By Raïssa Robles
I’m right now chasing a deadline for my Hong Kong newspaper but I thought I’d dash off a few lines to share with you my gut feel that something highly unusual is happening at the Philippine Senate.
First of all, June and July of every year is supposed to be the longest vacation time for senators and congressmen. A time when many of them fly to their condos and houses overseas or go to Europe to “make lamierda”.
And yet, there they were inside the Senate grilling the former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office General Manager Rosario Uriarte to a toast.
It’s not really Uriarte they were after but former President-turned-Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. What Uriarte said was devastating for herself and for Arroyo. She implicated Mrs Arroyo in alleged shenanigans involving the use of PCSO lottery winnings for intelligence gathering. What Uriarte said was similar to what banker Clarissa Ocampo testified to during then President Joseph Estrada’s impeachment trial.
Ocampo said she was seated a foot away from Estrada when he signed the name “Jose Velarde” to bank documents. Uriarte said this morning she obtained Arroyo’s signed “OK” to the release of multi-million pesos intelligence funds. She gave her testimony under oath, which means it can be used under any court of law.
And she repeated the same about Arroyo over and over.
If you found the questioning of the senators tedious because they kept asking Uriarte the same question over and over and she kept answering the same thing over and over, it is a trial technique to show that the witness remained firm in what she was saying.
The PCSO case may turn out to be a relatively simple case to prosecute compared to the fertilizer fund scam and the tainted telecoms broadband deal involving China’s ZTE Corporation. All the senators have to do is follow the money trail.
All the new Ombudsman needs to do is to find “probable cause” to order Arroyo’s arrest. And since, as the senators kept pointing out, the money involved is more than enough to constitute plunder, the charge could be for the non-bailable crime of plunder. (The 1991 Philippine Plunder Law puts a floor of P75 million for a crime to be considered such.)
Under Article VI, Section 11 of the Constitution, a lawmaker loses immunity from arrest for capital crimes and all other crimes punished with more than six years in jail.
But never mind all that. Mrs Arroyo really firmly believes in her motto – “I will do my best and God will take care of the rest.”