Plunder complaint filed vs ex-Philippine president

AP News
Posted: Jul 26, 2011 7:21 AM
Plunder complaint filed vs ex-Philippine president

A left-wing political party on Tuesday filed a fourth plunder complaint in a year against former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, alleging she benefited from government money.

Prosecutors have not filed charges against Arroyo in the other complaints, but President Benigno Aquino III ratcheted up the pressure Monday by saying in a national address that his government plans to file its first major corruption case this year. He did not identify whom it would target but has long accused his predecessor of corruption and mismanagement.

Arroyo's lawyer Raul Lambino dismissed the latest accusations as "political stunts and gimmickry" at his client's expense.

The new complaint claims that Arroyo and eight other former officials conspired to illegally release 325 million pesos ($7.7 million) from the state-run charity office from 2008 to 2010.

Arroyo was elected to the House of Representatives after nine years as president. She denies any wrongdoing and her supporters say she is used as a scapegoat for what they call Aquino's poor performance.

Former lawmaker Risa Hontiveros, a spokeswoman for the Akbayan party, said she and two anti-corruption advocates who filed the complaint aim to prove Arroyo benefited from the money declared as intelligence funds, using it as campaign funds for the 2010 election.

"They had no accounting, they had no proper disbursing documents," and the charity office budget had no provision for intelligence funds, she said.

The complaint said the only requirement met for the release of the funds was the approval of the president. It said that the disbursed money was not used for intelligence activities, and no report was submitted to the Senate president, the House speaker and the audit committee chairman to account for it.

Plunder is punishable by up to 40 years in prison. The only other former head of state convicted of the economic crime was Arroyo's predecessor, Joseph Estrada, whom she pardoned.

Arroyo was taken to the hospital Monday. Her doctor Juliet Cervantes said Tuesday she was undergoing tests before a risky surgery for pinched nerves on her neck.

The Supreme Court, meanwhile, said on Tuesday that it has invalidated with finality the Truth Commission formed by Aquino to investigate alleged corruption during Arroyo's presidency.

The high court declared the commission unconstitutional last December because it unfairly singled out alleged corruption under Arroyo's presidency. A government appeal has been struck down by the court, court spokesman Midas Marquez said.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the government respects the court decision but will "continue to explore other avenues for the truth to come out."

Lacierda said following the appointment Monday of retired Supreme Court Justice Conchita Carpio Morales as new ombudsman, the government will be filing more corruption cases.

The government hesitated to file cases earlier, he added, because the previous Ombudsman "was not going to prosecute the case in a manner that we felt would be fair."

Former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez was accused of protecting Arroyo and her family from prosecution for alleged corruption. She was impeached by Congress and resigned in April.