Former Director General of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Romulo Neri has testified under oath that Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos offered him a 200 million peso (US$ 4 million) bribe to approve a project with Chinese firm ZTE [Shenzen] to build a nationwide computer network to interconnect all government offices and agencies, the ZTE National Broadband Network Project. He made the claim upon questioning first by Sen. Loren Legarda and then by Senator Panfilo Lacson. Asked if he reported the matter to President Arroyo, he answered yes, that she told him to reject the bribe but does not know how and why the project was later approved by the President. Paradoxically, after accusing Abalos and excusing Arroyo, "opening up the conversation" so to speak, Mr. Neri refused to answer further questions about his discussion with the President about the matter, invoking Executive Order No. 464 and its provision on EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE. Under questioning by Senate Majority Leader, Neri admitted he had no written order from the President or Executive Secretary Ermita, to so invoke executive privilege. The Senate is now in a quandary about how to deal with this invocation of executive privilege when the session resumes shortly. If you ask me, the Palace may have already decided to let Abalos hang, whilst safeguarding the President.
Luckily Philipppine Commentary has many posts on this matter of executive privilege:
Supreme Court Upheld the Half of EO 464 that GMA Really Needs
King Solomon Just Cut the Baby in Half
Executive Privilege Covers Information -- Not Executives
Supreme Court Decisions As English Grammar and Composition
Before all these developments, Foreign Relations Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago delivered one of her patented tirades in which she declared China and the Chinese as the "inventors of corruption" using sex, golf and lucrative bribes "to corrupt human civilization". She called the hearings a public squabble over sleazy bribe monies, and promptly walked out.
The statements could damage Philippine-Chinese relations. I am counting on it! There may be dozens of ZTE-type projects from what has just been discovered here.
UPDATES: In part 2 of today's Senate hearing on the ZTE National Broadband Network deal, several senators asked a number of good questions. I have to adjust my personal evaluations of them.
Pia "Compañera" Cayetano asked a very clever question of ALL the resource persons and witnesses present, including Romulo Neri, Joey de Venecia, Mendoza, Abalos, Formoso, etc, whether any of them participated in, were the subjects of, or were aware of the "discreet investigation" into the project that the Palace claimed yesterday to have completed. Not a single one of them answered in the affirmative, nor could any of them claim to know who did participate in it. Pia ended with the most sarcastic pronunciation of the term "discreet investigation." Touché!
MAR "Mr. Palengke" Roxas meanwhile wrestled for a long time with Romulo Neri over the matter of what happened after he had reported the 200 million peso bribe offer from Abalos to President Arroyo, which seemed to be nothing. At one point, near the end, he got Neri admit that even if he knew that the project itself was tainted by briberies and corruption, he still agreed with the continuance of the project even if nothing appears to have been done about the reported irregularites. This Mar Roxas considered to be a stunning admission, wondering if this was now the level and standard of public officials in their handling of the people's money.
After Mar Roxas asked a question on behalf of the detained Senator Antonio "Sonny" Trillanes, Juan Ponce Enrile objected calling it a precedent that was not accorded to him while he was incarcerated himself. To which Panfilo "Ping" Lacson moved that the next hearing be held at the Marine HQ at Fort Bonifacio so that a member of the Upper House who is "helpless" might have a chance to participate.
The Senate has gone into Executive Session in order to find out from Romulo Neri the basis for his invocation of executive privilege.
Meanwhile, Rolex Suplico announced that tomorrow he would file a case for IMPEACHMENT against Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos.