Palace: Probe into P1M dinner waste of time

by Carmela Fonbuena, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak

Posted at Aug 12 2009 06:18 PM | Updated as of Aug 13 2009 04:11 AM

MANILA - Malacañang has dismissed as a waste of time the filing of a letter of complaint asking the Ombudsman to investigate the alleged P1 million dinner of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her entourage at the upscale Le Cirque restaurant in New York during her recent US trip.

In response to the letter filed by Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello on Wednesday, Romulo Macalintal, a legal counsel of President Arroyo, said the request is just a waste of time since the president is immune from suit during her six-year term.

Macalintal called the filing of the letter of complaint a political gimmick that will lead to nowhere.

But Bello, in an interview with abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak, said they filed the letter because they want to put it on record that President Arroyo may have committed graft, and that their request could be pursued after the end of the president's term.

"It's our responsibility as public officials to put on record that we filed a complaint. Whether or not she [Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez] will move on is another question,” he said.

Ombudsman's inaction

A close ally of the First Couple, Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez was previously presidential legal counsel. She was also a batchmate of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo at the Ateneo Law School.  

An impeachment case against Gutierrez is pending before the House committee on justice. She is accused of "inaction, mishandling, or downright dismissal" of high-profile cases involving President Arroyo.  

“I am respectfully calling on your office to exercise its constitutional function to 'investigate on its own, or own complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public official x x x when such act x x x appears to be illegal, unjust, improper or inefficient',” Bello said in the two-page letter.

“At any rate, the concerned officials should be made to explain why such an extravagant expense was incurred in the first place, who the public officials present were, and where the funds used came from,” Bello said.

Possible violations

Bello cited some of the possible violations the President may have committed for joining the lavish dinner.

Even if the dinner was not paid for with public funds, Bello said the President may have violated Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

He cited Section 4(h) of the law which states that “public officials shall lead modest lives appropriate to their positions and income” and that “they shall not engage in extravagant or ostentatious displays of wealth.”

“In no way can such a level of expenditure be characterized as modest,” Bello said in his letter.

If Malacañang's claim that it was Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez who paid for the dinner is true, Bello said this may also be considered “bribery." 

“The incident may nonetheless fall under Article 211 of the Revised Penal Code (Indirect Bribery) and PD 46, both of which penalize public officers who receive gifts that are given by reason of their official position, as well as the persons who give such gifts. PD 46 expressly includes in the prohibition the throwing of parties or entertainments in honor of the official or of her immediate relatives,” the letter said.

Bello said the complaint is a “challenge” to Gutierrez.

“The record is not very good. The number of cases filed against the President have not been acted on. We hope though that she will act on this if only to be able to show that she is not a puppet of Malacañang. She has a chance to redeem her integrity by moving on this case,” Bello told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak.