SC affirms Sandiganbayan acquittal of former President Arroyo on $329-M ZTE deal

The Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed the 2016 Sandiganbayan acquittal of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of graft charges on the alleged anomalous $329-million deal with Zhong Xing Telecommunications Equipment International Investment Limited (ZTE) of China for the Philippines’ National Broadband Network (NBN) project in 2007.

Supreme Court (SC)

In resolution made available only on Thursday, March 11, the SC said the petition filed by the Office of the Special Prosecutor of the Office of the Ombudsman challenging the Sandiganbayan’s ruling would violate Mrs. Arroyo’s constitutional right against double jeopardy.

Records showed that Mrs. Arroyo filed a demurrer to evidence on the charges filed against her and her motion was granted by the Sandiganbayan.

A demurrer to evidence challenges the evidence presented by the prosecution on allegations that the pieces of evidence are weak to sustain a conviction. It is filed after the prosecution has terminated the presentation its evidence.

If a demurrer is granted, the court dismisses the criminal case and the dismissal is tantamount to an acquittal which cannot be challenged without violating the constitutional right of an accused against double jeopardy, or prosecuting a person twice for the same offense.

“A cursory examination of the petition readily reveals that in essence, petitioner excoriates the Sandiganbayan’s evaluation and assessment of the evidence presented by the prosecution. Petitioner bemoans the ‘gross misapprehension of the facts and the evidence on record which led to the grant of the demurrer in favor of GMA,’” (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo), the SC said.

“However, a writ of certiorari can only correct errors of jurisdiction or those involving the commission of grave abuse of discretion, not those which call for the evaluation of evidence and factual findings. Accordingly, we cannot condone this specious approach at stretching the allowable limits of questioning a judgment of acquittal,” the SC stressed.

Mrs. Arroyo was charged with violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act when she approved the ZTE deal for the NBN project on allegations that there were irregularities.

Also, she was charged with violation of Republic Act No. 6713, Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, for reportedly having lunch and playing golf with ZTE officials while the broadband project proposal was still being assessed by the government.

In granting her demurrer to evidence, the Sandiganbayan ruled that the prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence to support its claim that the contract was grossly disadvantageous to the government.

On alleged violation of RA 6713, the anti-graft court ruled that it did not have any territorial jurisdiction over the issue because it was committed outside the Philippines.