On the spot
As the Philippines watched enthralled the dramatic events surrounding the arrest of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as well as the continuing debate about the extent of her physical illness, her husband Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, for a while, looked as if he had gotten off the hook and slipped away from the government’s reach.
True, he too was on the Bureau of Immigration watch list, the reason he and his wife were prevented — despite their best efforts and a Temporary Restraining Order issued by no less than the Supreme Court — from leaving the country on the night of Nov. 15. However, his name was taken off the list a few days later, which meant he was free to leave the country, after the Commission on Elections decided not to include him in the case for electoral sabotage — a non-bailable offense — filed against his wife. Though the former First Gentleman himself had said he would not leave now that his wife is under arrest, the public remains strongly suspicious that the Philippines’ most powerful couple in the first 10 years of the 21st century would flee the country if they could, apparently to escape the numerous charges, including plunder, filed and expected to be filed against them.
It was therefore not surprising that the public welcomed last Nov. 23 reports that a fact-finding panel of the Office of the Ombudsman had found the Arroyo husband liable for graft charges for his involvement in the sale of two second-hand Robinson R-44 helicopters that were passed off as brand-new to the Philippine National Police in 2009.
The Senate blue ribbon committee had investigated this allegedly anomalous sale a few months back. From the testimonies gathered by the committee, it appears that the sale defrauded the government of P62.7 million. Resource persons invited to the Senate hearings pointed to the former First Gentleman as the owner of the two choppers at the time of the sale. According to Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee, the testimony of one of them, Rowena del Rosario, a bookkeeper of an Arroyo-owned company, “had established a money trail and the (Arroyos’) ownership” of the helicopters. The Arroyo husband vehemently denied the allegations, but he begged off from attending the committee hearings, citing ill health. Younger brother Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo would later claim ownership of the choppers, which called to mind the Jose Pidal act he made early in his sister-in-law’s presidency.
The Ombudsman’s fact-finding panel recommends that Mike Arroyo be charged with violation of the anti-graft law along with former Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno, then-PNP Director General Jesus Verzosa and many other retired and active PNP officials. Also in connection with the helicopters’ sale, the panel is pushing for the prosecution of 16 PNP officers for falsification, and of 21 PNP officers for gross neglect of duty and conduct prejudicial to the good of the service. The panel’s report has been submitted to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales who has ordered a preliminary investigation — to be completed within 60 days — to determine if probable cause exists to warrant the filing of criminal cases against all the accused in a court of justice.
Throughout Gloria Arroyo’s nine-year presidency, husband Mike — much like wife Imelda during the Marcos dictatorship — was widely perceived quietly wielding the power and influence of the presidency for the family’s and their cronies’ personal gain. But he always seemed to be able to escape accountability.
“I laud the recent move by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and the Office of the Ombudsman to approve the Investigation Report recommending the conduct of preliminary investigation and administrative adjudication on the Philippine National Police [PNP] Helicopter Purchase Case,” said Guingona.
There is one wrinkle, though. The panel has recommended the filing of bailable graft charges against Mike Arroyo, which could mean he could post bail and leave the country anytime he wants to. Guingona has asked that Arroyo stay in the country if he wishes to prove his innocence: “I urge Mr. Arroyo to stay in the country to face allegations against him. He should be present in the preliminary investigation of this case if he wishes to avoid speculations that he intends to evade prosecution.”
Well, the Ombudsman has certainly put slippery Mike on the spot. But will it be able to pin him down?
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