Arroyo couple, 2 others ordered arrested over NBN deal
For the second time since stepping down from office, former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was ordered arrested Tuesday, this time for a graft case over the canceled $329-million National Broadband Network (NBN) deal.
The Sandiganbayan Fourth Division ordered her arrested along with husband Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, former Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos and former Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza.
Their case is bailable, though it doesn’t mean the former President and Abalos will be freed if they post bail since they are currently detained on a nonbailable electoral sabotage charge.
Mike Arroyo and Mendoza each posted P30,000 bail at the Sandiganbayan on Tuesday, a few hours after the court ordered the warrant to be served.
In posting bail, Mike Arroyo and Mendoza were subjected to fingerprinting, but their mugshots were not taken. Instead, they submitted pictures.
Mike Arroyo, who arrived after lunch, told reporters that his initial reaction upon learning of the arrest warrant was one of “shock,” since he had filed a motion.
But he expressed confidence that he would be able to prove his innocence. “We will prove our case in the Sandiganbayan,” he said.
He also said it was good that the court issued the warrant after he had buried his brother, Negros Occidental Representative Ignacio Arroyo, who died of a kidney ailment in London in January. Ignacio’s body arrived home earlier this month after a custody dispute between his second wife and partner.
“Can you imagine if we were arrested while burying my brother? So I thank the court that at least they waited until after the burial,” he said.
The former President was charged with two counts of graft and one count of violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees in connection with the approval of the NBN deal with China’s ZTE Corp. The NBN project was aimed at linking government agencies down to the barangay level through a high-speed communications system.
In one of her graft cases, her coaccused were Mike Arroyo, Abalos and Mendoza.
But Abalos himself is on trial for another graft charge, filed in 2010, also stemming from the NBN deal.
The NBN deal with China’s ZTE Corp. was canceled in 2008 by then President Arroyo after a Senate inquiry showed that the project was overpriced and that top officials received kickbacks. The contract was originally priced at $130 million.
Former Economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri had testified that Abalos offered him a bribe to approve the ZTE contract. Jose de Venecia III, a project proponent, testified that Mike Arroyo was promised a $70-million commission.
Lawyer Laurence Arroyo said his client, the former President, would still post bail, which was set at P70,000 for all the three charges against her.
On Tuesday, the current Pampanga representative filed a motion asking the court to allow her to fill out her bail application form at Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City, where she is detained.
Gloria Arroyo said she could not leave VMMC without an order from the Pasay Regional Trial Court, which is hearing her electoral sabotage case.
A trip to the Sandiganbayan for her bail application would also require preparation by the Philippine National Police, she added.
Laurence Arroyo said his client wanted to post bail so that if her electoral sabotage case was dismissed and her petition for bail for the graft case was granted, then she would really be free.
The arraignment of the accused is scheduled for April 11, according to Fourth Division Clerk of Court Joffre Zapata.
Options for Mendoza
Mendoza did not grant interviews, but his lawyer Alexander Poblador said his client was considering his options.
One option is to proceed with the trial, since he believes the evidence against him is weak.
Another option is to elevate the matter to the Supreme Court on the ground that the Ombudsman’s dismissal of a similar case earlier means the case should remain dismissed.
The arrest order for the four accused came shortly after they pleaded that the court first set oral arguments or conduct a judicial determination of probable cause before issuing warrants.
But in a resolution handed down Tuesday, the antigraft court denied the motions of the accused. It said its determination of probable cause was something that it could do on its own volition.
The resolution was signed by Justices Gregory Ong, Jose Hernandez and Maria Cristina Cornejo.
Probable cause exists
“After having personally and judiciously examined and/or evaluated, the Office of the Ombudsman’s resolutions (the main resolution and the resolution denying the parties’ motion for reconsideration) recommending the filing of the instant cases, together with the record and the evidence to support the same, this court hereby finds, and so holds, that probable cause exists for the issuance of the warrant of arrest against all the accused,” the court said.
It said it was issuing the arrest warrant so the law could obtain custody over the accused, either through their arrest or the posting of their bail.
The court also said that the judicial determination of probable cause for the issuance of an arrest warrant was an “ex-parte, nonadversarial, and summary proceeding” in which “the parties cannot assert any demandable right to be heard or to participate thereon.”
“The rules merely require the court to personally and independently examine and/or evaluate the corresponding resolutions of the Office of the Ombudsman finding probable cause to charge the accused herein, together with the records and the evidence to support the same,” it said.
The court also said that probable cause merely implied the probability of guilt and did not imply any actual cause or absolute certainty. “It is only based on opinion or reasonable belief. A finding of probable cause does not require an inquiry into whether there is sufficient evidence to procure a conviction,” it said.
The antigraft court added that a trial would be conducted to receive evidence to support the charge.
The court further said that no oral arguments were necessary to determine probable cause for the issuance of a warrant because it only needed to personally examine and independently evaluate the Ombudsman resolutions, the records and the evidence.
Malacañang said the issuance of the warrant was a “step in the right direction.”
“The warrant is a preventive measure in order to assure that the accused persons are here and they can be present in their day in court and they will be able to defend themselves in the best possible manner,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte told reporters. With reports from Tetch Torres, Christine O. Avendaño and AP
Originally posted at 11:31 am | Tuesday, Mar. 13, 2012
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