By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
Is the Aquino government giving former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo the easy way out? This seems to be the case say lawmakers as the Office of the Ombudsman has yet to act on the non-bailable cases against her.
The lawmakers of Bayan Muna once more rattled the doors of the Ombudsman’s office and filed an urgent resolution for the non-bailable plunder case against the former president and incumbent Pampanga Representative who is now under hospital arrest.
Bayan Muna Party list Representatives Teddy Casiño and Neri Javier Colmenares filed an Urgent Motion for Resolution asking the Ombudsman to resolve the complaint their group filed against Macapagal-Arroyo in 2011 for the non-bailable offense of plunder and graft for the malversation of the funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).
It will be remembered that in a previous Senate investigation, it was revealed that between P150 to P350 million ($3.48 million to $8.13 million) of the PCSO funds, including its “Public Relations Fund,” which were realigned to the Arroyo government’s so-called “intelligence funds” and has since could not be traced.
The two lawmakers asked the Ombudsman to investigate the other anomalies committed by other PCSO officials in various contracts with Berjaya for the lotto machines used by the PCSO.
“We filed this case earlier than that of the NBN-ZTE complaint, but it’s obvious that the documents have only been gathering dust in the cabinets of the Office of the Ombudsman. The NBN-ZTE case is now being heard at the Sandiganbayan, and we also want this one to be resolved immediately considering that the case here is plunder. We believe that this is a very strong case against Macapagal-Arroyo, especially since her co-accused former PCSO manager Rosario Uriarte has already admitted to the irregularities under oath. This is a very important step in our campaign for accountability,” said Casiño.
Casiño said the Ombudsman should not sit on the plunder cases against Macapagal-Arroyo because the same are very instrumental in ensuring that justice is achieved against her corrupt former presidency.
“Thousands of impoverished Filipinos rely on the PCSO and its donations, but many have been turned away supposedly because the agency lacked funds. Now that it’s been exposed that Macapagal-Arroyo and her partners in crime siphoned off millions from the PCSO funds, its not only fitting but just that she be punished for it. The seriousness and gravity of her crimes cannot be highlighted enough – she stole from the poor and the desperately needy, and there is no forgiveness for this,” he added.
As for his part, Colmenares explained that the separate case they also filed for electoral sabotage is dependent on witnesses who could suddenly disappear. Given this, he said, there is a need to immediately file a plunder case to ensure that Arroyo will not be able to post bail.
“As for former PCSO Manager Rosario Uriarte, we know that you were used by Gloria to get what she wants, this is the best time to tell all you know and turn state witness,” he said. He said Uriarte can present herself for the witness protection program if she tells the courts all that she knows and, in the process, help stop corruption. Telling the truth would also be personally beneficial for her – it will lessen the burden her conscience probably carries. She should think of the many that could have been saved by the PCSO funds rather than Macapagal-Arroyo’s welfare,” Colmenares said.
On July 12, 2011, Bayan Muna filed a sworn complaint-affidavit before the Ombudsman’s office against Macapagal-Arroyo and Uriarte for malversation of PCSO funds amounting to P350 to P150 million. They called on the Ombudsman to look further into other anomalies in the said agency.
From that time up to the present, the lawmakers said, they have not heard of any action from the Ombudsman’s office.
“The allegations and charges contained in the complaint-affidavit are very serious matters which warrant the Ombudsman’s immediate response. Complainants, as well as the Filipino people, who are aware of the anomalies involving the two Respondents, are seriously awaiting and longing for the wheel of justice to start rolling,” they said.
They also said the Ombudsman, in the spirit of transparency and observance of due process, should inform Bayan Muna regarding the status of their complaint and inform them as to what action or actions the office undertook in connection with the complaint by sending them notices, processes, orders, and/or resolutions.
“This procedure, which was in place during the time of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, was one of the reasons why many of the cases filed against the former president and her allies, such as the fertilizer scam, remained in limbo for years. The supposed reason for this procedure, that it insulates the investigators from the parties, does not seem to have a valid justification especially since this procedure is not employed in the investigations by other investigative bodies like those conducted by the State Prosecutors under the Department of Justice. At the very least, we ask that the Complainants be informed of the counter-affidavits filed, if any, by the respondent, the action taken by the panel, and the other pleadings filed,” said the lawmakers.
