4 new cases eyed vs Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
President Benigno Aquino III on Monday said the government was building at least four cases against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, including the alleged misuse of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds.
Mr. Aquino told reporters the cases involved “a broad spectrum of personalities” and that prosecutors would go “where the evidence points to us.”
The President did not give details of the cases other than the PCSO disbursements under the administration of Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative.
On Monday, acting Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro ordered a fact-finding inquiry into Arroyo’s involvement in the alleged diversion of P728 million in fertilizer funds to her presidential campaign in 2004, his spokesperson, Mary Rawnsle Lopez, said.
Casimiro overturned an earlier ruling dismissing the complaint against Arroyo in the fertilizer scam for lack of evidence and issued the directive for a new probe following complaints lodged by former Solicitor General Frank Chavez and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.
Mr. Aquino was asked by reporters about the reported use of PCSO funds to purchase ambulances and sports utility vehicles for certain lawmakers and Catholic bishops.
He said the Department of Justice would look into the case to see “if there is enough basis for prosecution” noting earlier findings of irregularities by the Commission on Audit.
“So there will be a formal investigation toward that and then we will go where the evidence points to us. Meaning, will there be a case here; is there something actionable; has the prescription cases expired on specific cases. All of that has to be determined,” Mr. Aquino said.
“The executive (branch) is actually building up several cases. Which one will reach fruition is a question mark,” he said.
“There are three cases on my mind right now and that (PCSO) is the fourth,” he said. He declined to elaborate on the three, saying he did not want to make life harder for investigators who are now preparing documentation and witnesses.
But he nodded when asked whether these three cases were new ones.
Asked whether these cases were specifically against Ms Arroyo, Mr. Aquino said: “Assuming the evidence gets to that level, there are cutouts. But it does represent a broad spectrum of personalities.”
Plunder charges in connection with the fertilizer fund were formally filed on Monday against former Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo and Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante in the Sandiganbayan.
Also charged were former Assistant Agriculture Secretary Ibarra Poliquit and private fertilizer suppliers Jaime Paule, Marilyn Araos, Joselito Flordeliza, Marites Aytona, Leonicia Llarena and Jose Barredo, who is also the Senate’s whistle-blower in the alleged scam.
No bail was recommended for their release.
The antigraft court spokesperson, Renato Bocar, said the case would be raffled on Friday for trial.
Bocar also said the move by Bolante and Poliquit to get the Supreme Court to stop the filing of charges had become moot after the case was formally lodged on Monday.
In a 29-page petition for a temporary restraining order, Bolante and Poliquit said they “were never given the opportunity to be heard.”
Explaining the possible inclusion of Arroyo in the case, Lopez told reporters:
“It is an elementary principle that a secretary is an alter ego of the President who has direct control and supervision over her Cabinet secretaries.
“There is thus a need to conduct investigation as to the complicity or liability of the former President with respect to the allocation, release and expenditure of the fertilizer funds.”
The country, she said, needs “closure” on this issue.
The alleged inaction on the fertilizer fund scam, supposedly meant to protect Arroyo and her allies, had prompted the impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who resigned in May.
Under pressure, Gutierrez had eventually released a resolution indicting several agriculture officials, including Lorenzo and Bolante, as well as lawmakers and local government officials.
Lopez said that in scratching the previous recommendation to dismiss the case against Arroyo, Casimiro looked into documents the investigators had studied.
She said that when the complaint was first filed, Arroyo was still the President and was covered by immunity from suit. This time, Casimiro wants probers to look for more evidence on her role, she added.
“The acting Ombudsman laid down the actions that need to be done. The Ombudsman is saying don’t dismiss the case outright for lack of evidence. Look for more evidence if any,” she said. “There are documents to show how the funds were utilized.”
Asked whether Arroyo would also be investigated for her role in the scuttled $329-million NBN-ZTE deal, Lopez said no such request had been received for her inclusion in the case now under trial.
‘Jose Pidal’ case
Also on Monday, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he would resume his “Jose Pidal” exposé which the Senate investigated eight years ago.
Lacson had accused then First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo of laundering at least P321 million in campaign funds and contributions to a secret bank account under the fictitious name “Jose Pidal” and three other accounts using the name of his aides.
“These issues did not have a resolution and they continue to deceive our people on who Jose Pidal is. We should correct these wrong opinions,” he said. With reports from Nikko Dizon and Dona Z. Pazzibugan
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