- Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was charged with two counts of graft for approving the National Broadband Network (NBN) contract with ZTE
- Arroyo petitioned the Sandiganbayan to dismiss the charges against her stating that the prosecution failed to prove her guilt beyond reasonable doubt
- Former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and former Commission on Elections (COMELEC) chair Benjamin Abalos were also charged with graft for allegedly using their influence to approve the NBN project
The former President was accused of violating Sections 3(g) and 3(i) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act when she allegedly approved the NBN deal with Chinese firm ZTE despite having knowledge that it was disadvantageous for the government and having personal gain knowing the irregularities in the project.
The 2007 NBN-ZTE project would have interconnected government offices nationwide through broadband technology.
The prosecution team said that specifically, Arroyo was aware that former COMELEC Chair Benjamin Abalos attempted to bribe the National Economic Development Authority (Neda) Secretary Romulo Neri with PHP 200 million to fast track the approval of the project even if there was no public bidding that was conducted.
Apart from violating the Anti-Graft Law, Arroyo was also charged with violating Section 7 (d) of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees or Republic Act 6713 which penalizes solicitation or acceptance of gifts in connection with any transaction of government. Arroyo allegedly had lunch and played golf for interacting with ZTE officials while the NBN proposal was still being assessed by the government.
In the petition filed by Arroyo, she disputes the allegations against her point-by-point.
First Graft Charge
First, Arroyo contends that she should not be liable for violating the Anti-Graft Law since the prosecution failed to present any witness who personally saw the NBN contract.
Second, Arroyo avers that the prosecution violated the ‘Best Evidence Rule’, which says that the original contract or a certified true copy is the best evidence to present in court when it only presented a photocopy of the NBN contract.
The demurrer to evidence reads in part: “President Arroyo respectfully submits that this case should be dismissed on the ground alone that the prosecution failed to present the original or certified true copy of the NBN contract, the corpus delicti under the (anti-graft law).”
Third, Arroyo claims that there is no longer any disadvantageous contract since she already cancelled the NBN deal at the height of the controversy.
Arroyo cited the case of then Davao City Mayor and now President Rodrigo Duterte, who also faced a graft charge for the anomalous 1990 computerization contract. In that case, Duterte cancelled the project before state auditors recommended rescission of the project.
Arroyo argues that “The prosecution’s argument is contrary to the ruling in Duterte vs. Sandiganbayan. The cancellation of the contract before the filing of the complaint with the Ombudsman renders it non-existent.”
Fourth, the prosecution also failed to prove that the contract was disadvantageous to government compared to the bidding proposal of Amsterdam Holdings, Inc., which allegedly promised 80 percent (80%) lower cost. She maintains that the NBN-ZTE deal was actually advantageous because it was in line with the Medium Term Philippine Development Plan.
Fifth, Arroyo disputes the allegation that she was responsible for fast-tracking the approval of the project. She claims that the broadband project went through several layers of review before reaching the NEDA board. She mentioned that she directed the Commission on Information and Communications Technology chair Ramon Sales to change the NBN deal by removing several overlapping components. This move actually saved the government PHP 3.84 billion.
All in all, Arroyo’s demurrer said: “This is a clear case of persecution rather than prosecution.”
Second Graft Charge
Arroyo said that by removing the overlapping components that led to a reduction of the overall broadband cost it “negates the charge of ‘interest’ for personal gain.”
“If she had been interested in the NBN project for personal gain, she could very well have insisted on pushing through with the NBN contract,” her demurrer read.
The former president also criticized the prosecution’s claim that her presence during the NBN contract signing was unnecessary proving that she had a personal interest in the matter.
Further, the petition stated that the prosecution failed to prove that Arroyo had knowledge of Abalos’ alleged bribery attempt.
As to the breach of the code of conduct charge, Arroyo claims that the prosecution failed to prove that the Chinese firm ZTE paid for the lunch and golf game she allegedly participated in.
“It is absurd to suggest that the fee for the golf game was given in anticipation of or in exchange for the granting of a multi-million peso project… The value of the lunch eaten by President Arroyo could not have been substantial or significant, even if she had a big appetite,” Arroyo said.
Arroyo also pointed out that the Sandiganbayan has no jurisdiction over the case because the supposed lunch and golf were held abroad. - Kami Media