ordered released by the Supreme Court, after it granted her plea for demurrer to evidence on a plunder case she is facing for the allegedly questionable release of P366 million in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) intelligence funds in her last two years as president.
The grant of the demurrer plea amounted to an acquittal, because she may not be charged for the same offense due to the principle of "double jeopardy." — With reports from Carolyn Bonquin