Gloria Macapagal Arroyo spares no expense to assemble finest lawyers
The woman may be down with a malady afflicting her spine, but she’s not out.
Embattled former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is sparing no expense in assembling the finest lawyers available to fight a “multimillion-peso” public relations campaign against her, Raul Lambino, her legal spokesperson, said on Thursday.
“It’s expensive,” Lambino told the Inquirer. “You have to hire the best lawyers you can afford depending on their expertise. It’s not easy to face a barrage of cases in court, with your accusers being backed by a multimillion-peso PR budget.”
Five plunder complaints have been filed against Arroyo, now the representative of Pampanga’s second district. Leading her legal team is 80-year-old Estelito Mendoza, a solicitor general and justice minister during Ferdinand Marcos’dictatorship.
“She won’t take things sitting down because it’s her constitutional right to defend herself. She will face all her accusers squarely in the proper forum,” Lambino said.
Apart from Marcos, Mendoza has also defended a variety of prominent politicians, including ousted President Joseph Estrada.
Mendoza is handling the P72-million plunder case filed against Arroyo over her administration’s supposed failure to remit P72 million in capital gains taxes collected from the sale of the Iloilo airport in 2007.
Another lawyer, Benjamin Santos, is handling Arroyo’s defense in a separate complaint alleging that some P530 million in Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration funds had been diverted to boost her presidential campaign in 2004.
‘No solid evidence’
The latest plunder case filed against Arroyo involves the alleged misuse of P325 million in intelligence funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.
Retired Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim, who was involved in a failed attempt to overthrow Arroyo, is among the complainants.
Lambino admitted that the barrage of plunder cases was taking their toll on the 64-year-old Arroyo, who is to undergo surgery Thursday.
“It adds to the stress that she is bearing,” he said. “Nonstop accusations affect the health of any person.”
Lambino said the controversies cropping up against his client involved nothing more than “statements coming from supposed witnesses who, we know, are being induced by those orchestrating the action.”
“We don’t worry about the legal aspect because we know there is no solid evidence against her,” Lambino said.
“But we are losing the public relations war because we don’t have the resources. The government has the Senate, House, Ombudsman, and even a friendly media, to support its position,” he said.
Lambino also downplayed the claim of Senior Supt. Rafael Santiago that he and his team switched election returns (ERs) in 2005 to ensure Arroyo’s victory in the 2004 presidential election in the event of a recount.
He said Santiago’s group “peddled this same story” in 2005 to Arroyo’s political opponents, including then Speaker Jose de Venecia, who had a falling out with his longtime ally.
“There is nothing new with this police story,” Lambino told the Inquirer. “These were the same cops who were peddling these testimonies in 2005, and no one was buying them.”
Lambino described Santiago’s claim as part of “a fantastic story line of immense cinematic value.”
“It’s similar to top-grossing spy novels transformed into movies—they’re just impossible, unbelievable,” he said.
Granted that original ERs had indeed been stolen and replaced with tampered ones, Lambino said, questions on who won the 2004 presidential race would eventually be settled by referring to the ballots.
“The election returns will not be the final document,” he said. “The source document will be the ballots.”
At St. Luke’s Medical Center in Taguig City, where Arroyo has been confined since Monday afternoon, Lambino told reporters that when he informed her about the report in Thursday’s issue of the Inquirer, she said that it was “an old story.”
He said the same allegations had already been investigated thoroughly and even exposed in the media.
“I don’t know what the motives of those behind the report are. I don’t know why the story is being given prominence in the media again. But clearly, some personalities with their own interests and political agenda to advance are trying to generate mileage from the story,” he said.
Lambino said Arroyo’s camp preferred to look at sworn statements and evidence before making further statements.
“If there was any truth to that fantastic story, those in the opposition before should have … and done something about it then,” he said.
At the House of Representatives, Minority Leader Edcel Lagman said President Aquino was pressuring newly installed Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales to secure Arroyo’s conviction with the Supreme Court’s final dismissal of the proposed Philippine Truth Commission.
“While the President denounced former President Arroyo for allegedly coopting now retired Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, he himself is effectively pressuring the new Ombudsman with his importuning,” Lagman said.
He said Mr. Aquino should respect the independence of the Office of the Ombudsman and not put Morales on the spot by suggesting that she pursue the mission of the scuttled commission in prosecuting Arroyo.
He cited Mr. Aquino’s announcement that the documents and evidence against Arroyo and her officials, which had been submitted to or gathered by the disbanded truth commission, would be transmitted to the new Ombudsman.
“The President is virtually giving the new Ombudsman marching orders to prioritize the prosecution of his immediate predecessor,” Lagman said.
He said said these actions demeaned and politicized the Office of the Ombudsman, an independent constitutional body that should be allowed to voluntarily assume jurisdiction, freely conduct its own investigations and judiciously resolve complaints. With reports from Tina G. Santos and Cynthia D. Balana
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.