Ombudsman urged: Be fair in probing GMA plunder case


Posted at Jun 25 2010 01:08 PM | Updated as of Jun 25 2010 09:08 PM

MANILA, Philippines - An opposition lawmaker on Friday called on Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez to be fair in her assessment of a plunder case that his group will file against outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

In an interview, Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teddy Casiño said critics of President Arroyo have no choice but to go to the Office of the Ombudsman to file the plunder case despite perceptions that the present Ombudsman is biased for Arroyo.

"Our problem now is we have no other recourse but to go to the Ombudsman. We are just hoping na ngayong wala na ang kinakatigan niya sa pwesto, baka naman maging patas na siya," Casiño said in an interview on ABS-CBN's "Umagang Kay Ganda."

The lawmaker said militant groups led by Bayan Muna will file a plunder case against Mrs. Arroyo in connection with the government’s botched $329-million national broadband network (NBN) deal with Chinese firm ZTE Corp. He said that aside from plunder raps, the group will also sue Arroyo for violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Government Officials and Employees.

Businessman Joey de Venecia, a losing bidder in the NBN project, earlier revealed that the $329-million broadband contract was grossly overpriced. A Senate inquiry later showed that Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos lobbied for ZTE by offering Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri a P200 million bribe to approve the contract.

Neri said he reported the alleged bribe offer to Mrs. Arroyo but refused to reveal what the President told him, saying it was covered by executive privilege.

Both Neri and Abalos are facing graft charges before the Sandiganbayan in connection with the ZTE-NBN case.

Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez, who is a close ally of President Arroyo, meanwhile said he does not see how the President could be implicated in the case since she specifically ordered Neri not to accept the bribe.

He also urged incoming President Benigno Aquino III to focus first on keeping his campaign promises instead of prioritizing the investigation of Arroyo's corruption cases.

"For me, there's a great burden on Aquino's shoulders because he promised to improve the lives of the masses. It's a general statement that needs a lot of support. But if you start with an investigation, it will eat into the time of the government," he said.

Casiño said his group is also contemplating on filing other cases against Arroyo for her role in the fertilizer fund scam and the "Hello, Garci" wiretapping scam.

He said the filing of the cases is important to bring closure to numerous corruption scandals that were left unanswered during Arroyo's term.

"Justice has to be done. It's been elusive for the past 5 to 6 years. We've been told before that suing the President is impossible because she has immunity but we have to show that just because you're the president doesn't mean you can do wrong things and get away with it. As soon as her immunity lapses, she will face cases," he said.