Sandiganbayan drops NBN-ZTE graft cases vs. Arroyo

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(File photo) Pampanga Representative Gloria Arroyo

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The Sandiganbayan is dropping graft cases against former president and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Arroyo over the botched NBN-ZTE deal.

In a resolution, the anti-graft court's Fourth Division granted Arroyo's demurrer to evidence, saying state prosecutors failed to present sufficient evidence to prove her guilt.

It also dismisses the graft charges against Arroyo's alleged cohorts, former first gentleman Mike Arroyo, and former Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos, Sr.

The three accused filed their respective demurrers to evidence.

An accused files a demurrer to evidence when he wants the court to decide on a case half-way thru the trial, based on evidence presented by the prosecution.

"Wherefore, the Demurrers to Evidence of accused Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Jose Miguel T. Arroyo, and Benjamon S. Abalos, Sr. are granted. This case is then dismissed against all accused," the decision dated August 25, 2016 reads.

The Ombudsman charged the Arroyos, Abalos, and former Department of Transportation and Communication Leandro Mendoza, with graft on December 28, 2011. This was for allegedly authorizing the national broadband project between the Philippine government and Chinese firm ZTE Corp despite being fully aware of irregularities in the deal.

The contract was allegedly overpriced by more than 50%, pegged at $329 million, when the actual cost of the project was supposedly only $130 million.

But the court said the prosecution failed to show the deal was disadvantageous to the government.

"Given the oral and documentary evidence presented by the prosecution, there are no obvious, clear, open, glaring, and shocking indicators that the NBN-ZTE contract would be disadvantageous to government," the court said.

The court also points out that the alleged anomalous deal never took effect as it was canceled by the former president.

"There was no more contract to refer to at the time of the filing of the case."

Code of conduct

In a separate resolution dated August 8, 2016, the court also acquitted Arroyo of violating the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees or Section 7(d) of RA 6713.

Arroyo allegedly accepted gifts and favors from ZTE officials in the form of a round of golf and lunch.

The court, however, said the prosecution failed to establish that Arroyo received such favors.

It also notes that not all kinds of gifts are prohibited under the Code of Conduct, including an unsolicited gift of nominal value as provided for in Section 3(c) of RA 6713.

"The green fee of the golf game and lunch, if at all accused PGMA did not pay for it, may fall under the second sentence of Section 3(c) of RA 6713 for as long as she did not solicit for it," the court notes in its resolution.

A "well-reasoned decision"

Arroyo's camp is thankful to the Sandiganbayan for dropping the cases, and for not allowing public opinion to influence their decision.

Her lawyer, Lawrence Arroyo, said they continue to have faith in the country's judiciary.

"Former president Arroyo has been vindicated anew. She has always kept her faith in the judiciary and our courts have not failed to fearlessly render justice. They are bound by the evidence and the evidence alone," Arroyo said.

He says this recent decision just proves how weak the cases filed against the former president are.

The dismissal of this graft case means Rep. Arroyo is no longer facing any charges before the anti-graft court.

A plunder case filed against her, over the alleged misuse of intelligence funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, was dismissed by the Supreme Court last July due to insufficient evidence. Her immediate release from hospital detention was also ordered by the high court.