Arroyo suspended as lawmaker over graft
MANILA, Philippines—The Sandiganbayan fourth division on Tuesday suspended former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as representative for 90 days over graft in connection with the controversial NBN-ZTE deal.
“Wherefore, accused Arroyo is ordered suspended from office pendente lite and said accused is hereby directed to cease and desist from performing and or exercising the functions and duties, as well as receiving and or enjoying the salaries, benefits and privileges of her present public position or any other public office or position he may now or hereafter be holding, effective upon notice hereof and continuing for a period of 90 days,” the resolution penned by division chair Associate Justice Gregory Ong read.
Motion to suspend Arroyo
The Office of the Special Prosecutor had filed a motion to suspend Arroyo from public office, noting that under the anti-graft law, suspension is mandatory for officials who are facing valid graft charges, regardless of whether the offenses involved were simple or complex.
The anti-graft court cited the same provision, or Section 13 of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act as saying that an incumbent public officer charged with graft, fraud involving public money, and violation of the Revised Penal Code, may be suspended with loss of benefits.
Arroyo had argued that suspending her from public office is unconstitutional because it would deprive her constituencies in Pampanga second district representation in Congress.
But the court said the provision in RA 3019 allowing suspension has been ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court.
“The power to order the suspension of a sitting member of Congress… is separate and distinct from, and is not mutually exclusive of, the power of Congress to discipline its own ranks under the Constitution,” the resolution read.
Arroyo had also argued that she need not be suspended because she could not “intimidate or influence witnesses or hamper the prosecution of case” because she is already under hospital arrest for plunder over the PCSO funds mess.
But the court said Arroyo’s suspension from office is not based on her capability to influence or intimidate witnesses.
“The suspension from office of accused is not dependent on whether she would actually be in a position to intimidate or influence witnesses or whether she would commit further malfeasance while in office,” the resolution said.
The court said the suspension is based solely on the anti-graft law provision setting the requisites for suspension.
“The suspension from office pendente lite (pending litigation) of accused Macapagal-Arroyo is in order. All the requisites for suspending her have been duly established,” the resolution read.
The division ordered the Speaker of the House of Representatives to implement the order.
The court said Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. should write to the Sandiganbayan within five days of notice about the action taken to enforce the resolution.
The Speaker’s letter should state the actual date the accused should serve her suspension and the date of the end of her 90-day suspension, the resolution said.
Arroyo was charged with two counts of graft and one count of breach of the code of conduct for public officials for her approval of the NBN deal, a $329-million national broadband network deal with China.
Arroyo was accused of approving the deal despite knowing its irregularities, and for having lunch and playing golf with ZTE officials while their broadband project proposal was still being assessed by government.
Arroyo later canceled the project after a scandal over its supposed overpricing and the alleged bribery of public officials erupted. The project would have interconnected government offices nationwide through broadband technology.
The Office of the Ombudsman had said that the deal was overpriced and disadvantageous to the government.