Arroyo charged with lesser offense

Ang Bayan
January 7, 2012

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Various democratic organizations and individuals expressed disappointment when the Office of the Ombudsman charged Gloria Arroyo with the lesser crime of corruption instead of the more serious crime of plunder in connection with the anomalous contract for the National Broadband Network (NBN) entered into by her government with China's ZTE Corporation.

Bayan Muna and the Makabayan alliance had filed the plunder case at the Office of the Ombudsman last year. Arroyo and her cronies are believed to have received up to $329 million in bribes from ZTE.

Among those charged with corruption by the Ombudsman are Gloria Arroyo's husband Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, former Commission on Elections chair Benjamin Abalos Sr. and former Transportation and Communications secretary Leandro Mendoza. The case was filed on December 29.

Corruption carries a lighter penalty and is a bailable offense. A person charged with plunder, on the other hand, will not be allowed to post bail pending trial and may be sentenced to life imprisonment if found guilty.

Bayan Muna has thus decided to beef up the information submitted to court on the Arroyo couple's involvement in the NBN-ZTE anomaly in order to be able to refile the plunder case against them.

The Ombudsman's move has raised suspicions of a deal between the two camps to accommodate Arroyo. These suspicions were further stoked when Aquino said in an interview before the end of 2011 that a presidential pardon for Arroyo may be considered if she shows remorse for her crimes. Arroyo has yet to be tried, but already, the Aquino camp appears to be paving the way for her exoneration, with only a specious apology in return.

Meanwhile, the Sandiganbayan has issued a hold departure order against Arroyo and her co-accused in the corruption case.

Former National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) consultant Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada has also expressed readiness to testify in court. Lozada was the first whistleblower of the NBN-ZTE scandal. He has likewise called on his friend, former NEDA commissioner Romulo Neri to disclose everything he knows about the anomaly. Neri was stopped from testifying at the Senate and Lower House by virtue of EO 464 which prohibits high-ranking officials of the executive branch from disclosing information without Gloria Arroyo's permission.

Two Chinese executives from the ZTE Corporation have also agreed to testify. As of the latest development, former House Speaker Jose de Venecia has added his name to the list of persons willing to serve as witnesses for the prosecution. De Venecia's son Joey had appeared at a Senate investigation after Lozada's testimony, saying that he had been ordered by Mike Arroyo to back off from involvement in the NBN-ZTE issue.