“IT ain’t no sin if you crack a few laws now and then, just so long as you don’t break any.”
That was how the Sandiganbayan concluded its decision junking the remaining corruption case against former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo over the $329-million national broadband network (NBN) project involving the Chinese multinational company ZTE Corporation.
The court’s fourth division quoted the 1937 American movie “Every Day’s A Holiday” in granting two demurrers to evidence in the graft and ethics cases lodged against Arroyo, her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo and former elections chief Benjamin Abalos.
The former leader’s lawyer Lawrence Arroyo said Arroyo was deeply grateful for the decision that was filed against her in 2011, a year into the adminisration of former President Benigno Aquino III.
“[Mrs. Arroyo] has always kept her faith in the judiciary and our courts have not failed to fearlessly render justice. Our courts have not allowed themselves to be swayed by public opinion or perception,” the lawyer said in a statement.
He said the courts’ decisions to grant their demurrers in the NBN-ZTE case, PCSO case, and the P5.4-million civil suit filed against her by a religious group proves the charges she faced were all weak.
In its decision, the Sandiganbayan said the prosecution failed to prove that Arroyo was interested in personal gain from the NBN project, which required the discretionary approval of the National Economic and Development Authority board which Mrs. Arroyo chaired when she was President.
The Sandiganbayan said the cancellation of the contract on Oct. 2, 2007 proved that Arroyo was not interested in seeing the implementation of the project because she was looking forward to personal gain.
Even the fact that Arroyo met with officials of ZTE Corp. in Shenzhen, China in November 2006 did not prove that she accepted favors or gifts from foreign officials.
“There was no clear and indubitable proof presented by the prosecution that accused PGMA was the recipient. As a matter of fact, there was no evidence introduced on who made the payment,” the ruling read.
The court said the prosecution failed to prove that the NBN-ZTE contract was “grossly and manifestly disadvantageous” to the government.
The Sandiganbayan likewise took the prosecution to task for failing to establish the supposed conspiracy between the three officials and then-transportation secretary Leandro Mendoza for the contract to be signed.
“This failure to specify the circumstances establishing conspiracy among the four accused is violative of their right to be informed of the accusations hurled against them,” the court said.
With the project cancelled during the Arroyo administration, the Sandiganbayan said there was no longer any contract to refer to when the Ombudsman filed the cases against the former President in 2011.
Arroyo was charged with one count each of violation of Section 3 (g) and 3 (i) of Republic Act (RA) 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and Section 7 (d) of RA 6713 of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees in connection with the NBN deal, which was allegedly overpriced by more than 50 percent of its actual cost of $130 million.
The dismissal of the graft case against Mrs. Arroyo came barely two months after the Supreme Court junked the plunder case filed against her in connection with the alleged misuse of the P366-million intelligence fund of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.