Arroyo Invokes Presumption Of Innocence

MANIAL, Philippines - Saying it will violate her right to be presumed innocent, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has refused to divulge her defense witnesses in pre-trial briefs in the graft case stemming from the botched $330-million national broadband network (NBN) deal.

In a 13-page manifestation with motion filed with the Sandiganbayan Fourth division, Arroyo informed the court that she will not submit a pre-trial brief because she is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The court had earlier directed Arroyo and her other co-accused -- her husband Mike Arroyo, former Commission on Election chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr., and former Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza - to submit pre-trial briefs to facilitate the pre-trial conference scheduled for June 4.

Mrs. Arroyo told the court that she has instructed her counsels to withhold information or discussion on possible defense witnesses, documents and evidence until state prosecutors have presented their case.

"The Supreme Court has clearly, consistently, and unequivocally held that an accused may stay mute and would only be obliged to present controverting evidence if the prosecution proved the elements of the offense beyond reasonable doubt," her motion read.

The graft court has set a hearing on her motion on May 30.

Last week, Abalos Mendoza pre-marked their exhibits and evidence. Mrs. Arroyo's husband submitted his pre-trial brief yesterday.

The Arroyo couple, Abalos and Mendoza were accused of violating Republic Act 3019 [Anti-Graft Law] and the law on ethical standards for public officials for entering into an agreement that allegedly put the government at a disadvantage. They were also accused of accepting bribes from China's ZTE Corp. which allegedly facilitated the approval of the contract.

The four respondents in the NBN-ZTE graft case had earlier pleaded not guilty to charges.