Aquino’s failure to prosecute Macapagal-Arroyo
In the last two months, anti-corruption advocates and people’s organizations who mounted large-scale protests against the former Macapagal-Arroyo administration have been increasingly dismayed over what they said as President Benigno Aquino III’s failure to go for Macapagal-Arroyo’s jugular.
Youth group Anakbayan said that judging from the vibes emanating from Malacañang and the coy and wishy-washy statements various Palace spokespersons have been issuing on the matter, Macapagal Arroyo just might be allowed to post bail and escape detention.
Warnings against such a scenario unfolding came thick and fast after one of Macapagal-Arroyo’s co-accused in the ZTE scam and electoral sabotage cases former Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos was allowed to post bail after the prosecution failed to present witnesses.
“If the Arroyos manage to post bail and escape, then the Aquino government is directly to blame. It has been two years, but Malacañang has failed to file strong cases against the former president. As it is, Aquino has allowed special treatment via hospital detention for the former president despite doctors’ findings that she is no longer sick,” said Anakbayan chairman Vencer Crisostomo.
Crisostomo’s theory – one that is supported by many political observers – is that Aquino’s failure to file a strong case against his predecessor is deliberate and that his administration’s motive in ousting Macapagal-Arroyo’s appointed chief justice Renato Corona is fueled more by a personal grudge rather than a strong sense of justice.
“In any case, there are still many questions left unanswered: why are strong charges of plunder and ZTE, human rights violations and cases related to the “Hello Garci” issue remain un-filed despite various complaints filed at the Ombudsman?,” he said.
The chairman of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) labor center, Elmer Labor, in turn, said that for all of Aquino’s strong words against Corona before, during and after the impeachment process in the Senate, Aquino has remained essentially silent when it came to the cases against Macapagal-Arroyo.
“Pres. Aquino mentioned Mrs. Arroyo only in the first parts of his speech, where he was laying the justifications for the impeachment of the chief magistrate,” he noted. “His speech on the Corona’s impeachment makes us think that the president only took the public for a ride with his talk about fighting corruption and ensuring public accountability. He hasn’t issued a clear-cut promise that his government will convict and jail Mrs. Arroyo,” Labog said.
The labor leader said all the signs indicate that Aquino is not serious in going after the ex-president.
“Case in point, it took this government more than 500 days before it filed a minor case of electoral sabotage in relation to the 2007 elections against Arroyo. And even then it was only forced to do to pacify the public’s outrage and give in to the demand that Arroyo should be held accountable for the rigged polls,” he said.
Anakbayan’s Crisostomo also scoffed at Aquino’s post-impeachment speech saying that Arroyo was the context of the trial against the chief magistrate and that it was the Executive’s obligation to investigate and file charges against the former president but Corona, “the biggest stumbling block”, was in the way.
He said Aquino was only making excuses.
He also said that as the days pass, the chances of a conviction being laid down against Macapagal-Arroyo and her cohorts, including former general Jovito “the Butcher” Palparan and former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., grow slimmer.
Earlier, during the hearings on the electoral scam case, the prosecution failed to present “its strongest witnesses to prove the alleged poll rigging in 2007” because Norie Unas and Russam Mabang backed off. They said that their safety was compromised.
Unas was supposed to testify that he heard Arroyo order Ampatuan to tamper the 2007 results. Mabang, on the other hand, would have testified that it was he who encoded the tampered election document.
“Witnesses against Arroyo and her cohorts are hunted down one by one as if intended to send a message to other potential witnesses”, Crisostomo said.
In the meantime, the third witness to the Maguindanao Massacre—dubbed as the single worst killing of journalists and lawyers in the world—Esmail Amil Enog who had been missing since March this year was found dead on June 1, his body brutally chopped to pieces.
Rolando Manalo, the brother of the principal witness against Palparan succumbed to six gunshot wounds in San Rafael, Bulacan last May 16.
In the end, the question remains: is Aquino deliberately giving Macapagal-Arroyo a way out?