The Sandiganbayan’s Fourth Division has dismissed the graft complaint filed against former president and now Rep. Gloria. Macapagal-Arroyo of Pampanga in connection with the botched $329-million national broadband network (NBN) deal.
The court granted the demurrer to evidence filed by Arroyo, her husband Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, and former Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. in the case where they were accused of violating Section 3(g) of the anti-graft law.
The court also granted Arroyo’s demurrer to evidence in case nos. 0468 to 0469 where she was accused of violating Section 3(i) of the anti-graft law and Section 7(d) of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, respectively.
A demurrer to evidence is filed by an accused after the prosecution completes its presentation of evidence on the ground that the evidence presented are insufficient to convict the accused.
In a statement issued on Friday, defense lawyer Laurence Arroyo thanked the court for vindicating Arroyo.
“We are thankful to the Sandiganbayan for granting our demurrers in the three cases. It’s a well-reasoned decision. I encourage the public to read it. 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. Our courts have not allowed themselves to be swayed by public opinion or perception. They are bound by the evidence and the evidence alone,” the lawyer said.
Arroyo’s camp had argued that the NBN contract dated April 21, 2007 was inadmissible because it was not authenticated and the prosecution did not present the original of the contract, among others.
The defense also pointed out that the deal never became effective because Arroyo canceled it on October 2, 2007.
“Even assuming arguendo [for the sake of argument]that the NBN contract is admissible, and assuming further that it became effective and was never cancelled, the prosecution failed to prove that it is grossly and manifestly disadvantageous to the Government,” it said.
Arroyo’s lawyers said the prosecution failed to prove that the deal was overpriced at $329 million from $130 million which was supposedly the actual cost of Chinese firm ZTE’s proposal for the national broadband project.
The prosecution likewise failed to prove that the NBN project covered only 30 percent of the country compared with the proposal of Amsterdam Holdings, Inc. (AHI) that would cover 80 percent at less cost, Arroyo’s lawyers argued.
“It is the theory of the prosecution that the NBN contract is grossly and manifestly disadvantageous to the Government because AHI’s proposal is supposedly superior to it. Yet, the prosecution failed to present AHI’s written proposal,” they said.
The defense added that AHI “was not qualified to undertake the NBN project” and that the deal was “in fact, advantageous to the Government.”
The prosecution, it added, failed to prove that the former President was interested, for personal gain, in the approval of the project which required the approval of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) where she served as Chairperson of the Board.
The prosecution also failed to prove that Arroyo knew of Abalos’ alleged attempt to bribe former NEDA Director General Romulo Neri with P200 million for the immediate approval of the proposal and that the deal was approved with alleged haste because it “went through several layers of review,” the defense counsels argued.