Pressure on Palace mounts to indict, prosecute Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
The pressure on the Palace is going full blast to prosecute former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Catholic Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani said it would be a “big thing” if the Aquino administration made its predecessor liable for offenses.
“It will become a landmark decision in President Aquino’s campaign against corruption,” Bacani said over Church-run Radio Veritas.
“I do not prejudge the former President for being guilty but since accusations have been raised against her, it is best if she defends herself … and it is also very good for the country to know the truth,” he said.
A militant farmers’ group that was among the early complainants against Arroyo in connection with the fertilizer fund scam on Tuesday said all the evidence against her was there for everyone to see.
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said the Office of the Ombudsman, which had ordered a fact-finding inquiry into Arroyo’s culpability in the P728-million scam, should immediately indict her for plunder.
“If the Aquino administration is really serious in prosecuting Arroyo, the so-called probe by the Ombudsman should not be like a political telenovela,” KMP secretary general Danilo Ramos said in a statement.
Ramos said the investigation ordered by acting Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro should not take long because “a protracted probe will only provide Arroyo all the leeway for political maneuvers.”
He pointed out that various investigations of the fund scam that purportedly benefited Arroyo’s presidential campaign in 2004 had established the reasons for filing charges against the latter, now a representative of Pampanga’s second district.
Ramos expressed hope that the case would not be subjected to another whitewash, saying this would be a double injustice to farmers.
Two Senate committees recommended in 2006 that Arroyo be held accountable for the mismanagement of the fertilizer funds.
Casimiro had overturned an earlier ruling by the Office of the Ombudsman dismissing the case against Arroyo for lack of evidence, and formed a fact-finding board to look into her role in the fertilizer fund scam.
Former agriculture officials Luis Lorenzo, Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante and Ibarra Poliquit have also been charged with plunder along with a number of private fertilizer suppliers for their alleged role in the scheme.
In Malacañang, President Aquino’s spokesperson Edwin Lacierda issued a statement saying the reopening of the fertilizer fund scam “demonstrates both the need for closure for controversies that weakened public confidence in our institutions and how constitutional offices can operate once political favoritism is out of the picture.”
But while various Church groups welcomed the government move to make the previous administration accountable for certain cases, they said they would continue to doubt Mr. Aquino’s political will until Arroyo and her allies had been prosecuted.
Fr. Joe Dizon of Solidarity Philippines said filing cases against Arroyo was a “long overdue task” of the Aquino administration.
“President Aquino has not shown any strong political will to really prosecute [Arroyo] in his first year in office,” Dizon told reporters in a text message.
He said Mr. Aquino was “all talk” and that he suspected that Malacañang’s announcement on Monday that new cases were being built up against Arroyo was merely to earn “brownie points” for the latter’s first State of the Nation Address (Sona) on July 25.
Prosecute, convict, jail
Activist priest Robert Reyes issued similar remarks.
“To see people prosecuted, convicted, jailed, is to believe,” Reyes said.
He said Malacañang’s recent disclosure would be “mere politics” unless Arroyo, her husband Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo and others “will be jailed.”
“I am happy [that they are acting on the allegations against Arroyo] but I hope something will come out of it, and we should all watch closely what will happen,” Reyes said.
Slow to move
Nardy Sabino, secretary general of the ecumenical group Promotion for Church People’s Response, said other groups had already made the first move to make Arroyo accountable for wrongdoing because the incumbent administration was “slow to take legal action.”
Sabino was referring to the case the United Church of Christ in the Philippines filed last month against Arroyo for alleged human-rights abuses committed against six of its leaders and pastors.
“We challenge the administration to file charges against [Arroyo] instead of making media announcements, which are being used to hide its inefficiency to address the people’s concerns and to have a good image as the Sona nears,” he said.
Sabino said he and his group would continue to be skeptical of Malacañang’s move “until they file charges against her (Arroyo).”
Based on facts
In his statement, Lacierda said the Department of Justice was looking into “allegations of wrongdoing by others, including former officials.”
“These are cases based on the merits, where processes are followed diligently, cases built up conscientiously, and by doing so, culpability for crimes carefully considered,” he said.
Lacierda said this was “what true justice is all about”—that the state “brings to trial cases based not on rumor or innuendo but facts.”
Abigail Valte, the President’s deputy spokesperson, told reporters that it was about time the fertilizer fund scam was investigated by the Office of the Ombudsman.
“What we are saying is that the fertilizer fund scam was exposed in 2004. Many are questioning and are apprehensive why this year the case has not yet been filed. So we are reiterating what we said: It’s about time the case was filed,” she said.
Valte also said the Palace was making sure the cases being built up against Arroyo would be airtight.
“We won’t file a case that has no strong basis,” she said, adding that the Palace was not going to file cases just “for the sake of” doing so.
“It will be doing our people disservice if we file a case for PR (public relations), and not justice,” Valte said.
At a news briefing, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said she would exercise her plenary power to put Bolante and his coaccused in the Bureau of Immigration’s “watch list.”
De Lima said she would also ask Chief State Counsel Ricardo Paras to check if the Sandiganbayan had issued a hold-departure order on those charged.
At press time, they were put on the hold-departure list.
She said the Office of the Ombudsman could also ask the Sandiganbayan to prohibit the accused from leaving the Philippines.
Bolante, a close associate of Mike Arroyo, fled the country in 2005 shortly before the Senate opened an inquiry into the alleged misuse of funds intended for the purchase of fertilizers for farmers.
Since Bolante’s return in 2008, he has repeatedly denied having orchestrated the alleged misuse of funds to boost Arroyo’s presidential campaign.
On Monday, Bolante and Poliquit petitioned the Supreme Court to annul the plunder case filed by the Office of the Ombudsman. Reports from Leila B. Salaverria, Jocelyn R. Uy, Christine O. Avendaño and Marlon Ramos
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