palace.backs.probe

Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo.

 

MANILA — Malacañang expressed support for the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on her alleged criminal liability in connection with the P728-million fertilizer scam in April 2004.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said acting Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro’s order to reopen the case and determine Arroyo’s culpability for possible plunder “demonstrates the need for closure to controversies that weakened public confidence in our institutions.”

It was likewise a clear demonstration, now that former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez — who was perceived to be sympathetic to now Pampanga Rep. Arroyo — has resigned, that constitutional offices can (also) operate once political favoritism is out of the picture.

“Even as this takes place, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is looking into allegations of wrongdoing by other, including former, officials,” the Cabinet secretary revealed, referring to the two plunder cases former Solicitor General Frank Chavez filed against Arroyo.

According to Lacierda, the main objective of the investigation of both the Ombudsman and the DOJ “is to achieve a proper determination of which cases should be filed, based on the evidence, and appropriate prescriptive periods.”

“These are cases based on the merits, where processes are followed diligently, cases built up conscientiously, and by so doing, culpability for crimes carefully considered,” he said.

“This is what true justice is about: that the state brings to trial cases based not on rumor or innuendo, but facts; and where no official, past or present, escapes either accountability or the rights granted each individual by our Constitution: to confront their accusers and achieve, if warranted, an acquittal,” Lacierda said in a statement.

“Our justice system has turned a blind eye to the wrongdoings of well-connected people, while throwing the book at the underlings, for too long. What our people demand are the same rules consistently applied to all, without exceptions and with fairness to all concerned,” he added.

Novaliches Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani also expressed his support for the decision of the ombudsman to investigate Arroyo’s alleged involvement in the fertilizer fund scam.

In an interview over the Church-run Radio Veritas, Bacani said he was pleased with news reports that years after the fertilizer fund mess, there is now an opportunity for the Filipino people to know if the former president had any participation in the release of the million-peso budget.

“If the government succeeds in putting his predecessor in prison, this would be regarded as a landmark case of the Aquino Administration and would make a big impact in his anti-corruption campaign,” Bacani said.

No investigation

Plunder and graft cases filed against Arroyo were not investigated when the ombudsman was Merceditas Gutierrez — whom the ex-president appointed in November 2005 — even after Arroyo had lost her immunity from lawsuits when she stepped down in June 2010.

Only officials such as former Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr. and Undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante were subjected to investigation for the scam.

Last week, the ombudsman junked the motions for reconsideration filed by the respondents and ordered the filing of plunder charges against them before the Sandiganbayan.

“It is an elementary principle that a secretary is an alter ego of the President who has direct control and supervision of Cabinet secretaries,” said Casimiro.

Lorenzo allegedly allowed Bolante to misuse or misappropriate P728-million worth of fertilizer funds in 2004, which was allegedly used for Arroyo’s presidential campaign that year.

“Secretary Lorenzo’s act of allowing Undersecretary Bolante to take control of and dispose of the funds amounting to P728 million, in effect misappropriating the same, amounts to consenting or permitting through abandonment or negligence, another person to take or misappropriate such funds,” said the complaint filed by the ombudsman’s Field Investigation Office (FIO).

The FIO said both officials should be charged with malversation of public funds under Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code.

After the preliminary probe, the ombudsman recommended the filing of plunder and graft charges against them — as well as governors and lawmakers who were named recipients of the fertilizer fund — before the Sandiganbayan.

Diversionary tactic

Allies of Arroyo, on the other hand, said the President’s move to build cases against the former leader was meant to divert the attention of Filipinos from his failures in running the government.

Mr. Aquino on Monday told reporters the government was building at least four cases against his predecessor.

Arroyo left last week for Europe, for speaking engagements in Spain.

Her spokesperson, Maite Defensor, declined to issue a statement, saying lawyers would still have to study the complaints to be filed.

House Senior Deputy Minority Leader and Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez also warned that the Aquino Administration might find itself crumbling if it becomes “too obsessed” in persecuting its enemies.

“They’re (administration officials) doing all these (building cases) when we are in turbulent times. We have past problems, present problems, and future problems, which are mostly fiscal, economic, food security,” he said.

Suarez suggested that Mr. Aquino leave the matter to the appropriate investigative agencies.

Predictable

Raul Lambino, spokesman for the Lakas-Kampi-CMD headed by Arroyo, said the President’s announcement was predictable and was part of the administration’s template of covering up its failures.

“The best defense is offense for their lack of leadership or performance,” Lambino said.

“The only way to avert this decline in popularity is to keep on attacking President Arroyo and former officials so this is expected for them to try to turn the sights of the people from their non-performance.”

He said there have been a lot of announcements from Malacañang about the filing of cases against Arroyo but none have been filed yet, except “from some personalities who would want to have some media mileage.”

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