UNDER THREAT OF ARREST, NERI STARTS MUMBLING ABOUT GOING AFTER THE BIG FISHES.
by Napanice (no login)
THIS BROADBAND WITNESSE'S LAST STATEMENT IS CLEAR INDICATION THAT THERE IS INDEED A PRESSING NEED TO DIG DEEPER INTO THE BROADBAND SCANDAL BECAUSE THE REAL MASTERMINDS ARE YET TO BE IDENTIFIED AND EXPOSED BEFORE THE PEOPLE'S EYES. BUT WITHOUT FIRST HAND TESTIMONY FROM PEOPLE LIKE NERI AND LOZADA WHO ARE INTIMATELY FAMILIAR WITH THE INVOLVEMENT OF UNKNOWN PARTIES, THE SENATE WILL ONLY BE ENTERTAINING HEARSAY AND SPECULATIONS WHICH ARE INCONCLUSIVE AND WORTHLESS IN AN COURT OF LAW.
Neri: Run after the big persons, deal makers, not me
"I think they know who the guilty people are here, who are the deal makers, who are the big persons involved. I think they should run after them."
This was what former socioeconomic planning secretary Romulo Neri, who has been evading arrest by the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms for two days now, said when he expressed the "unfairness" of the attention being focused on him in connection with the scrapped National Broadband Network (NBN) deal which had been alleged to be bribery-laden and overpriced..
The Senate has ordered Neri's arrest after he snubbed the upper chamber's inquiry on the NBN deal.
"I am really pleading for fairness. I'm pleading for them not to treat me like a criminal or a fugitive. If they're calling me now a fugitive, it's so unfair," Neri said in a telephone interview with ABS-CBN.
Neri, who is currently the chair of the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd), said that the Senate should instead pursue the "guilty people" in the bungled contract.
"I think some of them were invited, but they never responded... or they were never summoned... or they never attended... Why don’t they give attention to these people?" Neri added.
Neri is a key resource person in the Senate's NBN deal inquiry.
In his first and only testimony at the Senate, Neri said former Commission on Elections (COMELEC) chair Benjamin Abalos had offered him a bribe to give the P16 billion broadband project to the Chinese firm ZTE.
Neri also disclosed that he reported the alleged bribe to President Arroyo. When quuizzed by senators however to further elaborate his conversations with the president on the issue, Neri invoked executive privilege.
Enforcement of order "injustice" to Neri
Neri's lawyer, Heraldo Dacayo Jr., said that the Senate should stop pursuing Neri since they have already filed an amended petition before the Supreme Court.
In his Petition for Certiorari, Neri asked the SC to stop the Senate from enforcing the arrest order, saying that he did not commit any act of contempt.
The five-page petition filed Friday said that the enforcement order will be an "injustice" to Neri.
In his petition, Neri said that the Senate committed grave abuse of discretion in ordering his arrest.
Neri denied committing any act of contempt against the upper chamber, saying he had merely invoked executive privilege and had already explained to the body his non-appearance during previous Senate hearings.
Neri also said that Senate's issuance of arrest order for him pre-empted the SC's action on a pending petition on the issue and even disrespected the high court.
Earlier in the day, Neri said that he will ask the high court to nullify the Senate’s arrest warrant against him, saying that only the high court can end the debate on whether he still needs to be subjected to another round of questionings about the controversial deal.
Neri said it was not his own decision to refuse to attend the hearings. "I have to follow my superiors. The Senate is not my superior. The superior is the executive, my bosses in the executive."
However, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago supported Neri's position, saying that the Senate has no prosecution powers to arrest him.
"When a public official acts outside of the borders of his lawful jurisdiction, then he is acting in his private capacity, therefore the principle of immunity from suit no longer applies. So he can, for example, sue for damages, but I doubt if he will," Santiago said.
Birthday boy wishes for "peace"
Neri, who celebrated his 51st birthday Friday, wished for "peace of mind" from all the controversy.
"Sana katahimikan sa mga ganitong bagay (Peace of mind from all of this)... to me is a much appreciated gift," Neri said when asked what he wants on his 51st birthday.
Neri also wants senators to stop calling him a fugitive as he said he had already told the lawmakers what they want to hear about the allegedly graft-ridden NBN deal.
"I feel bad because I'm treated like a criminal. I've testified. I've cooperated. I'm doing [what is] legal," he said in an interview with ABS-CBN morning show "Umagang Kay Ganda."
The official insisted that his 12-hour "interrogation" at the Senate last year should have been enough. He said that he cannot answer any more of the senators' questions because the topics are covered by executive privilege.
Sen. Panfilo "Ping" Lacson said Neri should stop hiding and abide by the warrant of arrest. "Iyon talaga ang dapat ituring sa kanya gawa nang meron siyang warrant of arrest ay hindi siya nagpapakita (He should be treated as a fugitive because he has a warrant of arrest and he is hiding)," Lacson said.
He said the Senate needs to hear more from Neri about the alleged overpricing of the NBN deal. He said he wants to know how the NBN project's contract price became overpriced by at least $200 million.
There were allegations that the additional $200 million was used to bribe officials.
Aside from Neri, the Senate also issued an arrest order against Rodolfo Lozada Jr., chief executive officer of the government-run Philippine Forest Corp.
Lozada became one of the Senate’s "wanted men" after he flew to Hong Kong two hours before the NBN deal hearings resumed Wednesday.
Palace tells Neri: We are behind you
Meanwhile The Philippine Star reported that Malacañang is solidly behind Neri as officials brushed off allegations that the Palace was hiding the beleaguered official.
"We told him that we are solidly behind him," Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said, after he and other officials talked with Neri over the phone and reassured him of their support.
Palace officials also said the arrest warrant intended for Neri may not be enforceable outside the Senate.
"They (Senate sergeant-at-arms) can try looking for him (Neri) here but I doubt if they have the legal authority to do so," Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Sergio Apostol said.
Presidential Security Group chief Brig. Gen. Romeo Prestoza said Palace guards would not allow personnel from the Senate to enter the Palace complex to look for Neri.
He said if they want, the Senate sergeant-at-arms can just wait at the Palace gates.
Bunye said Philippine Information Agency Director General Conrado Limcaoco called up Neri during their meeting with Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita along with other officials at the Palace and greeted him. Neri celebrated his birthday yesterday.
Bunye, however, did not disclose Neri’s whereabouts but hinted, "he appeared to be nearby."
Apostol found the allegations that Neri was hiding in Malacañang "ridiculous," adding that the official has no reason to hide despite the arrest order from the Senate.
He said the arrest cannot be enforced by the Senate unless the sergeant-at-arms would be accompanied by local policemen.
Bunye appealed to the Senate to withdraw the arrest order and wait until the Supreme Court rules on the case filed by Neri on the new summons from the senators.
"We would like to appeal to the Senate for at least a chance for the Supreme Court to decide on the case," he said.
Posted on Feb 1, 2008, 9:12 PM from IP address 188.8.131.52