Ombudsman files graft charges vs GMA for NBN-ZTE deal

by Jorge Cariño, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 29 2011 11:49 AM | Updated as of Dec 30 2011 01:19 AM

Sandiganbayan to raffle cases on January 2

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) - The Sandiganbayan will raffle next Monday the three cases filed by the Ombudsman against former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, and other officials of the Arroyo administration in connection with the botched National Broadband Network (NBN) deal with Chinese telecommunications firm, ZTE Corp..

Sandiganbayan Clerk of Court Atty. Renato Bocar said they hold regular raffle of cases on Fridays, but since tomorrow (Dec. 30) is a holiday, they will do it first day of working week of 2012.

"By that time, we will know if this will be placed under just one division to try the three cases or these will be raffled to three different divisions," said Bocar.

The now Pampanga Congresswoman Arroyo was charged for receiving entertainment gifts or favors from Zhing Xing Telecommunications Equipment (ZTE) International Investment Limited when they had a round of golf or lunch in connection with the proposal being considered by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC), which was up approval on April 21, 2007.

Separately filed against Arroyo is the charge of violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for being interested for personal gain, willfully, unlawfully and criminally, in the National Broadband Network Project, and for approving the deal despite her knowledge of irregularities and anomalies that attended its approval.

In the third charge, Mrs. Arroyo, with her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo, former Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr., and former Department of Transportation and Communication Secretary Leandro Mendoza, was also charged for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

They were indicted for conspiring and confederating, while in the performance of their official functions, in using their influence and office, to facilitate and fast-track the approval of the NBN-ZTE deal.

Technicalities

Atty. Asryman Rafanan, the Ombudsman's spokesman, explained that the cases, although related to each other, were filed separately to avoid dismissal due to technicalities.
 
Abalos is now facing a similar case before the Sandiganbayan's Fourth Division presided by Justice Gregory Ong.

Bocar said the Sandiganbayan may try to consider putting the cases in the Fourth Division to maximize time and effort of the court and the litigants.

Eventually, the Sandiganbayan  will issue warrants of arrest against the respondent, and will serve them in the detention cells of the accused.
 
Asked if the Sandiganbayan has a history of speedy issuance of warrants, Bocar said "none that I know of."

Bailable offenses

In an interview with ANC, Bocar explained the graft charges in this particular case are all bailable.

The former president is currently under hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center for an electoral sabotage case filed against her last month.

“These new offenses which were filed against the former president are all bailable. I don’t know if the accused, the former president, would post bail because she is under detention under a non-bailable offense [electoral sabotage],” Bocar said.

Bocar said it is not necessary for Arroyo to post bail while still under detention.

“But if she files a petition for bail under the electoral sabotage case and there is that possibility however remote, if it is granted, then she would be set free under that charge. So she also has to post bail under the case filed with the Sandiganbayan para makalaya din siya,” he said.

Bocar added that the Sandiganbayan will coordinate with the Pasay Regional Trial Court handling Arroyo’s electoral sabotage case to ensure that no conflict will arise from the hearing schedules of both cases.

The former Comelec chairman is under detention at the Southern Police District (SPD). He has also been charged for electoral sabotage.

The NBN-ZTE deal, which was intended to provide a broadband network for the government, was scrapped in 2007 by Mrs. Arroyo herself due to allegations of overpricing and bribery.

Palace: Getting closure on NBN-ZTE
 
Malacañang, meanwhile, welcomed the Ombudsman’s filing of graft raps against former President Arroyo and other personalities over the botched NBN-ZTE deal.
 
Valte said this is a way of getting “closure” on the issue.
 
“We welcome the filing… The Filipino people have long been waiting for closure and this is the process by which we as a people can get closure,” Valte said.

Bayan Muna to file MR

The cases stem from the graft complaint filed by Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casiño in connection with the NBN-ZTE deal.

In response to the filing of charges, Casiño said "we are glad that criminal charges are filed against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regarding the NBN-ZTE scam but we are somewhat disappointed that only graft charges were filed by the Ombudsman because we believe that the elements of plunder have been met."

"At any rate we can still file for a motion for reconsideration, a partial motion for reconsideration or we can file a separate plunder case altogether so that the current case can now progress," he added. -- with reports from Willard Cheng, RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News; ANC