PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE presidential legal counsel has branded as mere “media hype” the graft charges former Vice President Teofisto Guingona filed against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo before the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the $329-million national broadband network deal.
Mrs. Arroyo was named by Guingona as one of the respondents in the 19-page criminal complaint for violation of Republic Act 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, together with former Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos and Commission on Higher Education Chairman Romulo Neri.
Also included in the complaint was First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo for allegedly threatening and trying to coerce Jose De Venecia III into withdrawing from the NBN project.
In a telephone interview, chief presidential legal counsel Sergio Apostol said the case was mere hype because, based on jurisprudence, a sitting President enjoys immunity from suit.
“That’s only media hype. That case would not prosper because no case can be filed against a sitting President. Guingona knows that, that’s why it’s just a media hype,” Apostol said.
According to Apostol the Ombudsman will more than likely junk the charges.
“Definitely, it will be [thrown out by the Ombudsman],” Apostol said, adding that the President need not even respond to the charges.
Likewise, Apostol said the charges won’t stick against Mr. Arroyo. “That won’t prosper too, because as I understand the charge is conspiracy,” Apostol said. He noted that under the law, in conspiracy charge, the act of one is the act of all.
Guingona, who was accompanied by University of the Philippines law professor Harry Roque in filing the charges, said the case “involves a novel yet important point of law”-the issue of whether Mrs. Arroyo, who is a sitting President, can and should be sued for unlawful acts or omissions in the face of the traditional doctrine of presidential immunity from suits.
Guingona said it is time to discard this colonial jurisprudence legacy shielding the highest official of the land from suits even where the president is guilty of disregarding her constitutional duties.
Instead, he said that immunity must give way to responsibility, in keeping with the constitutional principle that “a public office is a public trust,” if impunity in any form is perpetuated by those who occupy a high office.
Guingona accused President Arroyo of abetting and allowing the commission of a crime involving a member of her own Cabinet in the anomalous ZTE broadband deal.
In implicating the President in the multi-million broadband deal, Guingona accused her of tolerating the commission of a crime when she did nothing despite her having been told by Neri about a bribe offer from Abalos.
Guingona said Mrs. Arroyo violated Article 208 of the Revised Penal Code when she maliciously refrained from instituting prosecution or the punishment of violators of the law.
Also, the former vice president said Mrs. Arroyo violated Presidential Decree 1829 for preventing witnesses from reporting the commission of any offense.
He said that despite having been told about the bribe offer, the President obstructed the apprehension of Abalos and the investigation of the same offense by not acting on it.
Guingona argued that there are strong grounds for the President’s indictment for graft. He said the President knew about the bribe offer, the onerous nature of the ZTE proposal, and that there were better offers than ZTE, yet in evident bad faith, or at least gross inexcusable negligence, she presided over the signing of a deal.