The Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) and the Youth Against Debt (YAD) today staged a picket in front of the Office of the Ombudsman denouncing its late and highly questionable investigation of alleged anomalies surrounding the government's aborted $329.48-million National Broadband Network project with China's ZTE Corp.

Describing the investigation as an inquiry with a strong possibility of becoming a grand charade of spin masters and whitewashers, the groups said the initiative of the Ombudsman is morally weak and lacks integrity in the search for truth and accountability.

“It’s a no-brainer. The investigation is morally unfit due to the presence and participation of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. Her mere presence will reduce the investigation to a cover-up primarily designed to hide the wrongdoings of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, her family and former COMELEC chair Benjamin Abalos. Lest we forget, First Gentleman Joe Miguel Arroyo and Ombudsman Gutierrez are very close friends,” said FDC Secretary General Milo Tanchuling.

Mrs. Arroyo has expressed confidence in the impartiality of her former chief legal counsel, Ombudsman Gutierrez, a classmate of the First Gentleman at the Ateneo Law School.

The debt watchdog also lambasted the Ombudsman's integrity in judicial work, scoring the institution’s continued inaction on other cases involving Palace "cronies," such as former agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante’s involvement in the P728-million fertilizer fund scam allegedly meant to divert fertilizer funds for then presidential bet Gloria Arroyo's campaign kitty in 2004.

“Unless this office is cleansed of Mrs. Arroyo’s apologists, the Ombudsman cannot be trusted in providing justice,” Tanchuling said.

“Instead we call for the establishment of an independent body that will immediately audit and investigate all loan-financed government contracts beginning with the suspended ZTE-NBN deal and other projects implicated in the Lozada testimony,” Tanchuling said.

For their part, YAD spokesperson Bianca Lapuz said the ZTE-NBN deal is just the tip of the iceberg. “There are more of these illegitimate projects hidden from public scrutiny, irresponsibly entered into by our government which in turn becomes illegitimate debts which will be shouldered by an already debt-burdened people,” Lapuz said.

The youth group demands the suspension of other illegitimate projects pending their investigation starting with the $400-million Cyber Education Project (CEP), the $503-million North Luzon Railways Project and the $884-million South Luzon Railways Project.

FDC and YAD are also calling for a comprehensive audit of all public debt and all policies, regulations and laws that govern public borrowings, including the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) law, the practice of extending sovereign guarantees and the resulting contingent liabilities. -30-

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