MANILA, Philippines - The Office of the Ombudsman has cleared former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in a plunder case related to the Iloilo airport.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, in a 19-page resolution, said the case filed by "tax whistleblower" Danilo Lihaylihay against Arroyo and 5 others has no merit.
"The Resolution dated 20 January 2011 of the Office of the Prosecutor General is hereby approved. The charge of Plunder against respondents Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo , Albert G. Romulo, Eduardo R. Ermita, Margarito B. Teves, John Philip P. Sevilla and Andrew L. Tan is hereby dismissed," the Ombudsman's resolution said.
Carpio-Morales, Overall Deputy Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro, Preliminary Investigation Administrative Adjudication and Review Bureau (PARB) Director IV Mary Antonette Yalao and Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer 1 Francis Euston Acero signed the resolution.
"A cursory look at the allegations made by complainant Lihaylihay shows that he did not allege, much less present any evidence, that either respondent Arroyo, Romulo, Ermita, Teves or Sevilla acquired ill-gotten wealth in the manner described under Section 1(d) of the Anti-Plunder Law," the Ombudsman said.
Three elements are required for a plunder case. These are if the offender is a public official; the offender amassed ill-gotten wealth through a series of criminal acts, and the total value of the ill-gotten wealth is at least P50 million.
The Ombudsman said the law does not support Lihaylihay's claim that the acquisition of ill-gotten wealth was completed through a conspiracy between Arroyo, Romulo, Ermita, Teves and Sevilla, and Megaworld Corporation's Tan.
"At the end of the day, there is absolutely nothing on record that supports a finding that a public officer was the ultimate beneficiary of the sale of the Iloilo Airport," it added.
Lihaylihay claimed in his complaint that an alleged failure to assess, levy and collect the capital gains tax from the sale of the Iloilo Airport to Megaworld Corp. constitutes theft of public funds and should be considered plunder.
He also said Arroyo only issued Executive Order No. 360 to benefit Megaworld Corp., which he believes should not acquire lands of public domain.
The Ombudsman said Lihaylihay failed to establish a conspiracy among the respondents because they were only doing their job.
"Here the conspiracy of respondents Arroyo, Romulo, Ermita, Teves and Sevilla are shown by their participation in what are legal acts committed in the proper exercise of their public functions. Without more, these acts cannot stand for a finding of conspiracy," Morales said.
The Ombudsman also said Lihaylihay failed to show evidence regarding alleged fraud in the sale of the Iloilo airport.
"There is no showing that the procedure taken by the national government in the disposition of the Iloilo airport did not follow that which is laid down in law for the disposition of property owned by the government, or that the property in question is not patrimonial property of the government that may be alienated to private corporations," Carpio-Morales said.
Executive Orders 282 and 360 "more than satisfy the requirement and as such the property of the Iloilo Airport was properly classified as patrimonial property of the government that may be alienated to private corporations and that purchase of the same by Megaworld Corp. shows no taint of irregularity," she added.
The Ombudsman also junked Lihaylihay's claim that the Iloilo airport deal was subject to capital gains tax.