Anti-graft court consolidates cases vs Arroyo, Neri and Abalos
MANILA, Philippines—The Sandiganbayan’s Fifth Division has granted a request of prosecutors to consolidate the graft case against Romulo Neri with those of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former elections chairman Benjamin Abalos since all of them deal with the canceled national broadband network deal.
Arroyo’s graft cases, which were filed late last year, had been raffled to the Sandiganbayan’s Fourth Division and have yet to go to trial. Neri’s case was filed in 2010 and is undergoing trial.
One of Arroyo’s co-accused in one of her graft cases is Abalos, who is already on trial for another NBN graft case that was filed in 2010.
In its resolution, the Fifth Division said the consolidation sought by the Office of the Ombudsman was proper because the charges in all the cases involved the government’s NBN deal with China’s ZTE Corp. The $329 million project was canceled amid allegations of bribery and overpricing.
“The court is of the considered opinion that consolidation of the aforementioned cases will enable the government to save unnecessary expenses and as emphasized by the Supreme Court, will avoid multiplicity of suits, prevent delay, clear congested docket, and simplify the work of the trial court,” the Fifth Division said.
It added that it was not inclined to believe that consolidation would violate Neri’s rights.
Neri had contended that consolidation was improper because his case does not involve the same issues. It would also put his liberty at risk because he was not part of the Abalos group which had allegedly negotiated with ZTE for the NBN project, he said.
Neri said it would be incongruous to consolidate the cases because he was a witness in Abalos’ first graft case and had already testified in court.
He also said his graft case, and the first case filed against Abalos, were already in advanced stage of trial. He described the motion to consolidate as a ploy to delay the prosecution of his case because prosecutors failed to present any witnesses in the last two hearings.
He said as well that the consolidation was improper because the Fourth Division had yet to assume jurisdiction over the Arroyo graft cases in connection with the NBN deal.
The Fourth Division has held in abeyance the determination of probable cause for the issuance of an arrest warrant in the cases, and directed the prosecutors to first resolve the motions for reconsideration filed against the Ombudsman resolution ordering the indictment of the accused.
Aside from Abalos, Arroyo’s co-accused in one of her graft cases are her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo and former Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza.
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