Don’t arrest us just yet.
Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, her husband Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo and former Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza have challenged the graft charge filed against them in connection with the National Broadband Network (NBN) deal with China’s ZTE Corp., saying that the case did not hold water.
The former president asked the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division to schedule oral arguments on the case prior to the issuance of a warrant of arrest, while Mike Arroyo asked the court to withhold the issuance of an arrest warrant and to conduct a judicial determination of probable cause.
Mendoza also sought a judicial determination of probable cause and the dismissal of his case.
Earlier, the Office of the Ombudsman upheld the graft charges filed against the Arroyos, Mendoza and former elections chief Benjamin Abalos in connection with the NBN-ZTE deal, and dismissed the motions for reconsideration filed by Mike Arroyo and Mendoza.
In her motion filed late Friday through lawyer Estelito Mendoza, the former president asked for oral arguments on her case as she noted that the documents attached to her charge sheet did not support probable cause for the issuance of an arrest warrant.
She also said her motion was not intended to delay the proceedings or the issuance of an arrest warrant, or to flee the jurisdiction of the court. She pointed out that she was currently detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in connection with another case.
Estelito Mendoza also entered his appearance as Arroyo’s counsel on Friday.
Mike Arroyo, in his separate motion, said the abrogation of the NBN contract long before the case against him was filed meant there was no contract to speak of, and that there could have been no disadvantage to the government.
The $329-million NBN deal, bagged by China’s ZTE Corp., was canceled amid claims that the contract was overpriced and that there were attempts by Philippine officials to collect commissions or kickbacks.
According to Mike Arroyo, the Supreme Court had already ruled in another case that if a contract is rescinded, one of the elements for violating a provision of the anti-graft law would be absent. But the Office of the Ombudsman ignored this doctrine, he said.
Besides, the Philippine government was not shortchanged and to claim otherwise would be speculative, he added.
“With the abrogation of the ZTE contract, any theory on whether or not the contract is grossly disadvantageous to the government would be speculative and could not meet even the quantum of evidence to support a finding of probable cause,” he said.
Mike Arroyo also said the pertinent provision of the antigraft law relevant to his case could only be violated by a public officer, and since he was a private individual, he could not be held liable. He said he could not have entered into a contract on behalf of the government, which is what the law penalizes, because this could only be done by a contracting party or its representative, and he was neither.
To claim that he was involved in a conspiracy in connection with the contract was also absurd because the deal was a government-to-government transaction. He reiterated his stand that he only accompanied his wife to a ZTE lunch in China.
“The ZTE transaction being a government-to-government transaction, the allegation that accused Jose Miguel Arroyo influenced the approval of the deal by joining a luncheon with executives of ZTE crumbles to the ground,” he said.
Mike Arroyo also denied initiating a reconciliatory meeting between Abalos and businessman Jose de Venecia III, a losing NBN project bidder. De Venecia alleged that the former first gentleman had told him to “back off” from the deal.
The earlier dismissal of a similar complaint against him arising from the NBN deal means he could not be re-litigated for the same issues, Mike Arroyo further said.
Good for government
The evidence against him, including Senate testimonies, also consisted of “surmises and conjectures,” which should not be given any weight, he added.
Mendoza, in his own motion, said there was no case against him because the NBN deal was actually good for the government, even compared to other NBN proposals.
He explained the $329-million price tag by saying that the project would cover almost the whole country, and first- to sixth-class cities and municipalities, and discussed in detail the merits of the deal. Allegations of a bloated price to accommodate supposed kickbacks also came from questionable witnesses, he said.
No injury, damage
He also lamented that the Office of the Ombudsman had ignored his comparison of the NBN deal with the other proposals.
Like Mike Arroyo, Mendoza said the cancellation of the contract before the filing of the case meant he could not be charged with violating the antigraft law.
“Further, since no public money was disbursed or expended for this project before the contract was cancelled, no injury or damage was suffered by the government or the public,” he added.
Originally posted: 3:11 pm | Monday, March 12th, 2012